The Special Sauce: The Screenings
Alfonsi: The Taliban story would never have happened without my producer, Ashley [Velie]. You can imagine getting into Afghanistan after the fall and the logistics that were involved. Every part of it was difficult. … [After the interview] they say, “OK, you’re going to eat with us,” and you don’t say no. We go downstairs and they prepared this big meal. Keep in mind, we’re there because people are starving. And the last time we were there, they were trying to shoot and kill us. So it was the strangest meal ever. And then we drove back to the hotel that night, and it’s late and it’s dark. And we got pulled over at a checkpoint by the Taliban. They took our vests. They took our helmets. They were trying to take our phones. Ashley was tucking phones into our boots in case they separated us. It was crazy. When we got back to the hotel, we were like, “What just hap- pened? Did we just have dinner with the Taliban? Did they just stop us? Are we still here?” Pelley: I was at the World Trade Center when the build- ings came down and then spent two weeks with Bill Owens at Ground Zero. Bill was my constant partner and companion in those days. It was after that event
Wertheim: Sharyn and I lived in the same building years ago, and I saw her in the lobby. She was sort of pacing around, and I said, “You doing OK?” And she said, “I’ve got a screening coming up.” What is that all about? I thought. And then a few years later, I experi- enced it firsthand. I had a couple of screenings and it wasn’t a big deal. And then I had a screening that went less well. And I thought, Oh, now I get it. Alfonsi: I used to throw up before every screening. I was so nervous and wanted to do well. And the only reason I stopped throwing up is because we now do the screenings remotely. It’s probably been the best thing for my health. I’m still nervous. You’re in there fighting for your vision of the story, fighting for your characters, defending your choices. But you’re also listening to really smart people who have read every single inter- view who say, “Hey, did you think about this?” Or “I thought this was interesting …” The bar is high. Stahl: It’s like going into an audition: You’re just going to be criticized. You’re walking into a situation where they’re not there to say, “Nice job.” They’re there to say, “Here’s what’s wrong and here’s our idea on how to fix it.” Half the time, you disagree. That’s the difficult part. There have been so many times when the criticism feels right and the prescription for fixing the piece is right, and you say to yourself, “That’s going to make the story so much better.” Then there are the times when you say, “Nope.” I don’t have the final word. But you get to argue. Bill [Owens] particularly is sane and smart. When I say he’s sane, I mean if you argue your position, he’ll listen. With Bill there is a back and forth and a give and take.
War, Heartache, and Hope
Owens: Scott has a sense of gravitas. When he inter- viewed [President] Zelensky, the Bucha massacres had just happened. I was trying to tell him that I didn’t think we had time for him to go to Bucha. And he said to me, “Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Well, we’ll see about that.” Pelley: Well, I did have to go because I’m a reporter and I had to see it for myself. And I’m so glad I did because it was so much more devastating than I had imagined. We found a mass grave behind St. Andrews Anglican Church that the Russians had not bothered to cover up because they had retreated in such a hurry. And I had the opportunity to speak to people in Bucha about what their experience had been. There is no sub- stitute for having your boots on the ground.
SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER • 2022
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