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The Man Behind Vogue’s “73 Questions” – Joe Sabia

Almost everyone is familiar with Vogue’s “73 Questions” series. From actors to singers, from footballers to tennis stars, all sorts of celebrities have been interviewed in this series.

These videos are relaxed, unfiltered, and real. However, there is one more thing that is common in all these videos – the voice behind the camera. This voice belongs to Joe Sabia, the VP of creative development at Condé Nast Entertainment.

Not only is Joe the interviewer, but he’s also behind the conceptualization of this series.

The Cut got Joe Sabia to open up about “73 Questions” and the story behind it.

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WHAT DID JOE SABIA SAY?

LIFE BEFORE CONDÉ NAST

“I was really just on my own as an internet video artist. I did that for years, and then for some reason, [Condé] reached out to me to be one of the ten directors for Vanity Fair’s “The Decades Series.” I didn’t even know what Condé Nast was.”

“Six months later, they remembered working with me on that project. They said, “Hey, what would you do if you had some time with Sarah Jessica Parker?” I’d never worked with a celebrity in my life. I’d never talked to a celebrity. Actually, T-Pain. I’d had a nice conversation with T-Pain once.”

INTERVIEWING SARAH JESSICA PARKER

“The origin story is that they said to think about [a pitch] over the weekend. So, I went on a fishing and whaling trip with my friend George from Georgia. On the boat, I had the idea to just do this insane interview where we asked her as many questions as possible. It would be comedic, with rapid-fire questions, and she’d have to answer quickly, almost unnaturally. That’s the reason why 1 of the 73 questions is “Bird watching or whale watching?” My friend, Vince Peone, who shot the episode, suggested her looking at the camera, as if it were me. I remember getting on the phone with [Sarah Jessica Parker] and there were 23 people on the call. She said, “I’d love to do this at my home.” We were shocked. This was the first time that cameras had ever been in her home.”

BECOMING THE VOICE BEHIND THE CAMERA

“I never imagined the longevity of this thing. All I wanted to do was ask Sarah Jessica Parker a bunch of questions in one take.”

THE REASON BEHIND 73 QUESTIONS

“At first, it was supposed to be 100. But I wanted to do it in one take — that was so important to me. Looking at the choreography, because it’s also really important to have movement, it seemed really scary and impractical to try to do that many questions. I went through them and deleted a bunch, and we landed on 73. It’s a weird number. It’s great for search-engine optimization. It’s a prime number. But the types of questions have always been really, really light. What’s funny, and I realized this years later, is that this entire experience — this format, this concept — is designed for Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s cool how it’s a catchall for all these different celebrities with different talents. But you can tell that the best versions of “73” always go back to the first person it was designed for. That magnetism she has is incredible.”

FAVORITE CELEBRITY HOME

“Off the top of my head: Diddy’s mansion was the craziest. Kim and Kanye — to have their entire family there. Their home was also one of the most impressive. I was like, There’s nothing in here! But it’s the most beautiful. Neil Patrick Harris’s [house] was like a magician’s museum. Nicole Kidman has a farm attached to her home … So many homes.”

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Joe Sabia wins the Cinematography award for Vogue’s “73 Questions” at the 2018 Streamys Premiere Awards.

WHY THE SERIES IS SO POPULAR

“I don’t think people have ever seen celebrities like this before. It’s raw; it’s real; it’s not just putting a microphone in their face and asking them what they’re wearing on a red carpet, or what crazy thing is happening to them. It’s deeply personal because we’re in their space. They’re looking into the camera. To see them in the wild for seven continuous minutes makes you feel like you know them better. What do you think?”

SHOOTING THE INTERVIEW

“I’m giving all my secrets away! Basically, we scout the day before. If we’re in someone’s home, we look at the different rooms. When talent arrives, they’ve usually given us a four-hour block, which is really generous. I introduce myself and we do a walk-through so that they’re familiar with it. They look through the questions while they’re doing hair and makeup. And then, when we do our first take, it’s very much holding them by the hand. All that gets smoothed out when we do it a second time, third time, fourth time, fifth time … We’re tweaking and finessing. Elements are added on the fly, spontaneously. And then at the end of two hours, we cross our fingers and do one more take. On average, we’ll probably do it five, six, seven times.”

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