What do you say to someone before you start rolling film on them?
I’m pretty straightforward. Ethically, that’s the only way to be, but it’s also the best thing to do tactically.
I don’t want to put myself in a position where after a film is made, someone can say, “You lied to me about what you were going to do.”
So, in the beginning, I say some version of this:
“I’m going to make a documentary film.
Nothing in the film will be staged.
I want to be around for four to eight weeks.
During that time, 80 to 110 hours of film will be shot.
I don’t know what the themes of the film will be until I edit it.
All I am doing now is collecting material.
If anybody doesn’t want to be photographed, all they have to do is indicate that and there will be no debate about it.
I discover the film in the course of the editing.
The final film will be shown on PBS and distributed in different formats.”
It must be hard to do that in the midst of some of the chaotic scenes you’re shooting.
Often it’s not possible to ask permission before the sequence is shot.
You can’t say, “Hey, doc, wait a second before you fix that man’s broken leg. I want to tell you what I’m doing.”
I shoot till it’s over and then I say, if the people don’t already know, what I just said to you.
I ask if it’s alright to use the material, and I tape record my explanation and their response.
In my experience, it’s extremely rare that anybody ever says no.
Why do you think that is?
Again, I would only be able to speculate.
But I think that people are pleased that you’re interested in them and that their picture is being taken and their voice is being recorded.
You can’t underestimate vanity as a reason.