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Guerrilla Documentary: Getting Your Releases Early

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Misty Faucheux•updated: 11/16/2008

When dealing with volatile subject matter, you may want to get the releases from your subjects early on in case they attempt to relinquish their consent.

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    Changing Their Mind

    A documentary is supposed to be a quest toward truth and is supposed to push both those interviewed and those watching. When going after the narrative, it is important to ask tough questions and be as much as a detective and journalist as you would be a filmmaker.

    At times, you may even create a personal rift between you and your subject, which is something that can come whenever you are dealing with personal and sensitive subject matter. Once this happens, they may make efforts to stop your final film. In order to protect yourself from this, you need to get written consent from everyone in the film and do it before you ever sit down for an interview.

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    Personal Connection

    When you are trying to craft a quality story structure, you are going to go after the individual drives of the characters. In this, you may have to spend extensive amounts of time, even having them open up personal things like legal and medical records.

    If this is where you would like to go with your film, it is important to suggest it casually at first before requesting it openly. This way the idea is in their mind, and, through a cordial relationship, you can gain a stronger sense of trust between you. Once it appears as though the bond is strong enough, ask them to begin looking over some documents.

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    If you may believe that they may have opposition to parts of the finished film, it is crucial to have an air-tight contract between you and them. The first and most important thing that you need are photo and location releases for where you will be filming. Make sure that they legally agree to let you use every second of video footage following or interviewing them as well as the right to display any of their property or personal effects.

    If you are trying to chronicle financial or legal issues, such as an open court case that they are involved with, you need to write up specific documents. A lawyer is a must in this case because the situation is incredibly volatile. But, once they have put it in print, you will be free to use the information and video footage as you see fit. The same is true of medical records and would need to be addressed before you ever involve yourself with health issues. For example, if you want to follow someone through their treatment of an illness, you are going to have to get very clear consent for both photo images and the public release of their health records.

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    All of these things need to be done at the beginning, not because you intend to exploit or demean your subjects, but because you are going after a certain common denominator. Make you own views or convictions clear. That way, if you expose something of theirs that is shameful or criminal, they will know why.

    Be careful not to do it for reasons of scandal or gossip, but instead as a way to highlight an issue or expose certain events. If you get approval at the start, they cannot pull the plug on the entire film halfway through or once you are finished. This is an important thing to do especially when you are engaging in guerilla documentary production that may go after controversial issues.