Conflict of interest when making a documentary
(Los Angeles, CA,)
Question: I am producing a documentary about two good friends of mine who run an unusual restaurant in the desert. The director is concerned the friendship is a conflict of interest, and rarely happens in the doc film industry.
I believe there must be examples of success stories of creating a film about a subject or subject matter with which one might be intimately familiar.
The greater question is, of course, regarding protecting relationships, while managing creative control. I would love insight, reading material, analagous examples, etc..
Thank you, Sidney
Desktop Documentaries | Answer:
This is a great question. The answer all depends on the story, the circumstances and the storytelling style you choose. If there is any concern about conflict of interest, you can include as part of the documentary a brief statement about the filmmaker's connection to the story.
For example, in Alexandra Palosi's documentary Journeys With George about George Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, Alexandra gave full disclosure that her mom Nancy Palosi was a California Democratic Representative. That way, the audience understood the producer's connection to the subject and where she was coming from.
In Michael Moore's break-out hit documentary Roger & Me, he examines the negative economic impact of General Motors after they closed several plants down in Michigan costing tens of thousands of people their jobs. In the documentary, Moore introduces himself, explaining that his father was a General Motors employee. You can't get a bigger conflict of interest than that! But because Moore was upfront about his connection, you understand where he's coming from and it made the story more interesting and more personal.
Sometimes the BEST documentaries are those where the filmmaker has very close access and personal ties to the story. They have access that no one else does. That's the BEAUTY of documentaries. They often cover angles that the mainstream media is not.
Conflict of interest is even less of an issue when the subject matter is non-controversial which sounds like it might fit the bill on your particular documentary idea.
Conflict of interest is primarily a concern if you are working as a journalist (or portraying yourself as a journalist).
As for managing relationships and creative control, I recommend getting your friends to sign a talent release (kind of like an MOU). That's standard practice when making a documentary. That will help set expectations about how you plan to use their interviews/story, who has creative control and who owns what. Learn more about legal documentary stuff.
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