How to approach someone to be the subject of a documentary

by Briana

I have a particular person/talent in mind for my documentary. I haven't seen much (or really any media) about individuals with his job or talent and I think this person would be the ideal way to showcase such a story.

I want to do this project only because I find the idea exciting and want to know what's involved in the behind-the-scenes of this method of creation and performance.

In short I feel compelled to find and tell the story. I think it embodies this criteria very well:

"Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen."
~Robert Bresson, French Film Director

I have never made a documentary. I have some hands-on knowledge of cameras as well as productions for film and television but never as the producer and creator and director.

I'm working on doing my own background research of the field the person works in and any other information I think will help me approach this project right now. This will help hone my idea more fully so I can apply to various funding sources if/when I am ready to make this happen. I want to as well-informed about the subject (and making a film) as I can before I even begin with the knowledge that I will always have to learn more!

This project will involve travelling with the talent (hopefully) and I will need help with camera, audio, lighting (at a minimum).

What I'd like is some advice on how to approach this person whom I don't know and have never met, to pitch his involvement? I haven't found a wealth of information on this topic or him personally and so part of the story won't be developed until I have that information.

Since I have never made a film and they have a busy and demanding schedule, it seems like a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum. I want a well planned project to pitch but I really do need to engage with him and let the story reveal itself to a certain extent.

Does my approach sound reasonable. Should I try to find a crew for this production before speaking to him or would I speak to him and then take it from there?

Any tips and advice appreciated.

Answer | Desktop Documentaries

Thanks for your question Briana. Without knowing exactly the person or situation, I can only offer general guidance.

If the person you are trying to contact is a "celebrity" or a person with a high profile, it will be more difficult to engage with them especially if you've never done a film before. You'll need to establish your credibility in some way for them to take you seriously. So you'll need to dig deep and think about your assets. Have you accomplished anything in the past that would show your level of professionalism? (even if it's not a film).

If you are a complete newbie, it may serve you well to first recruit a filmmaker who has more experience that you could use to help build your credibility with this celebrity/person.

Here's an article that helps explain how to find filmmakers for your documentary.

Or if you can't find a filmmaker, even getting respected individuals from your community to join your "board of advisors" would help raise your credentials for the project.

Click here to learn the importance of building a fundraising team.

If you're not yet asking for an interview and you just want to get to know the person -- make initial contact -- send them a friendly "short and sweet" email saying you're exploring the idea of a documentary, that you are fascinated with their life/job and would they have just 10 minutes to speak with you and give you some feedback on an idea you have. If this is a normal person, they will be flattered that you find their life interesting, and you expressing intrigue in their life may be enough for them to respond.

Do you know anyone that knows anyone with a connection with the person? Any kind of personal introduction is always better than a "cold call" or "cold email". Again, use whatever assets and personal connections you have (even if that's excitement for the project) to connect and get their attention.

Did that help answer your question? Just remember, where there's a will, there's a way!

Please leave additional comments and feedback below.

Comments for How to approach someone to be the subject of a documentary

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Mar 07, 2016
How did things turn out for you?
by: Kevin

Hi Briana ~

Did you ever manage to pitch your idea to the person you wanted to film? How did it all turn out?


Oct 23, 2015
Finding people for documentary
by: Kay

i have a team that wants to do a documentary on a certain subject but we have no idea how to recruit people to talk to about the subject manner. It involves taking to kids of all ages across Canada. Do you know how people usually find people to film. Do you start a website asking people to contact you if they have experience with the subject manner, are there places online or do you just start calling places like schools? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Apr 07, 2014
by: Desktop Documentaries

It's absolutely doable Briana. Good luck and please check back here and keep us posted!

Apr 07, 2014
Good tips!
by: Briana

Thanks for the prompt and helpful advice!

They are 'high profile', though mostly unknown to the average person, but it will likely involve going through their manager initially. However, he is often in my city and so I may be able to find a way to contact him for a brief chat about the concept. I've even thought of pitching the idea to the local concert hall who employs him regularly for their productions. It seems like a 'no-brainer' that a film (or even a short excerpt) to show before a show or for publicity would be of interest to them (if well done).

I will make use of my professional credentials (albeit unrelated to film) as it will help gain a certain amount of trust. I also like the idea of having at least one trusted and experienced film maker to get going, I am going to try and find a suitable individual once the concept is more developed.

No major flaws with my plan have been pointed out (yet) so with some of these tips, I'm starting to feel it's doable :)


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