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    Subject suddenly no longer wants to be in film
    #1
    Senior Member Omar N's Avatar
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    Community, I have a question.

    I travelled over seas to produce a documentary on a specific family, who originally was willing to be in my film. They were fantastic during the preproduction phone calls where they expressed tremendous amounts of interest in being a part of it, and loved the idea of having their story told on camera. When I first got here, they continued to be great and were very willing to appear in the film.

    Fast forward about a month later, and they have decided they no longer wish to be part of the film. They are OK with me using everything I have collected so far, but simply don't feel like being on camera any more. Nothing happened to prompt them to feel this way. I get the impression they just don't care enough to be involved anymore.

    This has me extremely upset, because I made a lot of life sacrifices to fly out for this project, and I now feel like I am dead in the water with a story that is only have completed, all because the family simply doesn't feel like being in it anymore. I told them from the get go that I would need two months and they agreed, but now they are going back on their word. There were many families who would have loved to be in this film, but I chose this particular one, and now I feel I made a mistake.

    My question is, has anyone else had this happen to them? Does anybody have any advice on how to handle these type of situations where the films subject does doesn't want to do it anymore? Any bits of wisdom will be really appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Omar
    Last edited by Omar N; 09-15-2017 at 10:57 AM.


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    #2
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    Maybe try to convince the family that you only need a few more days of their time and try to complete as much of the project as possible even if you have to rewrite some things. Maybe then focus on another family's story (or more) for the variety and pick-up where you left off. (Don't know anything about the film so hard to say if that's doable.)

    There's not much you can do if someone simply doesn't want to do it anymore unless any papers/contracts were signed and you start involving lawyers, which is always unpleasant.


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    Dang. This sort of thing sure has happened to me. A few quick things:

    Give it time.
    Consider the example of Philip Gröning when he was trying to get "Into Great Silence" off the ground:
    "The idea for the film was proposed to the monks in 1984, but the Carthusians said they wanted time to think about it. They responded to Gröning 16 years later to say they were willing to permit him to shoot the movie if he was still interested."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_Great_Silence
    He wasn't half-way through filming, so it's not much like your situation. But sometimes people change their mind.

    I'm also personally waiting for someone to come out of a very dark period of their life to return to a film we're working on. They have more important things to deal with right now that being part of a film. I'm trying to be not pushy and patient... And mostly being supportive during their struggle. And not to schmooze access, but to do what I think is the right thing.

    I've also had to drop half-finished stories because the subject backed out. Sucks, but that's part of the gig. Luckily, that's uncommon.

    Read Getting To Yes
    It's not a long book, and doesn't cover every theory and issue in negotiating, but I've found it helpful. This overview looks about right:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_to_Yes

    Ask them directly, but very politely, why they no longer want to be involved. Too disruptive to their daily lives? Worried about how they'll be portrayed?
    Strive to make it not about you; ya, that's obvious but depending on the people saying something like, "But I'm only half-way done!" might not help. Saying, "You're going back on your word" may be cathartic but just about for sure wouldn't get them to want to help you finish your film You have a feel for these people now, you know how to approach them.

    Edit some of your footage into something like a money reel. Say, five minutes of the best stuff you have, very well edited (maybe bring in an outside editor if you're not a master of that craft). Show that you care about their story, that they don't look goofy, and this this is a project they want to be involved with. If it fits, maybe end with a cliffhanger. Get them to think, "we want to help tell the rest of the story." Maybe even say, "I'd love to help tell the rest of your story."

    Find out why they've backed away.
    See if you can address their concerns (or lack of interest or whatever).
    Give them time.
    And be ready to walk away for at least a while. Maybe in a few months or a year they'll feel different. Maybe not.


    Best I can think of for now. Good luck Omar!
    ----------
    Jim Feeley
    POV Media


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    Throw money at the situation


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    #5
    Senior Member Omar N's Avatar
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    Guys, thank you so much for the advice. I found it all very helpful.

    Jim, thanks for sharing your experiences. I am glad to know I am not alone in this, and that it happens to others as well (Though I do hope you are able to finish your projects!). The "Getting to Yes" book seems really interesting. I just found it an Audible, so I will have to check this out!

    NoBro, I think you are right, in that convincing the family I only need a few more days is a great idea.

    I ended up using a combination of advice offered by you Jim and you NoBro. I gave them some time and backed off for a week. When I went back, I told them that all I would need is another week of their time, instead of another month as originally planned. They agreed to this and so far they appear to be reignited. I'll just have to work a bit longer days than usual for the next week, but definitely all doable.

    combatentropy, I'll have to use that as plan b!


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    Senior Member jamedia.uk's Avatar
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    There was two bits of advice I was given at differing times re film making.
    1 shoot the sex scenes first. Just in case the talent change their minds 3/4 of the way through shooting. Apparently it happens
    2 when by chance talking to some one who turned out to be a porn producer (were it is all sex scene) he said they shoot the cum shot first then the 20 minute (!?!?) porn scene.

    The point being where possible get the important/essential scenes shot first. Not always easy where it is "a journey" or a documentary of a real event over time. However if you have the core scenes you can "fix the rest in post" and edit "a story" just not the one on the original brief.

    If you have the significant scenes you can say you have enough to make the film just not the film they wanted.... so it is easier to finish and have the film they would like rather than stop and get something that you construct from what you have to tell a different story.


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    Probably too late to help, but I'm not beyond begging. I would tell them how important their part is and I'd make it a priority to wrap with them asap. Maybe even if you can just get one additional day or two. If not, it might force your project in another direction, and in that case, I've often seen things that appear as problems turn out to be solutions or it took me down a road I wouldn't have gone down. If they completely bail, I'd work that into the story then. Their refusal to film, I'd work it in.

    Also, I'd be sure to get any releases up front too.

    This is one of the problems that happens when you are not paying people to be in your film. That's why I try to find projects where the person is extremely passionate about their story and telling it. They are less likely to bail.


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    Senior Member jamedia.uk's Avatar
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    I have had a similar sort of thing happen this month. I am doing a documentary on local politics. One of the politicians decided not to be involved. We shot the rest and then contacted the one who declined to say the documentary was being made. We could put int he facts as known about his part in the story with the comment "**** declined to take part" This implies much and the politician ia now taking part :-) We are doing his interview on Monday. 4 days time so there is still time for him to change his mind.

    FIRST thing we are going to do is the release from before se start the cameras....


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    Senior Member Cary Knoop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jagraphics View Post
    We could put int he facts as known about his part in the story with the comment "**** declined to take part" This implies much and the politician ia now taking part :-)
    It's good journalism to give each side of the story a chance to comment but anyone should have the right to decline an interview for any reason.

    If he declines the interview I would also ask if he would want to offer a written statement.
    I would make sure that your statement is neutral and non-speculative as to the reasons, if he declines completely you could say something like: "X was contacted but declined to comment" or if he has a written statement "X was contacted but declined an interview but offered the following statement: .......".

    I believe that fact that he does not want to cooperate with your documentary should not in any way show bias or imply anything in your documentary.


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    Senior Member jamedia.uk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cary Knoop View Post
    It's good journalism to give each side of the story a chance to comment but anyone should have the right to decline an interview for any reason.

    If he declines the interview I would also ask if he would want to offer a written statement.
    I would make sure that your statement is neutral and non-speculative as to the reasons, if he declines completely you could say something like: "X was contacted but declined to comment" or if he has a written statement "X was contacted but declined an interview but offered the following statement: .......".

    I believe that fact that he does not want to cooperate with your documentary should not in any way show bias or imply anything in your documentary.
    I agree. However not appearing or making a written statement is often, but not always, a sign of a guilty party wanting to hide something etc. Therefore most will want to take part to put their side of things.

    Any documentary should be fair and balanced. The point I was making was that if you are going to make the documentary anyway the potential interviewees have nothing to loose by taking part as they get their story inter own words. Rather than your or other people's interpretation of their actions/words.

    In my case it was a series of 7 interviews and one politician decided he was "too busy" When he realised that the documentary was going to be made with or without him and the other 6 had by this point already been interviewed he made space in his diary.


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