Exploring potential candidates characters for your new documentary is, in my opinion, not only an extremely interesting thing to do, but also a crucial one. Understanding what each potential character can add to the story is essential in planning (and later on create with images) the entire narrative arc.

I usually start my research on publicly available sources of information: newspapers, social media, YouTube, conferences websites, and so on. After nailing down the top few candidates I would like to possibly interview (assuming of course in this stage of production to be in the perfect scenario where everyone is fully available and willing to be on camera), I first usually connect with them by email or chat (Facebook messenger, LinkedIn, or preferably WhatsApp if I was able to find their phone number online or through a common connection). Then, for those who I believe may be a good fit for the story, I usually try to conduct pre-interviews.

A pre-interview is a conversation - either in person or over the phone - you can do to explain the topic to the potential participants, to get to know them better, to break the ice in the interviewer-interviewee relationship, to explore different talking points and perspectives, and to understand their knowledge and point of view on the topic the documentary focuses on, before scheduling a full fledged interview.

The dilemma: to pre-interview or not to pre-interview?

There are two conflicting schools of thought on the theme of pre-interviews. On the one hand, there are those who believe that interviewing your participants before talking on camera will make you lose authenticity. They assume that during the interview you might not be able to recreate on camera the spontaneity of the first meeting.

On the other hand, many others believe that a pre-interview is essential to the success of the on-camera interview and it constitutes an invaluable tool for any documentary author and director. Of course, being conscious that it doesn’t constitute a rehearsal for the official interview, so it is important not to provide the interviewee with the questions ahead of time so to avoid the authenticity problem and ensuring a spontaneous and offhand interview.

Personally, if you are in the ideation/pre-production phase, I definitely recommend to take advantage and leverage on pre-interviews. They will help you understand the questions you will be asking during the official interview, but it will also help your participants become more comfortable with you. They will help you start familiarizing with your character’s story. The will reveal you meaningful information you hadn’t considered before.

As for how to do them, I absolutely recommend:

  1. To do them off-camera. It makes the conversation more natural and removes the majority of the stress for participants.
  2. Absolutely audio record them! It will help you reference back to the main talking points and highlights of the conversation, without the fear of forgetting what was said. If you want to transcribe them automatically, LSTN can help you create in minutes a searchable and editable script that you can share with your co-authors and producers. Sign up for the free trial at www.lstn.xyz.

Let’s tell great stories!