In certain ways, it's a case-by-case decision. I think that any documentary filmmaker who tells you that there's a hard and fast line where you have to keep a distance, is probably not making the same kind of film that I am. There's a financial thing. If you're working with people who are poor, I think that there has to be a line in terms of money. I will take my subject out to eat. I will buy my subject a birthday present. If somebody comes and tries to hit me up for $500 because they can't pay their rent, there's a line you have to draw there because the relationship can become very distorted by money. And that's very tough, because you have money and they have none in many situations. And if you can give them $50 and their electricity isn't turned off, that's an extremely tempting thing to do, to help somebody you care about. But I do find that that's a line you have to hold firm with. I mean, with kids, I find if you work it out at the beginning of the process, you can give them sort of an honorarium—"Okay, you're gonna spend ten days with me and we'll give you $50 a day, and at the end of this thing you'll get $500 and that's your honorarium." And if you work that out from the beginning and it's a no-questions-asked thing, that's it. When I worked with teenagers, that's something I felt okay about.
But then in terms of the emotional, it becomes much more complicated. There is this young girl who lives in Baltimore who's in Waxter Girls; her name is Megan, and she was locked up. Now she's back on the street and she's trying so hard to do good. Her mother is a junkie and lives in her neighborhood. She basically has been in and out of foster homes and she has been sleeping on friends' couches. And given her horizon, the fact that she's staying off drugs and she's going to school is just extraordinary. She called and wanted to come up because she felt like things were getting very hot. Her mother was a mess. She was getting sicker and sicker every day. The pressure of Megan seeing her mother all the time was becoming extraordinary. Some people Megan had some former criminal activity with, friends, had gotten out of jail. Things were getting very stressful for her and she wanted to come up, and she called saying she wanted to come and stay with me for a couple of weeks. And I really don't know what to do about that. Maybe she'll decide she doesn't want to and I'll be off the hook. Or maybe I'll have to make a decision. Maybe I'll say she can come up for one day and supervise her, but that's the kind of thing that's very, very, very tough.
You really become close with people. I stay in contact with people from my first film, and people call and they want to talk. I guess it's not that tough for me because I've never made a film in which anybody's looked bad. It's not the kind of film I make. So there hasn't been a stress with, "What do I put in the film?" versus "What have I told them I'm gonna do?"
So generally all of those relationships stay very comfortable. But there is a tough line on this film I was making that I just turned in to HBO. I was dealing with both families—the victim's family and the perpetrator's family, and a lot of questions were asked. A lot of people became very dependent on me, and it's tough.
Was this article helpful?
If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.