Leading TV documentary filmmakers talked about strategies in encouraging their subjects to share their difficult but compelling stories during a roundtable discussion at Variety Virtual TV Fest presented by Amazon Advertising.

¡°I think it’s all about meeting your subjects where they are and being very transparent in the approach of what type of filmmaking you’re going to do and what you hope to get out of it,¡± said Matthew Heineman, director of Amazon¡¯s ¡°The Boy from Medellin.¡± ¡°As long as those conversations are very clear, going into it, I think whatever uncomfortable situations might arise during the filming process are much easier to navigate, if you’ve created that level of rapport and that trust.¡±

Jehane Noujaim, executive producer and director of HBO¡¯s ¡°The Vow,¡± agrees that you need to make people comfortable during filming, especially if you are capturing traumatic events in real time. ¡°It¡¯s about a crisis they face. So they¡¯re figuring out how they still feel about an organization, and that feeling is constantly changing and evolving. So at a later time, they may feel like some of the things that they said are no longer accurate. And [you need] to figure out a way to contextualize it so that they feel comfortable with that.¡±

Josh Kriegman, executive producer and director of Showtime¡¯s ¡°Couples Therapy,¡± adds that it¡¯s important for documentarians to disappear to create that safe space for subjects to reveal themselves. ¡°A key part of it was creating a space where folks … didn¡¯t feel under the gaze of the camera,¡± he said. ¡°So a huge part of the project was creating a space where cameras are concealed behind walls. And the experience of doing therapy is exactly like it would be in the real world. You go in, you do an hour of therapy, you leave, you never want to deal with production or a camera, or anything that puts the production in your face, even though everyone knows they¡¯re being filmed the whole time.¡±

Others participating during the Variety TV Fest¡¯s TV documentary roundtable included, Hao Wu, director and producer of MTV Documentary Films¡¯ ¡°76 Days¡±; Brian Armstrong, executive producer, co-writer and co-director of National Geographic¡¯s ¡°Secret of the Whales¡±; Stephen Kijak, producer and director of HBO Max¡¯s ¡°Equal¡±; Christina Clusiau, director of Netflix¡¯s ¡°Immigration Nation¡±; Jane Cha, executive producer of Apple¡¯s ¡°Dear…¡±; and Rashidi Harper, executive producer of FX Networks¡¯ ¡°Hip Hop Uncovered.¡±