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Ethical Filmmaking

When you start working on a multimedia project for class there is much to think about: planning interviews, writing a story, needing to learn an editing program, figuring out how to use microphones -- but this is only part of the picture.

Even very simple projects can have a real impact on people and places, and it’s therefore very important to understand your responsibilities as a filmmaker.

  • Make sure that anyone you work with understands the nature of your project and how their contribution will be used.
    I once heard a story about a few students who went to a WalMart to do a video project for class. They did an interview with a worker there. As a result of the project, the management ended up firing the worker for comments that he made. Think about who your work might impact!

  • Always get permission when you’re filming (and signed releases whenever you can).
    To protect yourself and your subjects, it is a good idea to get signed releases. Releases allow you to document permission from individuals and property owners for their contributions to your project. Documentors has a simple explanation about why releases are so important, as well as some sample forms that you can use. Always use release forms that are easy for your subject to comprehend.

  • If you didn’t make it, make sure you are using it responsibly (Fair Use)
    You should always work as though your project could end up on YouTube someday, even if your original intention for your project is only for class use. There are very important things to consider if you are interested in using third party music or other media in your projects. See our Copyright and Fair Use section for resources and more information.

  • Be truthful.
    Video recording and editing are powerful tools, and it can be easier than you might think to feel tempted to alter actual events. You should never misrepresent events that you recorded. You can't edit bits of an interview together to express an idea that was never conveyed by the speaker. You should never use footage to support your argument if it is completely irrelevant, but looks like it is. For example, if you are criticizing combat in Vietnam, it would be highly unethical to use footage from the Korean war.

Additional Resources


    Header photo by Danilo Prates.
    Image by Mike McCaffrey.