Do Interviewees Get Paid for Documentaries: Know the Secrets


Career Consultant & Blog Writer

Published: June 7, 2023 | Updated: February 16, 2024

Do you want to know “Do Interviewees Get Paid for Documentaries?” Interviewees in documentaries may or may not receive payment. The decision depends on factors such as the budget of the documentary, the significance of the interviewee’s story or expertise, and the ethical considerations of the filmmakers. While some documentaries offer financial compensation, others provide alternative forms of recognition, support, or exposure.

Documentaries are powerful storytelling tools that offer unique perspectives on real-life events, people, and issues. Interviews play a crucial role in documentaries, providing firsthand accounts and personal insights that enrich the narrative. As the audience watches a documentary, they often wonder if the interviewees are compensated for their time, effort, and contribution.

In this article, we will deeply explain the question: “Do interviewees get paid for documentaries?” and explore the various aspects surrounding this topic.

Definition of documentaries

Documentaries are non-fictional audiovisual works that portray real events, people, or issues. They encompass various genres, including social, historical, investigative, and biographical documentaries. These films strive to provide factual information and engage viewers intellectually and emotionally.

Purpose of documentaries

Documentaries have multiple purposes, such as:

  • Educating the public,
  • Presenting social issues,
  • Documenting historical events,
  • Inspiring change, or simply entertaining viewers.

They often seek to inform, challenge, or provoke audiences, encouraging them to think critically about the subject matter.

Importance of interviews in documentaries

Interviews form an integral part of the documentary-making process. They allow filmmakers to capture personal stories, expert opinions and firsthand accounts directly from the individuals involved. Interviews provide a human touch, making the documentary more relatable and compelling for viewers.

Do Interviewees Get Paid for Documentaries: True Fact

When it comes to compensating interviewees for their participation in documentaries, the landscape is diverse. While some interviewees receive financial compensation, others may not. The decision to pay interviewees depends on several factors, including the nature of the documentary, budget constraints, and ethical considerations.

Understanding the documentary interview process

The documentary interview process involves selecting relevant interviewees, conducting pre-interview research, and setting up the interview sessions. The interviews are typically filmed and later edited to fit the narrative structure of the documentary. The purpose is to capture authentic responses that contribute to the overall storytelling.

Factors influencing payment for interviews

Several factors come into play when determining whether interviewees should receive payment.

  • The budget available for the documentary plays a significant role.
  • Large-scale productions with substantial funding may have the means to compensate interviewees, while smaller independent documentaries might face financial constraints.
  • The prominence and reputation of the interviewee also influence payment decisions.
  • High-profile individuals or experts in their field may negotiate payment terms due to their expertise or potential impact on the documentary’s success.

Common practices regarding payment

In the documentary industry, payment practices vary. Some documentaries offer a nominal fee to interviewees to acknowledge their time and contribution. Others provide compensation based on the interviewee’s expertise, the significance of their story, or the potential impact on their personal life or business.

It is worth noting that not all documentaries have the financial means to offer monetary compensation. In such cases, interviewees may be motivated by the opportunity to share their experiences, advocate for a cause, or gain exposure and recognition.

When involving interviewees in documentaries, legal considerations play a crucial role. Filmmakers must address rights, releases, consent, and contractual agreements to ensure ethical practices and protect all parties involved.

#2. Rights and releases

Documentary filmmakers must obtain appropriate rights and releases from interviewees. These legal documents grant the filmmakers the necessary permissions to use the interviewees’ likenesses, words, and personal stories in the documentary. It is essential to clarify the purpose, extent, and duration of the rights granted.

Informed consent is a fundamental aspect of ethical documentary filmmaking. Interviewees should fully understand how their interviews will be used and distributed, as well as the potential risks and benefits associated with their participation. This includes discussing compensation, if applicable, and reaching a mutual agreement between the filmmaker and interviewee.

#4. Contractual agreements

In some cases, documentary filmmakers may draft contractual agreements with interviewees. These agreements outline the terms and conditions of the interview, including compensation, rights granted, and any other pertinent details. Contractual agreements can help establish clear expectations and protect the rights of both parties involved.

Benefits of Participating in Documentaries

Do Interviewees Get Paid for Documentaries

While financial compensation is not always guaranteed, participating in documentaries offers numerous benefits to interviewees. These advantages often outweigh monetary considerations and can be powerful motivators for individuals to share their stories or expertise.

Exposure and publicity

Participating in a well-crafted documentary can provide significant exposure and publicity for interviewees. The film may reach a wide audience, allowing interviewees to share their message, work, or cause on a larger scale. This exposure can lead to increased recognition, professional opportunities, or support for their endeavors.

Opportunities for personal growth

The process of being interviewed for a documentary can be transformative for interviewees. It allows them to reflect on their experiences, share their insights, and gain a deeper understanding of their own narrative. Through storytelling, interviewees can find personal growth, healing, or closure.

Advocacy and awareness

Documentaries often tackle social issues or shed light on marginalized communities. By participating in such documentaries, interviewees become advocates for causes they care about. Their stories contribute to raising awareness, challenging stereotypes, and fostering empathy and understanding among viewers.

Ethical Concerns

While documentaries have the potential to create positive change, ethical concerns can arise when it comes to the treatment of interviewees. Filmmakers must prioritize ethical practices to ensure the well-being and rights of those involved.

Exploitation and manipulation

Documentary filmmakers have a responsibility to avoid exploiting or manipulating interviewees for the sake of storytelling. It is crucial to maintain the integrity of the interviewee’s narrative and protect them from harm, misrepresentation, or the violation of their privacy.

Obtaining informed consent is an ethical imperative. Interviewees should have a clear understanding of how their interviews will be used, the potential impact on their lives, and any compensation offered. Transparency and open communication are vital in establishing a trusting relationship between the filmmaker and the interviewee.

Fair compensation and transparency

If documentary filmmakers choose to provide financial compensation, it is essential to ensure fairness and transparency in the payment process. Clear agreements, open discussions, and a mutual understanding of the value exchange are crucial to avoid exploitation or misunderstandings.

Case Studies

Examining real-life case studies can provide insights into the varied approaches and outcomes regarding interviewee payment in documentaries.

Example 1: “The Forgotten Voices”

“The Forgotten Voices” is a documentary that sheds light on the struggles of refugees in war-torn regions. In this documentary, interviewees are not paid financially but are offered support in the form of resources, counseling, and access to relevant services. The focus is on empowering the interviewees and providing assistance in rebuilding their lives.

Example 2: “Chasing the Dream”

“Chasing the Dream” explores the challenges faced by aspiring artists in the competitive music industry. In this documentary, high-profile musicians and industry experts are compensated for their time and insights. Their participation brings credibility to the film, and their compensation reflects their expertise and impact on the documentary’s success.

The Role of the Documentary Filmmaker

Documentary filmmakers hold a significant responsibility when it comes to interviewee payment and ethical practices. They should prioritize the well-being and rights of interviewees throughout the documentary-making process.

  • Responsibilities towards interviewees: Filmmakers should treat interviewees with respect, dignity, and sensitivity. This includes ensuring open communication, obtaining informed consent, protecting the interviewee’s privacy and reputation, and being transparent about compensation, if applicable. Filmmakers should also create a safe and comfortable environment for interviews, allowing interviewees to share their stories authentically.
  • Ethical Guidelines and best practices: Various organizations and industry bodies provide ethical guidelines and best practices for documentary filmmakers. These guidelines emphasize the importance of informed consent, fair compensation, respectful representation, and protection of interviewees’ rights. Filmmakers should familiarize themselves with these guidelines and incorporate them into their documentary-making process.


In conclusion, the question of whether interviewees get paid for documentaries does not have a simple answer. The landscape of documentary filmmaking is diverse, and practices regarding interviewee compensation vary based on factors such as budget, subject matter, and ethical considerations. While financial compensation is not guaranteed, the benefits of participating in documentaries, such as exposure, personal growth, and advocacy, often outweigh monetary considerations. Documentary filmmakers must prioritize ethical practices, including obtaining informed consent, protecting rights, and ensuring fair treatment of interviewees.

FAQs with Answers about Do Interviewees Get Paid for Documentaries

Do you get paid for being interviewed in a documentary?

The compensation for being interviewed in a documentary varies. Some documentaries offer financial compensation, while others provide alternative forms of recognition or support. The payment depends on factors such as the budget, the nature of the documentary, and the interviewee’s prominence or expertise.

How much do people get paid to do documentaries?

The payment for documentary participants can vary widely. It depends on factors such as the budget of the documentary, the participant’s role, their expertise, the significance of their story, and the potential impact on their personal life or business. Some participants may receive a nominal fee, while others negotiate higher compensation based on their contributions.

Do people get paid to do Netflix documentaries?

Netflix documentaries often involve financial compensation for participants. The payment depends on various factors, including the nature of the documentary, the participant’s role, and their level of expertise. Netflix typically invests substantial budgets into their documentaries, allowing for compensation to be offered to participants.

Can you make money from documentaries?

Yes, it is possible to make money from documentaries. Filmmakers and production companies can generate revenue through various channels, including distribution deals, broadcast rights, streaming platforms, theatrical releases, DVD sales, licensing, and merchandise. Additionally, documentaries can create opportunities for participants to gain exposure, secure speaking engagements, or generate income through related ventures.

How much does PBS pay for documentaries?

The payment for documentaries on PBS can vary depending on factors such as the budget of the specific production, the scope of the project, and the contractual agreements between the filmmakers and PBS. PBS commissions a range of documentaries, from independent productions to high-profile projects, so payment amounts can vary significantly.

How do documentary filmmakers make money?

Documentary filmmakers can make money through various avenues. These include securing funding from production companies, grants, crowdfunding, sponsorships, and partnerships. Additionally, revenue can be generated through distribution deals, broadcast rights, streaming platforms, theatrical releases, DVD sales, and licensing.

How much does Netflix pay for documentaries?

The payment for documentaries on Netflix can vary depending on the nature of the documentary, production budget, and contractual agreements. Netflix invests significant resources into documentary productions and is known for providing competitive compensation to filmmakers and participants.

How much does Netflix pay for interviews?

The payment for interviews in Netflix documentaries varies based on factors such as the significance of the interviewee’s story or expertise, the budget of the specific product, and the contractual agreements. Netflix typically offers compensation to participants, considering the value they bring to the documentary.