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What questions should I ask the subjects of my documentary on the Philippines porn industry?
June 23, 2008 2:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be filming a documentary in the Philippines about families supported by the pornography industry, and I'd like to hear any interesting questions you might have for the subjects.

All the families there are very impoverished, and the subjects range in age from 15 to 28, and are both male and female. I'd especially like to hear non-typical questions that might lead to poignant answers, not just, "why don't you just get another job?" (Although, if you have an interesting take on that question, let's hear it).

What would you like to know about them? What questions do you have that you'd like answered in the film?
posted by premiumpolar to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
First off, I should have been clear that I'm not "taking the moral high ground" ie "fighting pornography." I'm trying not to take a public stance on the issue. I don't see anything wrong with it, but many of the subjects really don't want to be in pornography, plus several of them have been arrested, due to it being illegal there.

Second, these people all want to be in the documentary and share their stories. I became friends with them before I decided to do a documentary, and they've become some of the best friends I've ever had. One of them is partnering up with me and starting a business, and another is taking graphic design classes from me. When I approached them with the idea to do a documentary, some were excited and passionate about it, others not so much. The ones that were excited and passionate about the idea are the ones who will be in the documentary.
posted by premiumpolar at 2:44 AM on June 23, 2008


Third, I'm in the process of making Manila my permanent home.

Anyway, back on topic. I really am curious as to what people would like to know about these individuals, their industry, their histories, etc. I've read and received many brilliant answers to questions here in the past.
posted by premiumpolar at 2:51 AM on June 23, 2008


I knew a researcher working in Malaysia with homeless kids (particularly girls), and one question I really wanted answered after I read some of her stuff was, how do you get started in this? Are you living a normal everyday life, just like everyone else, and you decide to take it up or is home crap so that this is a better alternative or is this a more fun way to live? What makes you choose a different path from that of your neighbours or relatives?

I want to know because I'm so timid that even when unpleasant things were happening to me at home, running away seemed an unrealistic option. When I got older, I couldn't work out how to get started in pornography (yeah, call me naive, I know) so how do people who do get into these industries get started?

Also, do they have plans for other careers later? What other dreams would they like to achieve -education? travel? a traditional family life?

What are the people like in the industry? Are they friendly and comraderic (??) towards each other or is it a cold impersonal business? Do people fall in love (start relationships) on the job? Do you still want to have unpaid sex, or are you just totally over it, and want to do something else in your off hours? Are there many off hours?

Do the people in your neighbourhood (your butcher, the postie) do they know what you do for a living? Do they treat you any differently? Did you tell them, or did they find out by accident?
posted by b33j at 3:01 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


What precautions do you take to conceal your activities from the authorities? What have your arrests taught you about the success and failure of your techniques? How do you reach your intended audience, given that you have to conceal your business to some extent?

In what format are they distributing their pornography? Is it solely via athe internet, or are there actual copies of videos/DVDs, magazines, photos and whatnot? If there are, do they export them? There must be some interesting information to be had about distributing a popular product in a country where it's illegal.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:10 AM on June 23, 2008


Louche, I don't know if the last paragraph was a question to me or to the subjects, but just to answer your question, it's solely the internet (live online sex shows, mostly).
posted by premiumpolar at 3:15 AM on June 23, 2008


This project seems like a potential minefield of ethical problems. I work on prostitution in Asia myself and after eight years on the project, I still haven't figured out a way to approach living human beings to ask them personal questions, and I know a lot about their country, language and dialects, industry and its jargon, and working conditions. If I were to combine interviewing into my research, I'd have to comply with a whole mess of US federal guidelines about using human subjects before I could do so.

I don't mean to sound harsh, but are you deeply familiar with their language, dialect, community organizations, or especially, their churches? Living their culture is the place to start, and from that familiarity with your subjects and their lives, questions might naturally follow-- or they might not, for once you know more, you might realize your project puts people (including yourself) in jeopardy in ways you haven't yet imagined.

Otherwise it's hard to avoid coming across the way matteo described above, or more significantly for your project, missing the meanings this work has for these people entirely. Pornography likely has a very different status in these people's minds than it does in yours. It might be a far lesser evil than other options. For example, it sounds like it allows families to stay intact. Or pornography might not mean anything at all, since they are doing live sex shows. Talking about pornography with an outsider might cause problems for them that you haven't imagined.

Although I have deep misgivings about polling the internet for questions to ask a group of vulnerable people on film, I'll offer a question to stay within guidelines. I'd ask them why they chose this line of work over other options.

But to reiterate, I wouldn't ask them anything until you knew a lot more about these people than you do now. And my assumption you don't know enough comes from my own position, as someone whose has spent nearly a decade studying prostitution in Asia professionally, and still feels unprepared to ask questions of people who made hard choices that would make for myself a great career move, like a book or film.
posted by vincele at 4:14 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


As b33j suggested it would be worth asking every participant exactly how they got into it. When and why they made the decision, who they met, where they went, etc.
posted by fire&wings at 4:22 AM on June 23, 2008


Thanks for your input, vincele, I really appreciate it. I don't know how much better I'd need to know these people; they're some of my best friends (and that's not an exaggeration). I would be interested in carrying this conversation on further (although here probably wouldn't be the best place, but if you click my profile you'll find my AIM. Also, my Yahoo ID is PeopleOfEarth, if you're interested, or you can just email me).
posted by premiumpolar at 4:24 AM on June 23, 2008


I'd be interested in how and whether/when participants negotiate and make choices within the industry. E.g. Are there different distributors (right word)? Does a participant get to pick? Can the worker reject certain partners, or certain sex acts? How much bargaining power do the workers have? Do some people have more bargaining power than others? Who, why? Does a worker take steps to increase bargaining power? What steps? (I know those aren't written like interview questions, just trying to explain some interesting (to me) topics.)

I'd be interested in questions of family. Do workers get into the business through family members? Do they leave their families when they start working in the industry? How much do their family members know? Are there new (non-bio) families created within the industry and among participants/workers?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:54 AM on June 23, 2008


I don't want to derail this thread, but I want to let this be known:

1. I currently talk to them for a minimum of 6-9 hours a day, 7 days a week (in about an even mix of tagalog and english). We talk about the things most friends talk about; what's going on in our lives, family problems, joys and concerns, work, stress, everything. There's not too much about their work that I don't already know, and they feel comfortable talking to me. And I know they love and care about me just as much as I love and care about them.

2. I really don't want to do an exploit flick. Technically, I guess, any true story is exploitive in some way, but I really want the positives to outweigh the negatives. If I feel anyone is going to get hurt by the film, I'll cut their part, and for that matter, if during editing, I feel that there's no way to make the film in a way that will help them instead of hurt them, I'll just scrap the film entirely. My goal in the project is to help my friends, and help their community. My goal isn't just "make a documentary that'll sell well."

3. I don't want the focus of the film to be porn. I want the focus of the film to be them, and their remarkable lives. I wish I could share with you some of their stories right now, because they're amazing and inspirational, but I don't feel comfortable sharing anything without talking to them first. The same will be true with the documentary.

4. I just want to state this again: I care very much about them, and the last thing I'd ever want is to see them hurt by something I caused. I'm doing all I can to prevent that, and I'm discussing our options with them every step of the way. If, during the editing process, I think they might be negatively affected by the film, I'll scrap it altogether. They're not test subjects for me to study, and they're not people who've entered my life temporarily until the film is over, only for me to exit and not keep in touch. They're some of my closest friends whom I'll do anything to protect.

I hope this eases peoples' minds.
posted by premiumpolar at 4:56 AM on June 23, 2008


Those are very good questions, Claudia. I think you'll be interested in some of the answers.
posted by premiumpolar at 4:58 AM on June 23, 2008


[a few answers and non-answers removed - if you'd like to take this thread to metatalk, please feel free.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:45 AM on June 23, 2008


I would be most interested in their stories -- who they are, how they ended up where they are now, where they think they are going in the future. I would also like to see (both visually and in interviews) how they and their work fits into the community -- is it kept secret, does everyone know, how does the local priest or the woman with a food stand feel about this, etc.

I would also like to see the ethics of the project put right up front and center -- eg "everyone in this film insisted on using their real names because XYZ" or "all names and identifying details changed at their request" and so on. I think the self-reflective aspect could be among the most interesting pieces of the project. Ask the people on camera "why do you want this documentary to be made? what are you hoping will come from it?"

If you have not done so already, there are a number of really good ethnographic books about somewhat similar questions. Two that come to mind are Travesti by Don Kulick and Mema's House by Annick Prieur; there are many others.
posted by Forktine at 6:34 AM on June 23, 2008


Thanks for the book recs, Forktine, I'll give them a look.
posted by premiumpolar at 12:41 PM on June 23, 2008


As a documentarian, the best thing I can suggest is asking them open ended questions that get their stories out of them, and then really listen and follow up the interesting leads.

Things like: "Tell me about how you started doing this." or "What did it feel like the first time you did it" or "What would you tell others thinking about doing this" or "What was the best experience you had doing this" "What was the most painful experience you had" etc.

These kinds of open ended general questions will help them tell you what their story is, as opposed to imposing preconceived ideas on to them. And really listen, and followup on topics that they bring up but don't elaborate fully. Listening is the most important part of documentary interviewing.

Good luck.
posted by MythMaker at 12:46 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


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