Anonymous Interview Techniques

Disguised Studio Interview from U.N. Me

BLOG: I’ve been trying to track down a source to give me an interview on a sensitive topic. This subject matter, coupled with the source’s position, are such that he or she does not want to be identified, ever, and their willingness to participate is based solely upon their confidence that I will protect their identity. In my film, U.N. Me, we conducted a couple interviews of this type. But for this newest interview, I wanted to explore the different options in producing an anonymous, or disguised, interview.

So below I’ve collected some examples that I’ve seen recently.

Silhouetted Studio Interview from U.N. Me

Silhouetted Studio Interview from U.N. Me


The Studio Silhouette

In this interview, a former employee at the United Nations wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal from the institution. We sat him down in a studio setting, blew out the background and let his silhouette be the focal point of the interview. We also took some alternate shots that were more ‘artsy’ that I will upload if I can track them down. The downside to this type of disguised interview is that you can’t watch it for more than a dozen seconds or so before the brain turns off and you rarely get much of the subject’s character communicated to the audience.

Banksy in Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through The Gift Shop Silhouetted Interview Example

The ‘Natural’ Silhouette

This is a silhouette shot taken in a setting that is natural for the subject being interviewed.  In this example, it is ostensibly Banksy’s studio.  Interestingly enough, this disguise was achieved not only by very specific lighting on set, but by digitally adding a black mask over Banksy’s face in the edit. In this type of an interview, we’re trying to communicate the subject’s knowledge and/or character through their personal environment.


Body Part Isolation Interview from U.N. Me

Body Part Isolation Interview from U.N. Me

Body Part Isolation

In our second anonymous interview for U.N. Me, a local Ivoirian worker from the U.N. Mission in Cote d’Ivoire, came forward to expose the kind of corruption that is seen in U.N. missions around the world. Unfortunately, he only came forward about 45 minutes before we were to depart the country. With no time to do much of anything, including grabbing our A camera (a Panasonic HDX900, which had already been packed), I pulled out our B camera (a JVC HD100), sat our subject down in the hotel room and got ready to film. I flipped the LCD around to show him what I was shooting so that he was comfortable his identity was protected and we began. Thankfully he was very animated with his hands, providing, in my mind, an illustration of the frustration he felt at watching the resources meant for his countrymen be stolen for personal gain.


Disguised Interviews from the History Channel show 'Cocaine'

Disguised Interviews from the History Channel show ‘Cocaine’. Click to enlarge.

Disguises (Cocaine)

The show Cocaine that recently aired on History Channel presents some excellent examples of disguised interviews with those involved in the drug game.  The disguises range from the simple, sunglasses and audio distortion, to the elaborate, with masks and hoodies. From top left, they interviewees are a woman who smuggled cocaine in designer shoes, a street level dealer, another dealer, and a narco submarine captain.

Client 9 Interview Double

SPOILER ALERT: This interviewee is actually an actress (Client 9, Dir. by Alex Gibney)


Double (Client 9)

In Alex Gibney’s Client 9, he made an interesting choice to allow this escort to attest to some pretty graphic things relating to Eliot Spitzer.  It was only toward the 2nd half of the film that we learn that this woman is, in fact, an actress (Wrenn Schmidt) and that her lines were written and rehearsed off of tape recordings from the actual escort.

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