Fail-Proof Pre-Interview Process for Nonprofit Storytelling?

3 min read
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People are the soul of some of the best documentaries. Since we want to avoid putting the wrong people on camera, conducting pre-interviews is the key to determining your story's characters.

Before we choose lenses and press the camera's red record button, we focus on finding the most robust character for your film. This person will best align with our clients' story goals.

Our article on character selection explains that a strong character has desire, motivation, and uniqueness. Storytelling pre-interviews are how we do identify those three characteristics.

What Is A Pre-Interview?

Storytelling pre-interviews are in-depth get-to-know-you conversations with potential people we're considering for our films. We mainly conduct around 3-7 pre-interviews with a sweet spot of five people, depending on availability. Pre-interviewing several people help us control our biases and choose a character who resonates with us above others. It's easy for someone to stand out if they're only standing.

To build trust quickly, we ask questions like:

  • What's one goal you still want to achieve one day?
  • Where did that point of view or belief come from?
  • What do you want most at this moment in life?
  • If we're chatting three years from today, you're gleaming with happiness; what has happened over those three years? What would you have overcome?

These questions and more like them help us uncover a person's desire, motivation, and uniqueness, what makes them different. At the end of these calls and beyond, We've been repeatedly told the conversation was refreshing.

"It is something special to have been listened to.
I value this experience and how this challenges me to think about life…"

Verna Kragnas

"I'm feeling really good after this conversation with you. No one has ever asked me some of those questions."

Joe Mackenzie

Our pre-interviews also help identify who should be our main character in a film and build a connection with the character. They feel seen and heard through the pre-interview. This process helps the character speak freely when they're later on camera. Ultimately, the viewing audience identifies with and connects with the character.

What about character identification?

Character identification is when the viewing audience wants what the character wants. The viewing audience starts subconsciously rooting for the character. They also feel sadness when the character fails to achieve their desires.

Jonathan Cohen says, "We merge with the character, putting our separate selves aside temporality."

This sound a lot like empathy. I'm so amazed by the power of storytelling.

Once we finish pre-interviewing our story prospects, we rank each person on their desire, motivation, and uniqueness. In our film Ripple of Cars, two characters equally ranked high.

But, one of the character's desires wasn't strong enough. Their big desire didn't align with the film's goal.

Meanwhile, Joe became the heart of our story amid his desire to foster economic freedom for Anika County residents. Equipped with this information, we shared our story findings and suggestions with our client's comms team. They decide which direction we should go. After that, we begin developing the story to bring it to life.


In closing, we focus on finding the right character through pre-interviews to tell a powerful story. These conversations help us uncover desires, motivations, and uniqueness. Storytelling pre-interviews build trust and connections, leading to authentic on-camera conversations.

Thanks for reading. Don't hesitate to contact us if you're digging the articles and want to chat.

We're a Minnesota-based storytelling agency serving the Midwestern United States.

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