Researching the film
BY: MELEIZA FIGUEROA, Lead Researcher
For me, the watchword for research was: READ, READ, READ. There is so much material concerning Wal-Mart, from so many sources, that it sometimes became difficult to keep track of it all! Every line of factual information, every person who spoke out in television, radio, and print media was a valuable resource to me in the search for potential subjects and/or facts for the film. It’s easy to get lost in the ocean of information surrounding Wal-Mart, and doing the research in a “filmic” context was both a challenge and a great aid in organizing the information I had gathered. Jim, our web god, set up a “wiki” where we could organize our research online according to what we planned on filming or covering in the course of production, and that (along with the steady stream of emails from Robert, Sarah and the co-producers) helped tremendously in focusing my research efforts.
Most of my research was conducted on the Internet – I almost always started with a relatively broad Google or Lexis/Nexis search and, like peeling the layers of an onion, went deeper and deeper into a subject until I was satisfied I had all the necessary information. I also had to make sure (especially on some of the statistical info) that the numbers were double-, sometimes triple-checked, and that the source material was meticulously documented (with a primary source if possible). I threw nothing away – often little, seemingly insignificant tidbits of info I happened upon along the way proved to be a “door” leading to a great story, or was something that proved to be vitally important in later stages of production. I spent almost ten months poring over several gigabytes of articles, news reports, video clips, academic studies, and business reports that scrutinized various facets of Wal-Mart’s business operations in minute detail. It was, I must say, overwhelming at times.
I had an enormous amount of help from experts and other researchers who have been working on various aspects of Wal-Mart for years. They provided a wealth of factual information we that were able to use to take the personal stories portrayed in the film and show that the issues these people faced were not isolated, but widespread and systemic. I also gained a lot of insight from talking with these experts and understanding the context in which they place their facts.
I had the opportunity to attend a special class at UCLA that examined Wal-Mart from various business, social, and economic perspectives, and to attend conferences that brought together diverse minds and areas of expertise all working on this issue. I also spent a week in Washington, DC, meeting with researchers whose years of experience researching Wal-Mart provided great insights, contacts and volumes of print/video material I could not have found online. They helped me tremendously in understanding not only the raw numbers, but also the story that the numbers told.
Last but not least, the incredible stories I uncovered in my research revealed to me the enormous amount of courage that is out there in ordinary people. People who risk so much in speaking out and fighting for change – even if it’s a tiny action in a small community, or telling their story to a local paper. The beauty of the internet is in that no matter how small or obscure the story, it is out there as an inspiration for anyone, from anywhere in the world, who comes across it. Thank you, and know you are not alone – keep on making your voices heard!
See Also: The facts seen in the film.