The Makings of a Great Documentary Film

Creating an entertaining documentary is a challenging (yet rewarding) experience for filmmakers, especially for those looking to engage viewers with a topic that’s usually forgotten or ignored. While thought-provoking documentaries have the potential to go viral and cause a societal reaction (I’m looking at you, Making a Murderer), a dull documentary will send viewers straight to the off button on their T.V. remote or out of the movie theater doors. As a filmmaker, it’s crucial to consider the key elements that make up an excellent documentary to create excitement and discussion among your audience. Here are a few ways you can do that below.

Do Your Homework

A good documentary is nothing without solid facts and hard evidence. Make sure that you’ve crossed your T’s, dotted your I’s, and have verified everything. There’s nothing worse than promoting a documentary that’s supposed to be factual, only to hurt your reputation for having not double-checked what an interviewer or narrator claimed to be true.

Evoke Passion

It’s important to remember that even when viewers are open to the idea of watching a documentary, they still want to be entertained. Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore reminds filmmakers that viewers “don’t want to be lectured,” making it vital to evoke passion and energy within any documentary. Keep in mind that your audience wants an escape from their everyday lives, and to present them with material that’s depressing or bogged down with facts isn’t fair. Don’t do that to your audience.

Bring energy and focus into each shot to thoroughly engage your audience.
Bring energy and focus into each shot to thoroughly engage your audience.

Use Interesting and Applicable Characters

Don’t interview a victim’s uncle’s brother’s neighbor just because they were willing to sit down with your crew and answer a few questions. Provide your viewers with quality interviews that reveal inside information about the main topic or highlighted character, and only use characters that are intriguing or directly involved in the issue at hand. It’s also a good idea to include an expert on your documentary’s subject to add depth and authenticity to your film.

Choose the Right Music

The music you choose for your documentary is crucial, as it will set the mood for your viewers and will either draw your audience into the plot or push them away entirely. Make sure that you consider the era of your topic when picking out a soundtrack and whether or not you want to include popular music from that time. When choosing where to place individual songs with the film, be aware of what you want your audience to feel at that particular moment. The use of silence is also equally effective, depending on the topic at hand, and can be used when displaying ending text in the last shots of your film.


Top 5 Movies Ever Filmed in Chicago

With exciting tourist attractions and plenty of hometown pride, the city of Chicago has been the backdrop for some the most popular movies ever made. From thrillers to family comedies, the Windy City has seen its fair share of blockbusters hits. To review some of the best movies that were filmed in Chicago, take a look at our list of the top 5 flicks to see.

1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

This classic teen comedy was written and directed by the famous filmmaker, John Hughes. The movie stars Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, a high school slacker that spends the day skipping school and having the adventure of a lifetime with two of his friends. The trio spends the day hilariously avoiding parents and sightseeing in Chicago, visiting places such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Sears Tower, and Wrigley Field.

2. The Fugitive

In this remake of the popular 1960’s television show, the legendary Harrison Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a man falsely accused of murdering his wife. After he’s convicted and sentenced to death, Kimble makes a daring escape from custody and flees. He spends the film running through different parts of Chicago, trying to find the real killer and prove his innocence.

The streets of Chicago are perfect for action movies and family comedies alike.

3. North By Northwest

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this classic film tells a story of mistaken identity. Roger Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, is kidnapped by two thugs who think that he’s a different person named “George Kaplan.” He manages to escape and tries to track down the real Kaplan. His journey takes him through the streets of Chicago and includes pivotal scenes at the Ambassador East Hotel and the LaSalle Street Station.

4. Home Alone

How can anyone not love this favorite Christmas comedy? Starring a young Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, the movie follows a boy who is mistakenly forgotten by his parents when they leave Chicago for their Christmas vacation to Paris. Initially, Kevin is overjoyed by his newfound freedom but is quickly afraid when he encounters his mean neighbor and two bumbling burglars. To those who are big fans of the movie, you can even visit the McCallister house on Lincoln Ave just north of Chicago.

5. The Blues Brothers

This Saturday Night Live sketch turned full-length movie is a true Chicago treasure. When Jake Blues, played by John Belushi, is released from prison, he sets out with his brother Elwood, Dan Aykroyd, on a mission to save the Catholic orphanage where they were both raised. To do so, they must reunite their old R&B band and put on a performance that will raise $5,000 for the orphanage’s tax bill. Along the way, they encounter car crashes, Nazis, Aretha Franklin, and much, much more in the streets of downtown Chicago.


They may not have made the list, but the following movies filmed in Chicago are still some of our favorites.

• The Dark Knight
• A League of Their Own
• Space Jam
• Sixteen Candles
• Risky Business
• When Harry Met Sally