3 Things That Make a Documentary Great.

A documentary is a movie, but what kind?

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A documentary, at it's heart, is a story based on a question.

The main character, which can be an active or inactive person or place or thing, serves as the camera's focus to both ask the question and provide the answer.

Sometimes, the best documentaries provide no answer at all--they leave the audience on the edge with one last final question. 

3 Things That Make a Documentary Great.

     1. Have a Great Main Character

Take Supersize Me for an example.

The documentary from 2004 has a logline that includes the direct name of it's main character: While examining the influence of the fast food industry, Morgan Spurlock personally explores the consequences on his health of a diet of solely McDonald's food for one month.

“A great documentary has to contain an interesting main character—without an actor pushing, be her behind the camera or in front of it, the narrative will never get rolling.”
— Dan Parks

     2. Have a Question That Demands An Answer.

Morgan Spurlock placed himself front and center in Supersize Me.


He asked the perfect question: "What if?"

What would happen if someone ate nothing but McDonald's for three meals a day?

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And the proof is in the pudding. Day 1 Spurlock started with 11% body fat and he ended on Day 30 with a body fat percentage 18%.


     3. Have a Question Behind the Question.

The infamous Documentarian Michael Moore says theres a difference between filmmaking and preaching. It's ok to have a socially conscious message, but please don't make a boring movie.

Moore reminds the documentarian that most people that watch a movie are on a date. Don't be a buzz kill.

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President Teddy's words apply here.

A documentary should have socially conscious message. There is way to much BS out there in the world. 

But, it should be packaged attractively.


Spurlock isn't some dietary prude.

The question behind the question in Supersize Me was, "Should we pay more attention to what we eat?"

And, that demands a YES!

Keep it fun. 

     -- Dan



Works Cited

Moore, Michael. “Michael Moore's 13 Rules for Making Documentary Films.” IndieWire, 10 Sept. 2014, www.indiewire.com/2014/09/michael-moores-13-rules-for-making-documentary-films-22384/.