Molly Thompson Reigns Over A&E Documentaries and an Expanding Series Universe

IndieWire | 7/12/2018 | Staff
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Tonight, A&E IndieFilms’ latest documentary, Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54,” opens Outfest in Los Angeles before hitting theaters via Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber in October. Unusually, A&E IndieFilms senior VP Molly Thompson believes in theatrical play for her documentaries as a way to build awareness before they hit the air.

With streaming, she said, “it’s harder for the films to stand out. Theatrical is good for films. You have a whole year to go out to festivals and theaters before they come to A&E. We’re the opposite of HBO and Netflix.”

Funding - Distribution - Options - Time - Filmmakers

All these funding and distribution options make it “a great time for documentary filmmakers,” she said. “Even seven years ago people were starving. It was a difficult time. We were a big whale for filmmakers. Now they have so many options, and people are able to pay their bills.”

Thompson’s first job was producing for public TV in New York, which led to directing hour-long biographies at the tender age of 24. “I loved it,” she said. Looking back, Thompson realizes she could have gone on to direct bigger things, but instead in 2005 the mother of a young son launched documentary division A&E IndieFilms. She and A&E programming president Rob Sharenow led a shift from reality television back to quality documentary filmmaking. Now, as sites like Netflix change the rules, Thompson is taking her deep relationships and documentary producing chops to series television.

Boutique - Department - Store - Production - Values

“We were a little boutique inside a big department store,” she said. “We are now bringing our storytelling production values and relationships onto the big network with long-form documentary series. It’s exciting to pour resources into the documentaries. It’s a new challenge. There’s room for that kind of volume. People are looking for a way to engage more deeply with these kinds of stories.”

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