Apple Poaches A&E Veteran Molly Thompson in Pursuit of Documentary Dominance

As demand for documentaries grows, A&E is losing a valuable player to the Apple platform.
Molly Thompson (Producer), Andrew RossiNew York Special Screening of "Author: The JT Leroy Story", New York, USA - 17 Aug 2016
Molly Thompson, Andrew Rossi
Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

Apple snagged a big fish to run their documentary content division. New York-based A&E Networks documentary veteran Molly Thompson will bring her expertise in supervising documentary films and TV series to Apple, which has recently ramped up its content production, mostly on the television side. As demand for documentaries grows, A&E is losing a valuable player.

Of course, Apple has not yet announced exactly how it plans to release its content, documentary and otherwise. At Apple’s recent presentation, Oprah Winfrey revealed that she’s prepping documentary projects for Apple TV+, including investigations of poisonous work environments and the mental health industry. Apple also acquired the documentary “Elephant Queen” at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. At Sundance, the filmmakers told me that the film has an ambitious and proactive social-action global release plan that could include theaters. One strategic Apple partnership with indie distributor A24, which will produce films for Apple, could provide an avenue for theatrical release as well.

Thompson founded A&E IndieFilms in 2005, often selling high-profile documentaries like Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54″ and “Meeting Gorbachev,”  Werner Herzog’s sit-down interview with Russia’s glastnost history-changer, to theatrical distributors such as Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber and The Orchard, respectively, as a way to build awareness before they hit the air.

With streaming, Thompson told IndieWire last July, “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.” Increased funding and distribution options make it “a great time for documentary filmmakers,” she said.

Werner Herzog in front of the Kremlin in "Meeting Gorbachev"
Werner Herzog in front of the Kremlin in “Meeting Gorbachev”The Orchard

Thompson’s first job was producing for public TV in New York, which led to directing hour-long biographies at age 24. After founding A&E IndieFilms, Thompson and A&E programming president Rob Sharenow led a shift from reality television back to quality documentary filmmaking. As sites like Netflix changed the rules, Thompson took her relationships and documentary producing chops to long-form series television, including six-part series “The Clinton Affair,”  “History 100,” a History Channel documentary series comprised of 100 films focused on compelling historical events of the last 100 years, such as Charles Ferguson’s six-part “Watergate.”

"City of Ghosts"
Matthew Heineman with his “City of Ghosts” subjects at Sundance 2017Daniel Bergeron

Other IndieFilm features include Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Jesus Camp,” Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s “Murderball,” Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land,” and Roger Ross Williams’ “Life, Animated,” all of which received Oscar nominations. Emmy wins include Amir Bar-Lev’s “The Tillman Story,” while Alex Gibney earned PGA and DGA nominations for “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” and Bart Layton won the BAFTA for “The Imposter.”

Thompson also supported Jeff Feuerzig’s “Author: The JT Leroy Story” and Heineman’s portrait of Syrian journalists, “City of Ghosts,” which was overlooked by the Oscars but landed a 2018 documentary Emmy nomination.

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