Last year proved to be a rollercoaster ride in many ways, and the non-fiction/unscripted content industry has certainly experienced its share of peaks and valleys over the last 12 months. With Trailblazers, realscreen salutes those behind some of the high points, profiling individuals and companies that — through innovative and brave approaches to their work — have been behind some of the more inspiring projects to emerge in 2017.
We continue our look at 2017′s Trailblazers Lucky 8 TV, with profiles of our other Trailblazers rolling out throughout the week.
New York-headquartered Lucky 8 TV has been on something of a roll since its acclaimed docuseries 60 Days In broke ground in March 2016. The social experiment series, which follows individuals as they volunteer to go undercover as inmates in various U.S. jailhouses, had given the prodco its biggest series in the three years since being founded by Kim Woodard (pictured, right), Greg Henry (pictured, left), George Kralovansky and Isaac Holub.
Now airing in more than 100 territories, A&E rewarded Lucky 8 with a multi-season order last January, taking it to four in total.
Well-versed in the complexities of America’s prison system, Lucky 8 shifted its focus to life outside of prison’s walls when it launched Released on OWN in September. The docuseries follows six formerly incarcerated individuals as they learn how to reintegrate into society after spending years behind bars.
“It was interesting to us in the production of this to discover that 65% of African-American women have a family member behind bars, and that 10,000 people are released from prison every week — that’s just staggering,” Woodard tells realscreen.
“Being able to show what’s at stake for the families and friends who’ve been left behind as this person has been in jail, and what they do when they receive this person back, there’s incredible drama there,” she adds.
Released has fared well so far with OWN’s audience, ranking as Saturday night’s No. 2 original cable series for African-American women during its debut season.
2017 also proved to be the year that saw Lucky 8 diversify its programming portfolio. The company branched out to develop a range of content, from crime to cooking formats, for 10 separate networks; inked development deals with Jason Bolicki’s Exit Four and Natalka Znak’s Znak&Co; and produced Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up, which had its world premiere at the 2017 DOC NYC festival in November.
When taking on unfamiliar terrain, how are you deciding what to accept and what to turn down?
Kim Woodard: We tend to take on projects that scare us — the projects that you might want to say no to but you can’t because there’s something about them that needs to be told. If there isn’t fear there in the creation of it, it’s less likely to break through in a crowded marketplace. But when there is a good healthy fear, usually you’re onto something.
Was that the case with Undercover High for A&E?
KW: Absolutely. There were so many questions of how could we pull it off … thinking from the very beginning of sitting in an auditorium full of parents, students and community members, showing them what their kids’ participation yielded. That’s a huge responsibility to take on.
Our first responsibility, beyond being great storytellers and creating something entertaining, is making sure there’s a real benefit to it.
Greg Henry: It was really taking a very unorthodox approach to seeing what it is to be a teenager today, because [for] the folks that we put in, when they went to high school just eight to 10 years ago, the world was a completely different place, and it really bore out as we went through it.
In Released, why did you feel that it was important to provide a voice to the people who were being freed?
GH: In the past when we’ve done programming that’s in jails or prisons, the tension of being incarcerated is just so great, and for the viewer, when somebody then went home it became sort of a let-down — the pressure cooker was done. Because we’ve seen so many people get out, we knew what the drama was. But it wasn’t really until we were asked by OWN and by Ms. Winfrey herself to take a look into this world that [we] could fully realize it.
You premiered Standing Up at DOC NYC in 2017. How do you see Lucky 8 Films expanding in the future?
GH: Lucky 8 Films’ growth is going to be driven by the types of films that we really believe in because, in many ways, the financing is an afterthought. It’s really about if we think a feature doc is going to be the best form of that story.
- Our “Trailblazers” feature first appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of realscreen magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.