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Next gen prodcos: Blackfin founder talks keeping it indie

The unscripted production industry has matured considerably over the course of the 2000s, and a new generation of prodcos is making an impact internationally and across platforms with fresh, innovative ...
June 3, 2019

The unscripted production industry has matured considerably over the course of the 2000s, and a new generation of prodcos is making an impact internationally and across platforms with fresh, innovative approaches to unscripted content. In this four-part series, we offer a closer look at some companies that have yet to mark their first decade in business but that are making waves and scoring greenlights, beginning with Blackfin.

Location: New York City
Year established: 2014
Principal: Geno McDermott
Major credits to date: Finding Escobar’s Millions (Discovery); Legendary Catch (Nat Geo); My Perfect World: The Aaron Hernandez Story; Brothers In Arms (History); Bad Henry, Primal Instinct, Homicide City, I Am Homicide (all for ID).

Boutique factual indie Blackfin has come a long way since its humble beginnings five years ago. Launched by director and executive producer Geno McDermott (pictured), the then-28-year-old had little else but a single camera and an iMac for editing in his possession, all while renting an office space through shared workspace start-up WeWork. The company’s first month in existence, however, was a strong signifier of the rapid successes to come for the young CEO, who sold Blackfin’s first development project to Animal Planet and 11 more that year to various cable networks.

The business has since grown into one of the largest New York-based unscripted production outfits. Blackfin now has more than 100 employees working across 12 series currently in production at such networks as Netflix, Discovery, Investigation Discovery, National Geographic, A&E, History, VH1, AMC and CNN.

What are the core values that drive your company?

I started this company as an independent creator and producer. Our core values are that we treat independent producers, creators and talent that come to us with the utmost respect. I know what it was like to be out there in the middle of nowhere, finding a great show myself and partnering it up with a company — it’s just a very thankless transaction. In our soul, that’s very important to us with all of our partners.

Another thing that’s very important to me is the nature of our business as far as credits go. If you create a show here and you’re an intern, I’m going to give you an executive producer credit. I think a lot of people here feel inspired to create and to actually succeed in this industry where they feel like I won’t hold them back.

What’s your strategy when it comes to breaking through the clutter and succeeding in such a competitive marketplace?

As far as the pitching process and creating ideas, for us, it’s our materials. It’s more of a quality than quantity thing for us. At Blackfin we’re strategically getting three or five projects out a quarter that are very well thought out — very extensive treatments and very high-end trailers — so that the client can see what they’re buying. That’s one of our strengths.

What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had when you were first launching Blackfin?
When you start a company, your main focus is how do you sell more projects. The main advice I wish I had gotten is to make sure your legal and accounting are in order so that when you start selling things and when more starts coming in, you’re able to handle all the work.

This story first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Realscreen Magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.

About The Author
Senior staff writer Frederick Blichert comes to realscreen with a background as a journalist and freelance film critic. He has previously written for VICE, Paste Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Xtra, Canadian Cinematographer and elsewhere. He holds a Master of Arts in film studies from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia.

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