There’s no question that the television industry is competitive, and it can be hard for a small prodco to break through the noise and find its niche. In ‘Small Companies, Big Ideas’ Realscreen chats with indies that are innovating and thriving, showing the unscripted world that sometimes the best things come in small packages.
The latest edition of Realscreen‘s Small Companies, Big Ideas series spotlights the New York-based Five Films, which is led by veteran producers and showrunners Scott Boggins (pictured right) and Craig Jenest (left).
Founded in 2018, the independent studio creates and produces a wealth of factual content, ranging from sports and political entertainment programming, to episodic series and feature-length documentaries, including Fox Sports’ PBC: Countdown and PBC: Fight Camp; and ESPN+’s The Boardroom.
With more than four decades of combined experience within the television media landscape, both Boggins and Jenest have played a crucial role in popularizing the ‘athlete-follow’ and ‘team-follow’ formats. Their past credits include Fox Sports’ Being Liverpool, HBO Sports’ 24/7, Showtime’s The Circus, National Geographic’s Chain of Command, HBO’s Sex & the City and MTV’s TRL.
Here, Boggins and Jenest discuss the advantages and challenges inherent in leading a boutique firm with big ideas.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Five Films has been in business for two years and counting. Tell us about the origins of the company.
Craig Jenest: We first worked together on the development and production for the premiere season of Showtime’s The Circus [produced by Left/Right]. We worked with the talent to create a new format, almost a ‘real-time documentary,’ in a ground-breaking style for political coverage during a campaign that threw all predictability out the window. We clicked right away, and when it was all over, we said, ‘Let’s keep this going,’ so we founded Five Films.
What are some of the challenges of being a small company?
Scott Boggins: The biggest challenge is building awareness as a production entity. Both of us have worked a couple of decades in production as individuals, for other networks or companies, and now we’re out on our own, untethered. It’s scary and exhilarating all at the same time.
Conversely, what are some of the benefits of remaining untethered to a larger media conglomerate?
CJ: The best advantages are the ability to pivot and be nimble at any given moment. This aspect was a daily necessity while working on The Circus. When the candidate’s plans were changing multiple times a day, we learned to focus on what’s important and avoid distractions. Several times we had to send our field crews to bed with no confirmed plans for the next day because the candidates were not issuing final schedule information until very late at night. This approach and attitude towards production has given us a unique perspective for finding efficiencies and building a regarded reputation for quick turnaround while maintaining the highest storytelling and production values.
There has been considerable consolidation throughout the television landscape in the last handful of years. Has there been any consideration on your part to station Five Films under the wing of a larger business?
SB: It’s an intriguing thought, but right now, we’re focused on growth in portfolio, staff, and continuing to raise the bar of excellence for our partners and clients. Our current model gives us a lot of flexibility, financially and creatively, so we’ll likely stay on this path until we’re ready to step away from the day-to-day operations and let the new team grow what we’ve built.
How have your past experiences informed your current efforts with Five Films?
SB: While we come from different types of production backgrounds, there’s an inherent shared sense between us driving many of our decisions and goals. Collectively, we have over 40 years of combined experience in this industry. We are fortunate to have worked with amazing and talented people. From each of those experiences, we’ve retained many values we admire and want to practice or emulate within our managing style and company.
CJ: For me, the lessons in live television and major tentpole events instilled an understanding of being able to pivot on a moment’s notice and always thinking ahead, because anything can happen when you’re live.
What’s your strategy when it comes to breaking through the clutter and succeeding in such a competitive marketplace?
SB: We made a clear-cut decision at the formation of the company to focus on what we do best, with the subjects we know best; sports, politics, government/military, and live entertainment. We’ve both seen production companies try to be everything to the marketplace, and usually, it doesn’t work, unless you have the scale of a large corporation. Sticking to ‘our lanes’ keeps us focused on what we want to produce and what stories we want to bring to light. Some might see our approach limiting; we see a focused strategy and opportunity to own space in each of these areas.
Generally speaking, how are the disruptions of the coronavirus outbreak impacting Five Films, and how are you adjusting to the fallout as a small company?
CJ: It’s still too early to predict how this period will resolve and the holistic impact on our industry, but we will adapt to whatever comes our way. Being a smaller company gave us the flexibility to start transitioning to home-based production before it became a mandate. As of now, we have full remote production capabilities and continue working on existing projects. We have an excellent team, and collectively we look to keep everybody busy during this troubling and uncertain time.
Five Films remains at the forefront of the athlete-follow format and continues to develop all-access programming in other genres, producing a diverse range of premium content. Was that part of the strategy from the onset, or is that versatility something that was deemed essential over the years, in order to mirror programming trends?
CJ: This format type was pioneered by Scott over the years, starting with his days developing and producing the series 24/7 at HBO Sports. Scott was at the forefront of this format for years, and it is part of Five Films’ DNA. Our style naturally pulls viewers into the story and allows us, as producers, to go beyond the surface and dig deeper. Like a guarded recipe, we can’t give it all away.
You’ve worked with a wide assortment of cable networks as well. Now, with more buyers arriving on the scene in the form of SVODs and emerging platforms, are you finding more opportunities there? Is it challenging to be a smaller company when pitching to these new buyers, or are they more open to creative risk-taking?
SB: We’re finding the newer companies and distributors are very receptive to our type of storytelling. A great thing about how we produce is that it’s malleable to standard broadcast clocks and shorter lengths, too. We’ve both had significant experience producing without the constraints of a clock; it has allowed us to see how stories come together over a variety of different lengths. We are energized and excited by the full range of opportunities out there.
Lastly, what are you working on now?
CJ: We have a lot of projects in various stages of production. We have a full slate with Fox Sports and PBC Boxing to support their efforts in professional boxing. In addition to that, we have strategic partnerships in place that are very exciting; The Athletic, Four Four Flat, Evolve Studios and, Sneaky Big Studios. We’re very close to cracking the nut on esports as part of one of those partnerships. Also, we’re working on a couple of unique sports formats, a political feature doc, an adventure/sporting series, projects for Major League Baseball, and a follow-doc with [American virtuoso trumpeter and composer] Wynton Marsalis. There are a couple of other projects we’re not at liberty to disclose but are excited to see these partnerships and projects come to fruition.