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.
Cutting her teeth across the non-fiction screen industry for years, Christina Douglas says that for a long time, she knew in the back of her mind that eventually she’d take the leap to start her own company.
In 2016, Douglas was a development executive at Discovery, having spent nearly a decade with the company across several different departments. At Investigation Discovery, Douglas developed series such as The 1980′s: The Deadliest Decade, Evil Lives Here, and Las Vegas Law.
But while working in this role, Douglas said she had the realization about the side of the industry where she wanted to work.
“I preferred to come up with my own ideas and farm them out to production companies. Over time, as those shows came to fruition, I knew that ideation was clearly my calling and it was time for me to get my hands dirty in the execution of my own ideas,” Douglas said.
So in December of that year, Douglas left Discovery to launch her own prodco, Momentum Content. Nearly five years later, similar to Douglas’ work at Investigation Discovery, Momentum has become known for its expertise in true crime projects.
But Douglas says she’s confident Momentum can apply the same level of dramatic storytelling across more genres, from hard-hitting documentaries to children’s wildlife content. Momentum has secured more than 10 development deals in just under five years, and Douglas says she’s learned to trust her gut to invest in unexpected lenses, unique points of view and creative mashups.
“When I launched Momentum, it really was a special window of time in my career where I had enough experience to have a crystal clear vision of the type of content I wanted to create and how to actually do it, yet I was naïve enough to take the risk,” Douglas said.
The prodco’s titles include Tiny Creatures (Netflix), Primal Instinct (Investigation Discovery) and Battle of the 80′s Supercars (History). Tiny Creatures, a series Douglas created, won a pair of Daytime Emmys for Momentum, in the categories of outstanding travel, adventure and nature program, and outstanding cinematography.
Realscreen spoke to Douglas about how Momentum’s output has evolved in the five years since it launched, and how it seeks to highlight previously under-represented voices in nonfiction screen content.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How does your past experience working at Discovery inform your work at Momentum currently?
I am so grateful for the experiences at Discovery, because it was there that I became fluent in understanding the building blocks of what makes a successful show, particularly from the network perspective.
Still today, my first instinct is to view content development as if I were a buyer. I learned from my mentors at Discovery how to analyze and vet concepts. I know there are a lot of great ideas out there, but now I really only move on new projects when I know we have strong access and an impressive execution plan.
How is the original focus and strategy of Momentum Content different from what the company is focused on, five years later?
Originally, I also thought I’d be a lone developer/creator, but I’ve ended up being a seeker of talent behind the camera, when it comes to unique skillsets that pertain to the creative of certain ideas. My show, Tiny Creatures, is a strong example of that, where we pulled in world-renowned cinematographer Jonathan Jones. We were able to offer a totally unique viewing experience for families in the wildlife space.
On a new project yet to come to market, I am partnering with a sports cinematographer who offers a visual experience that has never been applied to the documentary/long-form format. Folding in amazing creative partners is a big part of my strategy that I didn’t originally anticipate.
Why was the true crime genre an area of content you wanted Momentum to focus on?
I personally love true crime as a viewer and as a content creator. It’s high-stakes, emotion-driven storytelling. Being a true crime producer, though, means you are working in a competitive landscape and it keeps you on your toes. You have to be innovative, get access no one else can, think of fresh POVs, and always aim to reimagine the genre. Buyers and ultimately viewers are savvy arm-chair detectives and demand smart content. I find it to be the ultimate creative challenge.
I also really appreciate that as a storyteller in this space, you have a natural opportunity to illuminate important social issues, oftentimes injustices, and highlight unsung heroes. This aspect in and of itself is a cornerstone of my company.
Momentum’s work has prioritized shedding light on underrepresented, and often misrepresented voices. What are examples of voices you saw as continually under- or misrepresented in unscripted media, and how has Momentum so far been successful in meeting this goal?
As a woman of color, I have always been disappointed by the lack of diversity and representation in front of and behind the camera. One area particularly lacking in unscripted is in the on-camera talent department. I saw that the creative world kept highlighting the same types of heroes, when I knew there were authentic, diverse characters out there that would resonate with traditional audiences and beyond.
My first foray into this approach was while I was still at ID. I discovered detective Garry McFadden, and with the team at Blackfin created I Am Homicide – one of the first unscripted series to feature an African American homicide detective. This experience buoyed my confidence in launching Momentum with diverse voices and perspectives present in all aspects of my productions. For instance, Tiny Creatures, our wildlife series with Netflix in 2020, featured an African American narrator, which unfortunately isn’t common in the genre. I’m currently producing a series about two Native American female investigators, and I am developing another project highlighting gender diversity in a traditionally conservative world.
Honestly, over the course of running Momentum, I’ve pitched out new projects featuring non-traditional stories and characters that I don’t think buyers were ready for at the time. I’m happy to see that we’re in a new era now in 2021, and I’m excited to gain more traction with projects that speak to social issues I’m personally passionate about.
Momentum Content went fully independent in 2020 after previously operating through pod deals. Why did you make that decision and what kind of effect has that had on Momentum’s work?
I was fortunate to have partnered with such amazing companies in my first few years of Momentum. My pod deal partners really helped me deliver on my big ideas and gain experience in executing top quality content. Now, it makes strategic sense for me to be more nimble in my coproductions, working with companies and talented individuals that are best suited for the creative of each specific project. Simultaneously, I’m building out my own back of house for projects that are solely Momentum.