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Documentary Revolution

Industry Experts Talk About the Power of Documentaries

Digital content consumers have a major appetite for insight, inspiration, and entertainment from real life—and documentary filmmaking is exploding. On Wednesday, Mar. 9, attendees of the four-day NRB convention in Nashville, Tennessee, had an opportunity to hear from top industry leaders who shared their insight in an NRB Talk titled, “The Documentary Revolution: The Explosion of Documentaries on Streaming Platforms.”

With streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Pureflix generating a demand for new and original content, a panel of leading Christian film experts shared how faith-based filmmakers can tell compelling stories through the documentary format. The panel discussion was moderated by Phil Cooke, Ph.D., founder, and CEO of Cooke Media Group.

Other featured panelists included Kathleen Cooke, co-founder and executive vice president of Cooke Media Group and The Influence Lab, Laura Woodworth, development executive of Cooke Media Group, Trey Reynolds, vice president of development and production at Sony/Provident Films, Dan Wathen, executive producer of Cooke Media Group and Norman Mintle, PhD, professor and associate dean of the College of Arts & Cultural Studies at Oral Roberts University.

“Documentaries are expanding, and they are the next wave of what I believe the next generation is going to be demanding. I think there are a lot of feature films and narratives, but people want to see the truth,” said Kathleen Cooke, co-founder and executive vice president of Cooke Media Group.

She said telling real-life stories is a powerful way to communicate the gospel.

“That’s what we’re talking about is stories resonating. We need to breed those thought leaders and tell those stories that will resonate with this next generation. It’s so important and documentaries do that. So, we are excited to be able to share what we’ve done and to be able to present that material to the public,” Cooke said.

The panel discussed a wide range of topics including what it takes to produce an award-winning film, international filming, distribution opportunities, and some of the reasons ministries, nonprofits, and others should consider producing a documentary film.

“I appreciated being able to share the concept of story, and the collaborative work that goes on to produce a quality documentary,” said Laura Woodworth, development executive of Cooke Media Group.

She said it was also important to encourage other nonprofit and ministry leaders and let them know about some of the benefits of producing Christian documentaries.

“We really wanted to let them know that they can do this. That was one of our themes, ‘Is a documentary in your future?’ and we wanted to impart, ‘You can do this, and now is the time.’ The window is wide open and there is an explosion of documentaries, so why not you?” Woodworth said.

The panel closed with a question-and-answer session. Attendees asked questions about budgeting and raising funds, focusing on a mission, and how to create awareness about a film. Reynolds advised attendees to start with the end in mind.

“I would advise you to start with the end in mind, with where is this going to live when I finish it? Who is going to see it? Who is my audience? And what distribution platform or channel will show this? Because you’re making it for people to watch and you want to change lives,” he said.

Attendee Carl Wesley Anderson, an NRB member and documentary filmmaker from Born to Blaze Ministries in Apple Valley, Minnesota, said he appreciated gleaning more wisdom from the session.

“These guys have all developed their careers much more than I have, so I’m just learning as I go,” Anderson said, “So, today was great to learn more about the practical areas of documentary filmmaking, like budgeting and the business side of it.”

He also said the discussion helped fuel his passion for serving future generations.

“I loved what Kathleen shared at the end, and how the next generation is drawn to truth and storytelling. That spoke a lot to me, and what God’s called me into now is to serve that next generation. So, I feel like I’m right on track, and I’m going to keep telling stories,” Anderson said.

National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is the world’s preeminent association of Christian communicators. Since 1944, the organization has worked to protect free speech and foster excellence in communication. Held March 8-11, 2022, the NRB convention attracts a wide range of Christian media and other ministry leaders from across the globe. The convention also includes an exhibition with about 200 exhibitors.

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