Insignia Films Amanda Pollak EMBA ’18: Documenting Disruption

Amanda Pollak, EMBA ’18

When does a professional go from being disrupted to being a disruptor? What forces coalesce to create that moment of epiphany when they realize they are ready to steer their industry’s conditions rather than letting those conditions steer them?

Once this desire for change ignites, how do they gather the intelligence necessary to develop an effective strategy that optimizes opportunities, mitigates risk, and inspires teams and stakeholders to strike out with you?

In this article, we talk to Insignia Films Partner and Producer/Director Amanda Pollak, who prior to starting IE Brown, just finished PBS’s six-hour series, “The Great War.”

Pollak shares how she decided it was time to gain a new perspective on the funding and distribution challenges in the documentary film industry in order to chart a better course for her company. She explains why she chose IE Brown to shift from being disrupted to disruptor.

A Weird Flash of Revelation:

Pollak began our conversation by setting the stage for why she initially considered an executive MBA.

“I always thought an MBA was mainly a degree that bankers got. It didn’t seem pertinent to my world. Our company has been fortunate in that we’ve been supported largely by public television along with public and private grants for years. Fundraising has always been hard, and distribution channels limited, but a structure was in place. Everyone knew the rules of the game.”

She then explained how the ground has shifted radically over the last decade. On the one hand, public money has become harder to come by, with institutions like PBS and The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities needing to do more with less. On the other, the market for documentaries has exploded. There’s a much bigger audience for these films than when she started in the business with new broadcast and streaming services competing for content.

“It felt like a disconnect. Our company was struggling to make ends meet, yet so much was happening. In a weird flash of revelation, I realized I wanted to take more control but I had to be smart about it.”

The IE Brown Difference:

Pollak chose IE Brown because the program uniquely met her need to develop high impact business frameworks to think creatively and grow in uncertainty.   

“What’s unique about IE Brown is everyone that is in it. We’re all craft workers in a sense – doctors, technologists, financiers, lawyers, engineers… We got professional degrees thinking that was all we needed for a successful career. This rule held until technology, globalization and other business trends disrupted largely stable market structures.

Now, craft workers, like me, need to expand beyond our craft expertise. We need a new set of business tools to create new business models for a new era.”

The MBA programs she explored before choosing IE Brown struck her as training people to think the same.

“Everyone in this program in some way or another is coming to tweak the way we are looking at things. IE Brown delivers that unconventional perspective by providing frameworks for examining business problems through different disciplinary lenses. It trains us to succeed in business by thinking differently.”

Driving Disruption:

How has IE Brown helped Pollack drive growth in a changing industry?

“We’ve been working for PBS for years. In fact, we’re doing another series this fall with Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. However, over the course of this last year my company has expanded our network of potential distributors, we are negotiating deals with investors and have become much more aggressive and targeted with our development work.”

Creating opportunities for new investors has always happened in the film industry but now Insignia has the in-house business capacity to do it themselves.

“Before I did everything business-related from a gut level. IE Brown has given me a facility and a language to help run the company and build our future. I’m still a filmmaker but now I have confidence in myself as a business person too.”

Want to know more about the IE Brown Executive MBA or connect with an admissions advisor?