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The Ticking Clock: Boardwalk Pictures’ Time is Now

With hits like Cheer, Last Chance U, and Chef’s Table, Boardwalk Pictures has become one of the best in the business, and President Andrew Fried is only getting started.

Andrew Fried has no shortage of stories to tell. What sets him and his production house, Boardwalk Pictures, apart is how those stories are told.

“When you do great work, great work finds you,” the Boardwalk President told Boardroom. “Our brand is quality. Our brand is things that resonate with audiences, and we’re always trying to connect with viewers in a very elevated storytelling kind of way.”

As a result, Boardwalk Pictures is behind several of the most prominent documentary-style projects that have graced your streaming feeds over the last several years. Fried and his colleagues use this vision to unite all of the work that they create, which means that few subjects are out of bounds.

Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life In Focus Tour Opening Remarks - Dallas, TX
Oprah Winfrey speaks with the cast of Netflix’s “Cheer”, (L-R) Monica Aldama, Jerry Harris, Gabi Butler, Lexi Brumback, TT Barker and Dillon Brandt during Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour presented by WW (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

When Fried started Boardwalk Pictures 12 years ago, he had been working in New York for some elite documentary filmmakers. However, there was an emergent reality TV boom happening. He identified the spectrum between the two genres and sought to bridge the gap with high-end, accessible storytelling crafted in the spirit of cinema that has since become his calling card.

But one thing that sets Boardwalk Pictures apart is the extensive range that one observes in its ever-growing library of productions. From the passion project of one of the world’s biggest celebrities (Gwyneth Paltrow and “The Goop Lab”) to the cult culture of competitive cheerleading’s crown jewel (Corsicana, TX’s Navarro College and “Cheer”), Boardwalk Pictures’ inventory can appeal to just about anyone.

“We get to plug into something in a very intense way,” Fried said. “And we get to share that experience with the world, and then we’re onto the next. We went from the film I did at the Masters to the Super Bowl to releasing “Val” at Cannes in the last year, and they’re fundamentally so different, but, somehow, they make perfect sense together.”

Fried is clear that the foundational ethos of quality production grounds all of the work that Boardwalk Pictures does, independent of the subject. As he explained:

“We don’t have two sides to the business. There is always this dialogue around, ‘You have the high-end, prestige stuff, but the real driver of the business is the moneymakers. The things you could make 100 episodes of.’ We are doing it all at one time. We are not compartmentalizing our business, but trying to grow it organically through just making premium, high-end work.”

Part of doing this work, and doing it as well as it has through the years, is that Boardwalk Pictures as a business and as a community of creators continues to evolve in parallel with the projects that it produces.

“We’re constantly reinventing ourselves as a company,” Fried said.. “Every 18 months, I turn around and see what we’re developing and what we’re releasing and it’s fundamentally different from who we were as a storytelling community 18 months earlier.”

“Forever, I thought that no matter what we produced, we would be the company that produced ‘Chef’s Table’ and that when ‘Chef’s Table’ went away we would be the company that used to produce Chef’s Table…that that was our identity.”

However, all of that changed when Fried met Greg Whiteley, whom he calls “the creative force, the creative visionary,” as well as as the producer and director behind such hits as “Cheer” and “Last Chance U. “

“The work that we’ve done together has completely reimagined who we are and what we do as a company and how we tell stories,” Fried said.

Whiteley’s projects have largely been sports-based, and he’s borrowed from the genre to implement some key scaffolds. Fried notes that when providing notes, networks will often ask, “What’s the ticking clock?” For these series, that clock can be quite literal.

“There is no action, there is no cut. We are putting a lens on real life, observing it, getting at its truth, and assembling it in a way that is as entertaining as possible.”

Andrew Fried

“There’s an ability to pass time and let what’s real happen in that space that’s been created over the course of a sports season…There’s a natural engine to it,” Fried said. “There’s a natural propulsion to it…There is no action, there is no cut. We are putting a lens on real life, observing it, getting at its truth, and assembling it in a way that is as entertaining as possible.”

And with this formula, there is a signature layer of authenticity to the productions.

In her book “Full Out,” the head coach of the Navarro College cheerleading squad Monica Aldama said that this commitment to being authentic is precisely what made her entertain the idea of putting herself and her team front-and-center.

“Greg and his team put a lens on the characters as he finds them, and the truth as they tell it,” Fried said. “It is not an exercise in everyone agreeing what that is, it’s putting a lens on these characters and letting them speak their truth.”

It’s undeniable that these stories have held audiences captive.

As Cheer sets to premiere its second season on Netflix, its fans wait with bated breath. When we last left Monica and the team, the road to the NCA National Championship in Daytona had come to a close [this is a spoiler-free space, so you’ll have to watch for the gripping conclusion].

Although Navarro was well-known in the college cheerleading world, the series gave viewers around the globe the chance to peer inside the intensely competitive sport. Cheer emerged as a somewhat unlikely hit, rocketing to No. 1 on Netflix and making its stars celebrities in their own right. Fried recalls receiving a text when Cheer was featured on Saturday Night Live, calling it “the ultimate zeitgeist moment.”

But for him it was also a testament to the magic that can happen when you chase stories that you’re interested in. And viewers can expect more in the second season.

“The second season evolves Cheer [as a show]. It’s very different than the first,” Fried said. “If you’ve watched Greg Whiteley’s things in the past, like Last Chance U, in its second season, it’s a football team that has just been on television. So just the acknowledgment of that, that the cheerleaders on Cheer became the most famous cheerleaders since the Dallas Cowboys. They became a big deal, so the story of that is really interesting and pushes the brand forward.”

Plus, Fried acknowledges that he never could have predicted what happened since those Daytona days. One of the show’s breakout stars, Jerry Harris, is currently awaiting trial for child sexual abuse imagery and the show will not shy away from the story, even though Harris is no longer a member of the team.

That is only one part of what’s ahead.

“I’m so excited for everyone to see it,” Fried said.

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Cheer is only one piece of a packed production docket for Fried and Boardwalk Pictures.

They are debuting a four-part series about Bill Cosby, directed by W. Kamau Bell at the upcoming (virtual) Sundance Film Festival. And they are about to start production with Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy on “The Big Brunch” for HBO Max.

But as for the next story? It’s tough to say.

“Information is everywhere,” Fried said. “You don’t have to be a writer for The New York Times to tell a story that is interesting. We spend an awful lot of time in the weeds to find a character-driven story.”

Staying open to the next thing as it organically arises has been the key to Boardwalk Pictures’ success, and will continue to be so.

But for now, all eyes are Corsicana and the drama and the intrigue that lies ahead for season two.

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