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A&E Executive Molly Thompson Credits MCCC with Spurring Her Interest in TV Production

7/13/16


West Windsor, N.J. – Mercer County Community College (MCCC) alumna Molly Thompson ’84 (Radio/Television), Senior Vice President for A+E Studios, had lots to share with an eager MCCC audience during a lecture appearance at the West Windsor Campus this spring.

Thompson acknowledged there’s a touch of luck involved in breaking into the competitive business of television and film, but mostly it’s about knowing your stuff and making the right connections.

A graduate of Notre Dame High School, Thompson says that she started out at Mercer not all that focused on the future, but got more serious as she grew to enjoy television production. “I learned to care and have pride in what I was doing. That’s a lesson I have learned and re-learned in the course of my career,” she said.

Thompson and fellow student Harry Skopas co-hosted the Molly and Harry Show on the MCCC student station. (Skopas is now the director of technology at The Mill, a major post production studio.) 

At Rutgers University (RU), where Thompson transferred to earn her bachelor’s degree, she turned to the printed work as a reporter for RU’s Inside Beat.  “Learning to write is key to everything else,” she stressed.

Thompson observed that the road to her current position was initially paved with internships and extracurriculars.  “It’s important to continue growing by putting yourself in different situations, places where you can fail, recover and learn from the experience,” she said.

From Rutgers, Thompson began work at PBS’s Channel 13, which had an office in Newark.  She booked panelists for a weekly talk show, requiring that she complete research and develop storylines.

Alumna Molly Thompson speaking about her career trajectory and the television and documentary industry as part of MCCC's Distinguished Lecture Series this spring.
MCCC television and film students line up after Thompson's talk.

The work experience came with an added bonus. “I was fortunate to be in a place where I met people who would be vital to my career,” she said. 

Thompson took the leap into network television as a freelancer for A&E, working on the station’s famed Biography series, which she still considers her big break.  “I had the opportunity to work on true stories, to research a topic in depth, and to find new footage,” she explained. Among the famous individuals she focused on were Mozart, Picasso and General William Westmoreland.

With many Biography shows on her resume, Thompson was ready to test new ground. She worked for famed interviewer Barbara Walters, as well as at the History Channel, where she worked on a piece about the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and met yet more industry professionals who helped her out later on.

After years as a producer, Thompson believed she was ready for the next level.  “Going from a producer to a program executive was a big step,” she said.

As a long-time fan of independent films, a passion nurtured by trips to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Thompson observed with keen interest the rise and increasing popularity of documentaries.  She pointed to “Super Size Me” by Morgan Spurlock and multiple films by Michael Moore that were ground-breaking in their impact and audience draw.

Thompson was given an opportunity back at A&E that was a true dream job. She is the founder of A&E IndieFilms, a branch of the network focused on documentary film making that has given her the creative space she was looking for. “Our motto is ‘Declare Your Independence,” she said.  

There she has been executive producer on many projects including “Jesus Camp,” a 2006 film directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about a Christian summer camp that debuted at the Tribeca Fillm Festival and was sold to Magnolia Pictures.  It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2007 Academy Awards.
 
Among Thompson’s other projects are “The September Issue” (2009), an insider’s look at the fashion industry and the elusive Anna Wintour, “The Imposter” (2012), and ”Cartel Land”(2015), which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2016 Academy Awards.


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