By Pamela Muldoon published October 30, 2014

The Pivot: From Documentary Filmmaker to Brand Storyteller

Pivot_BARRY-01As content marketers, we are challenged with developing a great story for our brands or clients. But what truly makes a great or compelling story?

In this conversation, Todd Wheatland sat down with Barry Poltermann, President of About Face Media. Barry and his team use their background of documentary-style filmmaking to create interesting and unique visual stories for brands all over the world. Employee stories like this challenge documentary from 3M and customer stories like Stefano’s for Tesla Motors show how About Face Media brings the authentic emotion of a documentary-style film to content marketing.

What may surprise you

Barry may be living the glamorous life of a documentary filmmaker today, but he comes from humble beginnings. Here are a few things that may surprise you about Barry Poltermann:

  • Barry was a Wisconsin farm boy. He grew up on a farm in Genoa City, Wisconsin and, yes, he milked cows. He knew at the age of five that he wanted to make movies. He would film short movies on the farm with his Super 8 camera.
  • In the early dotcom days of the internet, the SEC required individuals to be licensed with the SEC if they wanted to use the web to raise money. To do this for movies he was working on, Barry had to get his Series 7, 63 and 24 licenses.
  • His movie, Aswang, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1994. This film opened the door to the commercial production business.
  • Barry edited the Sundance grand-prize-winning documentary, American Movie, which has been named by The New York Times as one of the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. The International Documentary Association named it one of the Top 20 documentaries of all time.

Barry’s pivot

Barry’s journey from Wisconsin farm boy to filmmaker would land him in Los Angeles in 1998. As with so many others who have a plan, events outside of his control changed everything.

  • Shortly after his move to Los Angeles, the dotcom crash happened, forcing Barry to re-evaluate his career plan. He had been working for Civilian Pictures, a film financing company that used the internet to raise funds for movies. When the internet bubble collapsed, so did Barry ultimately decided to start a company designed to service companies that needed content for alternative reality games and web marketing projects. This company would evolve into About Face Media.

Telling an intrinsically compelling story 

Barry believes a story is at the heart of true content marketing. It’s not an ad or a pre-roll, it’s something that he defines as “voluntary engagement.”  If your company is producing content that has a compelling story, the audience will look for it, take it in and pass it on. Your audience will be emotionally connected to the story and want to share that connection with family and friends. In Barry’s words:

Content marketing is when you create something that the person out there is looking for and wants to watch, and then see if they’re excited to share it the same way they would if it was a movie, a TV series, a video, or anything else they chose to watch.

Listen to Todd’s full interview with Barry Poltermann here:

How do I subscribe?


Author: Pamela Muldoon

Pamela Muldoon is the Podcast Network Director for the CMI Podcast Network. In her role with CMI, she assists the podcast hosts with the development, production, distribution and promotion of their shows. Pamela is a veteran podcaster who can be heard on the CMI Podcast Network with her latest show "Content Marketing NEXT". To date, she has interviewed over 200 business and marketing professionals as part of her podcast formats. She is also a professional VoiceOver talent specializing in commercial, narration, eLearning, and promo projects. Learn more at or Follow her on Twitter @pamelamuldoon.

Other posts by Pamela Muldoon

Join Over 170,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples FREE!

  • Lewis LaLanne – NoteTakingNerd

    HBO and the introduction of their 24/7 launches of their mega-fights have long been a favorite stealth story telling vehicle that I admire.

    24/7 is a 21 Day Launch delivered via three 30-minute episodes on the premium cable channel HBO that are dedicated to indirectly selling you on why you’d have to be a complete idiot for missing their upcoming fight.

    Far fewer casual and serious fight fans read boxing websites and boxing magazines than do watch HBO.

    These 24/7 launches let the average Joe, as well as the aficionado, get educated on what kind of fight this should be with behind the scenes footage on what’s special and different about the fighters all while being entertained with back stories from
    the fighter’s lives.

    Boxing has gotten increasingly bad in that the talent pool is dwindling due to it being easier for athletes to get paid more money, more consistently, for longer periods of time by playing other sports that protect them at a much higher level and I believe 24/7 has been an unsung hero that has kept it alive.

    I don’t know what the state of boxing is today but had HBO not started doing these launches, I assure you that sales for the fights would’ve been dramatically lower.

    You can only get so far with a poster, trade magazines, niche websites, and a Friday piece buried in the back of the sports section of the USA Today on the weekend of the fight which is pretty much all the promotion a fight would get not too long ago.

    But since adding 24/7 to the mix in an effort to make something out of nothing, the episodes of this show which lead up to their $60-$75 dollar pay-per-view middleweight and smaller weight class fights that traditionally have a far smaller following, are getting an average of about three million views.

    And I don’t even know if they’re counting the huge number of views the videos get on YouTube where viewers post them after they air, videos that HBO smartly leaves alone.

    Richard Sandomir of the New York Times has this to say about HBO’s incredible launch formula in a piece of his published on January 1, 2012…

    HBO’s “24/7” series has nearly perfected the documentary as a promotional vehicle.

    They are shot superbly, written elegantly and narrated unobtrusively by Liev Schreiber. The boxing version of “24/7” follows usually raucous fight camps before a
    match. The series sticks to the lives of personalities, some under increasing pressure — boxers, trainers, promoters, families, hangers-on — because there are no matches to show. But inevitably, there is a match: the one that the series is advertising — the one that is produced and sold via pay-per-view by HBO.

    Last year, HBO leaped from boxing to hockey, with a “24/7” series dedicated to the New Year’s Day Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    This year, for three weeks, HBO has carried the run-up to the Rangers-Philadelphia Flyers Winter Classic on Monday. The fourth episode will be shown Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern, time enough to add a documentary gloss to the game.

    The N.H.L. version of “24/7” is a promotional vehicle of a different sort — it is pushing the broadcast of the Winter Classic on NBC and it carries plenty of footage from games played in the week preceding each episode. The series is a critical element of the Winter Classic marketing campaign.

    So far, the HBO storytelling formula that made its debut last year has continued unabated with “24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the N.H.L. Winter Classic.” Start with close-up game action that you cannot see on game broadcasts and elevate it with
    emotional, Russian-sounding music.

    Throw in at least one extremely foul-mouthed coach (the Rangers’ John Tortorella, standing in for last year’s compulsively cursing Bruce Boudreau, then the Capitals’ coach).

    Now, mix in great audio to hear collisions and the hysterically profane on-ice conversations. And add coaches’ harangues; charity events; family gatherings (like that of the Rangers’ Brian Boyle, who has 12 siblings); players who are stitched up; and the unveiling of a monumentally weird personality (Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers’ goalie and philosopher of the universe).

    This is a series that clearly understands its mission: tell the parallel tales of two teams heading into the most important event on the N.H.L. schedule apart from the
    Stanley Cup finals. HBO follows myriad story lines with a nearly relentless ardor.

    There is a nonstop yarn-spinning loop at work here: practices lead to games, to intermission rants, to players in personal moments and to travel. Then repeat.

    The loop works because material is culled week by week to overfeed it: Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette yelling, “Montreal typical!” to protest a referee’s call in a game against the Canadiens; Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist playing guitar with John McEnroe; Tortorella’s touching relationship with a young Rangers fan with cerebral palsy (did your eyes stay dry when the youngster’s father lifted him into a bed draped in a Rangers blanket?); the Rangers’ Marian Gaborik buying a Christmas tree and schlepping it home over his shoulder; and the pride felt by the grandmother of Ryan Callahan, the Rangers’ captain.


    I have ZERO interest in hockey but if I’d watched the launch for the match that Richard is talking about and the story lines woven in it, I’d come out the other end SOLD and rooting for one of the two teams and would be eager to see the match.

    “Playing guitar, cerebral palsy, Christmas tree, grandmother, charity events, family gatherings” – all parallel tales that are not directly related to the game – that make this more than just a profile of the match. That’s the magic. That, my friend is what meaningful marketing has the power to do.

    And for the person who is a raving hockey fan already, you can bet your butt they’d have taken their enhanced version of excitement that came as the result of watching this and would have been blabbing about it to anyone who would half-listen.

    I believe this same phenomena happens for boxing fans, casual and serious, who watch the boxing match launches which follow the same formula.

    HBO does an absolutely fine job of answering the question of “What do people have to believe about this product (the fighters) in order for them to feel excited about buying it?” and then they answer this question with story lines that deliver exactly what fight fans need and want to feel.

    I would highly recommend that anyone interested in the topic of story selling to pay attention to how they market this product and I thank you Pamela for reminding me with your piece of the importance of telling an intrinsically compelling story. :)

    • Pamela Muldoon

      Thank you for checking out the show notes of this episode of “The Pivot”, I hope you also had a chance to listen to Barry’s interview. Great stuff, indeed! I agree, HBO is doing some wonderful storytelling and in turn getting us to engage deeper with their other programs. It will be interesting to see how this evolves for them when the add the online streaming component next year.
      Here’s to a great story! Cheers!

  • rogercparker

    Barry’s Pivot story is one which many of us can identify with.

    Great term, “voluntary engagement.”

    I’m a great fan of About Face’s customer stories for Tesla which are totally on target: believable with memorable stories.

    • Pamela Muldoon

      Barry does a fantastic job of providing a framework for telling a great story and how it can be so powerful for audience engagement. I agree, the Tesla videos are spot on.
      Thanks again for listening and commenting, Roger!