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Director Paula Froehle on why “people are who they are to everyone they meet”

A quote that I love and share with my children is “people are who they are to everyone they meet.” If someone isn’t being kind or supportive toward you, then they likely aren’t that way toward others either. Their behavior says so much more about them than it does about you — meaning you are in charge […]


A quote that I love and share with my children is “people are who they are to everyone they meet.” If someone isn’t being kind or supportive toward you, then they likely aren’t that way toward others either. Their behavior says so much more about them than it does about you — meaning you are in charge of defining your reality. Never give that away to someone else. This has always rung true throughout my career, which is why I avoid unkind people from the start.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula Froehle, Co-Founder and CEO of Chicago Media Project (CMP). Paula is a producer, director, visual artist, educator and entrepreneur based in Chicago. As Co-Founder and CEO of CMP — the innovative multifaceted philanthropic community of documentary film lovers who believe in the power of media to bring about social change and move hearts — Paula guides over 50 members in the philanthropic support of social impact films and filmmaker sustainability. Her extensive career in education, entrepreneurship and the arts lead her to the creation of CMP that is helping to change the way we look at content.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

CMP is the culmination of much of my prior experiences as an artist, filmmaker and educator, and my deep belief in the power of media as a vehicle for storytelling and social impact. Over my 20+ years as a filmmaker, I developed an understanding of the power of documentaries to tell stories in moving and meaningful ways; as an educator I’ve honed my skills as a communicator and developer of talent; and as an entrepreneur I’ve enjoyed the excitement of developing teams to manifest great ideas in the world. In 2013, as I was looking to leave education for my next challenge, I realized I had an underlying desire to help others understand the world of documentary filmmaking and to connect people who love great storytelling. I mentioned this to Steve Cohen, my co-founder and business partner, and he greenlit the development of CMP.

Ultimately, CMP was born out of a pitch event we held in Chicago in 2013 where roughly 300 individuals came together to support seven documentary films. In just one day, we were able to raise over $400,000 in financial support and connect the filmmakers to over 50 organizations that could use their networks to raise the film’s visibility. The success of this one-day event opened our eyes to an untapped network just waiting to give back and support media. My business partner Steve and I realized that there is a far greater opportunity for impact when individuals come together around great storytelling.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

I love to tell the story of seeing the first cut of the film we co-financed, the 2018 Academy Award®-winning documentary ICARUS. All aspects of the production of ICARUS were highly confidential because of the nature of the subject matter. The film team even had to use burner phones to communicate! When we went to view an early cut of the film with some of our equity partners, we were first given an address that took us to a street corner and once we were there, we got a call to wait for someone who would meet us. Suddenly a young man came out and whisked us into the back room of an old dentist’s office. It was unlike any editing room I had ever seen. After we saw the first cut, all we could say was “I hope no one saw us come in here!” It was one of the few moments where we wondered just how secure we were and how high stakes this film truly was. It was a great reminder of how powerful documentary films can be and just how important they are in today’s society.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I think of mistakes I’ve made, they seem to all be centered on moments when I’ve questioned my own abilities — whether that was about starting a new company, or writing a new script, or taking a risk that I knew deep down inside I needed to do (even if means attempting to literally walk a highwire, like I did when shooting my documentary on The Flying Wallendas — now, that was funny). The biggest lesson, especially for women in this industry, is to never dream small and never ever question your ability to achieve the things you deeply believe in. That deep belief is the single most important aspect of anything you attempt. It will draw others to you, and suddenly you’ll find you have a team of people who believe just as deeply as you do. And that is powerful. Once you realize that whatever you put your mind to you’ll achieve, there’s never a day when you regret that hard work that your ideas manifest!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

That is a tough one — I’m excited about so many! We are very excited about our new film THE INFILTRATORS that is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019. Directed and produced by husband and wife duo Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, this powerful film tackles the topic of undocumented immigration. It follows a small group of young undocumented immigrants who embark on a high-risk mission inside America’s for profit detention system in order to set people free. Another film our team is very excited about is a new documentary on the Apollo Theater, directed by Roger Ross Williams, which is currently in production. It is an excellent look at the history of the African American civil rights movement in the United States as seen through the history of the Apollo Theater.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Some of the most interesting people that I have met through this job are the subjects of the documentary films. We often overlook these individuals and focus on the team that makes the film. But when you actually meet the subjects, you can’t ignore the reality of the issue at hand and the importance of getting their stories out in the world. It takes a great deal of courage to allow someone to come into your life and tell your story. I was completely inspired by one of the subjects of THE INFILTRATORS and his story has stayed with me months after our first meeting. This man had been living in the United States for over 10 years, building a life and a family, and then one day he was picked up by ICE agents and deported. Listening to his ordeal and seeing the effect on him and his family affirms the work we’re doing to cultivate more supporters for this work.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I often hear people talk about work-life separation but I don’t see this as a needed separation in my life. My work is my life in the sense that my work is a reflection of my values and desires to connect with others in the world and to make a meaningful difference. That’s not to say I spend every day slaving away at my desk, but more that I see how my life informs my work and my work informs my life, in such a way that they blend together. I believe your work should energize you and if you love what you do, it’s never “work.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am proud to say that I believe we are creating an important movement with CMP. To amplify our impact, we are working hard to continue to solidify our community of individual donors so that we will groups all over the country. The more our organization grows, the bigger the impact we can have to help filmmakers and support great documentary films.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Never listen to anyone who tells you your idea isn’t valid.

2. Love what you do, and if you don’t, stop doing it now. Life is too short.

3. Find great partners/team members/collaborators. This is truly the joy of work — working together to create something bigger than yourself.

4. Celebrate your successes. Take the time after achieving something big or small to really enjoy and celebrate the achievement. Otherwise, the achievements will lose meaning.

5. Allow the joy you feel in the work you do to spread to others. Great work is life-giving and should be shared with others.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote that I love and share with my children is “people are who they are to everyone they meet.” If someone isn’t being kind or supportive toward you, then they likely aren’t that way toward others either. Their behavior says so much more about them than it does about you — meaning you are in charge of defining your reality. Never give that away to someone else. This has always rung true throughout my career, which is why I avoid unkind people from the start.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My oldest sister has been my biggest supporter of all of my pursuits — from my earliest days as an artist (she still has some of this work hanging in her home!) to my current endeavor, CMP. And she’s doing big things as well — she just took a Lead Counsel gig in Manhattan. I’m thrilled to have someone that close to me who I can look up to and also rely on. I am grateful for her, for sure.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Lisa Nishimura from Netflix. I’d love to hear about her career, and what projects she’s seeing that are interesting these days!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/paula-froehle-2a22634/

Facebook:@thisischicagomediaproject

Twitter:@ChiMediaProject

Instagram: @chicagomediaproject

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