Sundance Mainstay Diamond Docs Pivots From Fixing Movies to Making Its Own

Diamond Docs has worked on several critically praised documentaries, including "The Cove," but now it's time for something new, starting with Formula One racing

Diamond Docs has brought movies to Sundance five years running, beginning with “The Cove” in 2009 and continuing with three this year — “The Summit,” “Who is Dayani Cristal?” and Dave Grohl's “Sound City.” 

Up until now, though, the company has come onto a project that was someone else’s — more often than not, one that needed a tweak. And that includes 2009's "The Cove": After seeing a 40-minute piece of the documentary that included the horrifying slaughter of a dolphin, creative partner Mark Monroe helped craft a narrative for the movie, which led it to an Oscar for Best Documentary.    

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Now Diamond Docs is hoping to break out in another way — developing its own projects.

To that end, they aim this year to finish "1,” about the history of Formula One racing, from its early days to the dangerous and corporatized 1970s and 1980s to its very safe present.

It will be the first finished feature developed within the company since its 2006 launch.

“We almost called ourselves ‘The Wolf,’” the company's Paul Crowder (pictured, with creative partner Mark Monroe) told TheWrap, referencing Harvey Keitel’s character from “Pulp Fiction." Wolf turns dire situations into successes. 

“We extend our knowledge, our expertise, our Rolodex,” Monroe added. “We may find people, find editors, sort out the right pieces to move the production along.”

Founded in 2006, Diamond Docs formalized the collaboration of three creative partners — Monroe, the writer; Crowder, the editor; and Morgan Sackett, the businessman and producer. Sackett is a longtime TV producer, having worked on shows like "Seinfeld" and "Park & Recreation" while Crowder is a musician turned editor and Monroe, a journalist turned documentary screenwriter. 

After meeting on "Morning Light," a documentary conceived by Roy Disney, their first project together was “Once in a Lifetime,” about the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos soccer team. 

“Passion Pictures came to us with a film that had been started, but they were having a bit of trouble finding their way,” Crowder said. “They needed a new editor, and Mark and I said we should really start from scratch. Mark did a whole page-one rewrite.” For his part, Crowder co-directed and edited.

From there, regular work started to arrive. With “Sound City” (above right) first-time director and musical icon Grohl brought them in early on, drawn by Crowder’s history as a drummer. In between they’ve made movies about the mysterious death of Pat Tillman, the NFL star who quit to join the Army after 9/11 and died in Afghanistan (‘The Tillman Story”), and global warming’s impact on glaciers (“Chasing Ice”).

"We had reputations as guys who could come in and help things," Sackett said.

On some projects, Diamond Docs is not an official producer, though Sackett, Monroe and Crowder have contributed work. With this year's Sundance films, Diamond Docs is an official producer of "The Summit" but not on "Sound City," which Monroe wrote and Crowder edited, or "Who is Dayani Cristal?," which Monroe also wrote. They do get an "in association with" credit on those movies.

"But making documentaries from beginning to end is still our goal," Monroe said.

While Monroe and Crowder spend almost all their professional time on Diamond Docs, Sackett has spent the past several years producing NBC's comedy"Parks and Recreation." He has also directed two episodes of the popular half-hour show.

"We all had separate careers before we started this thing and haven’t set something up where were all going to drop everything and make Diamond Docs projects we can all work on together," Sackett said. "It's whatever comes up, but we all consult with one another."

As for their first original project, "1," Crowder is directing and editing from a script by Monroe.

“It's about a different time when young men had no problem risking their lives, and the evolution from that,” Monroe said.

“Now [a Formula One car] the safest place you could ever be if you wanted to willfully put yourself in a car crash.”

"It used to be the deadliest," Crowder said.

Michael Fassbender will narrate the tale, while Exclusive Media's Spitfire Pictures is producing with Flat-Out Films and Diamond Docs.

Formula One racing has been a popular topic in Hollywood of late, from the documentary about driver Ayrton Senna to Ron Howard’s upcoming “Rush,” and this project has been going for almost as long as Diamond Docs has existed.

It took them two years just to begin shooting, recruiting the involvement of people from Formula One’s past and present. They’ve been shooting and editing it over the past three years, dealing with more material than they could ever use.

Whenever they finish it, it will set the initial standard for all in-house projects moving forward.

“We don’t want to be guys who just fix films,” Crowder said. "We want to make films with a narrative feel, as if they were big cinema so we can leave our mark."