Minneapolis is thousands of miles away from the glamour, lights and camera flashes of Los Angeles or New York. Yet nestled within the Minnesota city, in a building as gruff and nondescript from the outside as a war bunker, is a company defying distance and preconceived notions and making Hollywood magic right in the Midwest.
That company is Hodder, a video production studio based out of St. Louis Park, where it moved to recently from its former downtown Minneapolis workspace.
Although it’s fairly under-the-radar, Hodder has a resume full of high-profile projects for media companies ABC and the CW; major businesses like UnitedHealth Group; and even the media network-retailer hybrid Amazon. No project Hodder takes on is the same: Some are driven by a narrator, some by interviews, some by pulled content for flashbacks or teasers, some by original storytelling.
“[Amazon] internally decided with this show in particular they wanted a longer special — a big content piece — for a bunch of different reasons,” says Tim Herbstrith, Hodder’s director of client services. “There had been a big [two year] gap between the seasons [and with] the complexity of the show… the fans were screaming ‘give me, give me, give me’ for so long.”
Amazon turned to Hodder for a half-hour special — a notably shorter order than most Hodder projects, which often run an hour or more. In this case, Amazon wanted a series refresher and breakdown for The Man in the High Castle. Other times, Hodder has crafted series finale specials which provide a glimpse into the journey of a show from the perspective of actors, the creators and fans.
“We’ve created this niche in the market in terms of long-format stuff,” says Herbstrith. “We can immerse ourselves in whatever project we’re working on and then we’re with it for three months or so.”
Amazon’s half-hour order, however, didn’t lessen Hodder’s time commitment to the project. Herbstrith admits the team jokingly says they spent “three months in a dark room with a bunch of Nazis.”
The immersion was taxing, as was working within the time limit, and the pressure was compounded by the fact that this was an entirely new endeavor for Amazon. Hodder believes the video was the first time any streaming service commissioned such a video.
Founded 31 years ago by Kent Hodder (now the company’s president, CEO and executive creative director) and Nancy Bordson (COO), Hodder got its start in the network world by producing hour-long programming for the St. Paul broadcaster Hubbard.
Then, under contract with Disney, they pitched a special summarizing the intricacies of the 2001 ABC hit Alias to assist audiences with understanding the show’s complexities. Liking the idea, J.J. Abrams decided to do the special himself, but a year later, Hodder was asked to do a similar project for Abrams’ new show Lost.
Ultimately, between pre-season, mid-season, finale and companion story specials Hodder produced around 15 total hours of programming for Lost. This includes specials featuring Lost creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse – which Hodder creative director Steve Mulholland believes turned Lindelof and Cuse into the first “showrunner celebrities” — and a finale special that for the first time in Hodder’s history contained cast interviews.
The Lost experience served as Hodder’s template for future projects, which have included specials for The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars and Once Upon a Time.
Hodder’s library of work eventually attracted the $200 billion insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. A couple years back, UnitedHealth wanted to see if they could take a series of Centers for Disease Control lectures on avoiding Diabetes Type 2 and convert them into a show. The project, while experimental for both UnitedHealth and Hodder, managed to win an Emmy.
Kent Hodder and his team understand the oddity of running a Hollywood-focused business out of Minnesota. They occasionally get teased about it and, Herbstrith quips, “you have to start a lot of phone calls talking about the weather.”
Kent Hodder notes it certainly does put them off the radar a little and, with major productions typically shot far away from Minneapolis, the Hodder team often has to travel to show sets – typically LA, Atlanta or Canada. Additionally, it can create challenges in terms of collaboration on a project.
“People in California love to get together and brainstorm and knock around an idea and I think our being in Minneapolis prevents them from going, ‘hey let’s grab a coffee this afternoon, I’ve got something I want to run by you,’” says Kent Hodder.
However, notes the CEO, as soon as clients see their work, Hodder’s location becomes a nonissue. And in some cases, it has even made their work seem more intriguing.
According to Herbstrith, one Amazon executive found it refreshing to meet with people who weren’t from Los Angeles (the city has a reputation for being full of industry people all with similar modes of operations).
“There’s a certain sensibility of people in the Midwest. We have a different perspective on things,” adds Mulholland. “We see things the way most of America sees things, so when we’re talking about sharing a TV series with a massive audience, I think that gives us an advantage.”
Additionally, Mulholland notes that there’s a strong creative community – with which they sometimes share resources – in the Twin Cities, including ad agencies. He says everybody who comes to Minneapolis to work with Hodder is impressed by the scene.
“We’re really trying to lean in to the Minnesota thing now and make it part of our brand, because it really differentiates us,” says Herbstrith.
Yet, somewhat ironically, Hodder is much less of a household name in its home state than on the coastlines. In fact, UnitedHealth only turned to Hodder for their project after being informed of Hodder’s existence by a Seinfeld writer, Matt Goldman.
Kent Hodder admits their local invisibility is partly due to a lack of advertising, although he hopes to change that. Hodder adds that he and his employees would relish the chance to be able to go home at night after a day of shooting.
In terms of content, the team is excited about the possibility of more projects from streamers, like Netflix and Hulu that they hope will one day come around to the benefits of long specials.
However, Hodder has a bigger project on its wish list.
“I would love to have somebody come in and go, I’ve rounded up the money and I want to do a series with you guys of some sort,” says Kent Hodder. “I still dream…”