One of the best films to come out of Tribeca this year was “Mary Shelley.” The period biopic about a woman was not only directed by one, Haifaa Al Mansour, but also produced by one. For over two decades Amy Baer has been a creative force in entertainment. The former President and CEO of CBS Films spent seventeen years at Sony Pictures Entertainment where she helped develop various films, some that went on to gross $2 billion. Her credits include “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and the Oscar nominees “Adaption” and “Moneyball.” She parlayed her experience and passion in launching Gidden Media, the only female-led content incubation production company. I recently spoke with her about GM and her past and future projects.
Baer, daughter of the late actor and TV Legend Tom Bosley (“Happy Days”), left the studio world at a time when studios were more interested in acquiring the finished film as opposed to developing its content. She explains, “I saw a path to incubate stories that I want to tell as a creator instead of being a producer for hire.” By focusing on content Baer is then able to decide what the best platform would be for distribution.
According to Baer, this more entrepreneurial approach to the standard producing entity allows more flexibility to find the right home for projects, instead of serving the agenda of one film studio. “We are developing things we originally thought would be right for film but can also work for TV or digital distribution.” Baer added, “I want to build ownership in a library of content.”
On what she looks for in a script: “any element to a story that I could relate to on a personal level. I’m a very emotionally-driven producer.” She added that she likes underdog stories. “Man or woman against the system.” Speaking of which, “Mary Shelley” was Gidden Media’s first film, so Baer is off to a good start.
Baer told me that when the Shelley script, written by Emma Jensen, was brought to her she immediately connected to it. “Even though it takes place two hundred years ago, the subject matter of a young woman trying to break into a male-dominated world is still modern and relatable today.” Ironically, a challenge also shared by the film’s director Haifaa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker. “I have never read a piece of material and said, “I want a woman to direct this,’ but I felt that the theme of the story and what Mary went through is so specific to what women experience today.” Although Baer admits a man could have directed the film, but then it would be different.
Of course, producing a period piece that takes place in the early nineteenth century had its challenges including recreating sets and costumes. However according to Baer, it was shooting around modern conveniences that posed the biggest challenge. “There is a scene at Lord Byron’s home which was shot near a highway in France, so car headlights kept shining into the windows.” There were also outdoor shots that required shooting around phone lines. “We had to fix modernity on a limited budget.”
JUST IN: as of June 15th Ms. Baer was named new Board President of the Women in Film organization (website)
When asked about making a film about real people versus made-up characters, Baer said, “If they’re living, they can speak for themselves. If they’re not, there’s usually material written on them.” She also added how you must be respectful and authentic to the truth, but sometimes need to take some dramatic license.
Baer’s opinion on the gender distinction of titles proved interesting. “I don’t go by ‘female’ producer, I go by producer, but at the same time I see nothing wrong in taking pride in it.” However, she admits that because more women are getting bigger and bigger films, the “female” moniker may soon be obsolete. “It would be a great accomplishment if we could become gender neutral.”
Baer has many upcoming projects in the works. In the meantime, “Mary Shelley” has been well received at both the Toronto and Tribeca Film Festivals. According to Baer, “Audiences love it! They seem to be captivated by the story, the storytelling and the performances.”
“Mary Shelley” is currently playing in theaters (read our REVIEW)