Q & A with Producer Miranda Bailey

Producer Miranda Bailey

Producer Miranda Bailey

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with independent filmmakers Martin Grove talks to producer Miranda Bailey about Ambush Entertainment’s new dramedy “Every Day”, starring Helen Hunt, Liev Schreiber, Brian Dennehy, Eddie Izzard and Carla Gugino, world premiering Apr. 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The story: “Every Day”, written and directed by Richard Levine (“Nip/Tuck”), is the story of a family’s struggle to survive life’s curve-balls that ultimately bring out the best and worst in us and make us closer. Ned (Schreiber), a television writer working on an outrageous TV series for an ultra-demanding showrunner (Izzard), sees his life turned upside down after his wife’s (Hunt) sick and embittered father (Dennehy) moves into their home and their family suddenly faces way too many challenges.

In 2000 Miranda Bailey and writer/director Matt Leutwyler co-founded Ambush Entertainment, a Los Angeles based independent film development and production company, to produce a wide range of original and diverse feature films.

Bailey began her career as a New York theater actress. A graduate of Skidmore College, she’s appeared in a number of theatrical productions, including “Borrego”, written by Robert Glaudini; “The Seagull”, directed by Sanda Manu, who heads the Romanian Theatre in Bucarest; and “The Marathon Years”, directed by Anne Bogart. Among her television and film credits are roles on the Fox series “Beyond Belief” and the NBC mini-series “The 60’s”. She co-starred with Jeffrey Donovan in the thriller “Hindsight” which premiered at the Victoria International Film Festival and brought her the Best Actress award at the First Glance Philadelphia Film Festival.

Since forming Ambush Entertainment, Bailey’s produced the cult hit “Dead & Breakfast”, starring Jeremy Sisto, Portia de Rossi and Jeffrey Dean Morgan; and the 2006 sex comedy “The OH in Ohio”, starring Danny DeVito, Parker Posey and Paul Rudd. She executive produced the award-winning critically acclaimed 2005 drama “The Squid and the Whale”, written and directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels, a 2006 Oscar nominee for best original screenplay and a Golden Globe nominee for best picture/comedy or musical.

Bailey also produced the romantic drama “Wonderful World”, starring Matthew Broderick and Sanaa Lathan, and executive produced the drama “Against the Current”, starring Joseph Fiennes, Mary Tyler Moore and Justin Kirk.

Her upcoming features include “The River Why”, starring Zach Gilford, William Hurt and Amber Heard; and “Super”, starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon, directed by James Gunn.

Bailey made her directorial debut earlier this year with the documentary “Greenlit”, which she also produced with Marc Lesser. “Greenlit” follows the production of “The River Why” as it attempts to keep an environmentally friendly set through the supervision of a “green” consultant.

Ambush Entertainment is a Los Angeles based independent film development and production company dedicated to producing original, provocative, and diverse commercial feature films. Its financing arm, Cold Iron Pictures, has enabled the company to produce a varied slate of upcoming films, including: “Super” (see above); the 17th century set martial-arts action film “Garnet on the Golden Sand”, to be directed by Master Woo-ping Yuen in China; the indie ensemble drama “Answers to Nothing”, starring Dane Cook, Elizabeth Mitchell and Barbara Hershey; “Every Day”; “Wonderful World” (see above); the drama, “Against the Current”, starring Joseph Fiennes, Mary Tyler Moore and Justin Kirk; “The River Why” (see above); the comedy “Lower Learning”, starring Eva Longoria Parker, Rob Corddry, and Jason Biggs; and the thriller “Hindsight”, starring Jeffrey Donovan.

Q: It’s always interesting to find out how any movie gets made as it’s usually never easy to get it done. Was it easy to make “Every Day”?
A: Yes and no. There’s always challenges. This one was easier for us in one sense because right away halfway through the script I knew I wanted to make it -- even before I finished it. And that’s never happened to me before. I called CAA halfway through the script and I was like, “I haven’t even put this down, but I love it. I want to meet the writer. He’s fantastic.” I got the script to my partner, Matt Leutwyler, who produced it with me. Coincidentally, he read it that night, which also never happens. Normally it takes us a month to get to something. We met with Richard and we just clicked.

It was about a year just figuring out where we were going to shoot it, how much we were going to shoot it for and trying to find a producing partner to come in on the film, which we didn’t find. It was just before the crash of the economy when we were trying to get this movie made and we knew either we’re going to make it and take the risk or it’s not going to get made right now. I think we were just so passionate about the piece that we just decided to go ahead and do it. That was October 2008. We were trying to find partners, but everybody was running for the hills at that point.
Q: What did moving forward on your own involve?
A: We needed to contain the budget. That’s what Ambush does. We make low budget movies that look like they’re made for a lot more because we don’t take exorbitant producer fees. We pay people mostly through the back-end. We don’t underpay people or anything like that, but there’s not a bunch of stuff tacked on. There’s really no luxury in the way that we make our films. So you’re working 12 to 16 hour days. There’s no, “Hey, let’s have a nice long lunch break” or whatever. It’s fast and it’s really down and dirty and challenging, but keeping the quality.

We also knew we needed in order to make this work a state where we could have a tax incentive. We knew we couldn’t shoot it in Los Angeles. It was originally written for Los Angeles. We budgeted it for here, New Mexico, Louisiana and New York and the only place we could really do it and keep the integrity of the film was New York because it’s about a television writer. That’s what we did, but it was a process to try and figure out where and how we were going to shoot this and financially how we were going to be able to make it work.
“Every Day” stars Ezra Miller and Helen Hunt

(Left to Right) “Every Day” stars Ezra Miller and Helen Hunt

Q: That’s interesting because people would usually think of New York as being the most expensive place to shoot.
A: It is. However, with 35 percent tax back if you use a stage, it makes a lot of sense for an indie film. It’s not on everything. I don’t think above the line costs count, but below the line costs count. So your crew and certain housing (qualify for the tax incentive).
Q: Where did you shoot?
A: We shot at Steiner Studios (the Hollywood style studio located on 15 acres of the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard). We were able to use a stage because it’s actually written into the script. So that worked for us really well whereas with this film we did called “Against the Current” we weren’t able to get the 35 percent because we didn’t have a stage. So it was like 30 percent.
Q: When did you shoot?
A: We shot in October 2008 for 25 days.
Q: Did you make a lot of other changes in the screenplay besides the location?
A: No, that was really it. The thing that worked out so well is that originally when it was in Los Angeles it read a bit Hollywood inside even though it wasn’t a story about Hollywood. But because it was set in Hollywood and set in this TV station and the swimming pool (where Schreiber and Gugino’s characters enjoy a seduction scene) was a glamorous Beverly Hills swimming pool, all of a sudden it felt a little bit industry insider. The second we changed it to New York we all looked at it like, “Wow, you can really focus on the story now, which is about this family.” We got lucky that we were put in this financial challenge, I think.
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in production?
A: It was interesting to convince everybody to shoot on the Red camera. We had very traditional actors in this piece. Carla was the only one who had worked with digital format before. Everyone else was pretty much in film. This was a couple of years ago and people were just starting to make movies on the Red. It’s high-definition. We bought the camera. The technology -- going HD as opposed to film -- is something that really excites us so we bought one.
Q: Filmmakers have said it’s easier to edit footage shot on the Red.
A: Well, you’re staying in the same format. You’re not switching in and out (from film to digital).
Q: What are the big advantages of shooting with the Red?
A: You aren’t spending money on film. You aren’t limited in time with having the film run out. You can do take after take after take, if you need to. It gives you a little more freedom when you’re allowing a scene to flow. You don’t have to use maybe the two minutes that you have if a camera’s rolling on film. You can go for five minutes. I think it’s really good for certain films and allowing the actors to kind of get where they need to get.

And there’s no, “Okay, check the (camera) gate. Oh, we lost that” or “There’s a hair in the gate, let’s keep going.” Now you still have problems with the Red camera, for sure. It’s very sensitive to light so you have to really have a DP who knows how to light it. We lucked out with Nancy Schreiber.
Q: Any good stories from production?
A: We were really lucky with getting our big name actors attached. It was so simple essentially because they read the script and loved it -- and that was (thanks to) Richard -- and everybody that we went to pretty much wanted to do it. We were so lucky with Brian Dennehy, as well, because that role (Hunt’s sick and embittered father) in particular was hard.
Q: If you didn’t get Brian, who’s great in the part, I think Alan Arkin may be the only other actor who could have handled it.
A: Alan had just done (a somewhat similar role in) “Little Miss Sunshine”. Everyone was saying, “No, he’s already done it. So who is the new old guy?” Fortunately, I had a relationship with Brian. I’ve known him since I was eight years old. He’s the one who got me into the movie business in the first place. So I was like, “What about Brian?”

Everyone loved the idea and we went to him and he loved the script. Funny story -- he read the script and called me immediately and said, “Miranda, this is a great, great movie. You really should get a better actor for this role than me.” And he was dead serious. (Laughs.) I love that.

But (it was hard) trying to find (an actor) to play Liev and Helen’s son, this homosexual kid who wasn’t going to come off stereotypical. One of the things I loved about the script was that it wasn’t a stereotypically gay son, which we see in all these TV shows. It was a real person who just happened to be a homosexual and a teenager. Trying to find that actor was really, really hard and not until four days before we were shooting did we actually find Ezra Miller (“Californication”, “Law and Order: SVU”). We were flying people from Los Angeles to New York and we were close on a lot of them.
Q: How did you find Ezra?
A: It was just one of those things. Our casting (Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee) obviously did a great job of giving us everybody. We’d flown in these people for call-backs and there was one kid in the waiting room we hadn’t seen yet. It happened to be Ezra. I looked at him and I was like, “No, he doesn’t seem like the right type.” He comes in and just blew us out of the water. And we were like, “Uh, there’s our kid!” We didn’t know what we were going to do. It’s four days before we were going to start shooting and we don’t have one of our leads. We were like, “Okay, reschedule it to do XYZ so we don’t shoot the part with the kid until another week.” We didn’t need to do that. We were lucky.

Another one of our casting (stories) is that we always wanted Eddie Izzard and we just couldn’t get a hold of him or his people. We had this offer out to Eddie forever and we were like, “Well, all right, we have about a week before we start shooting and I guess we’re going to have to pull the plug on the Eddie thing and find somebody else.” And so like four hours before we went out to someone else, Eddie’s people called and said, “Oh, he read it. He loves it.”
Q: Tell me about working with Richard on his first feature as a director.
A: It’s definitely not the first time that Matt or myself have worked with a first time director. Most of the movies that we’ve done were with first time directors. So we weren’t afraid of that challenge. But you never know what you’re going to get. And we lucked out, really. I mean, I had seen “Nip/Tuck” and I’m definitely a fan of the show (on which Levine is a writer and an executive producer). It’s very evident that (“Every Day”) is lightly based on his experiences there.
Q: Was this before or after you directed “Greenlit”?
A: I was editing “Greenlit” on the weekends when I was in New York. So on the weekdays we’d be shooting every day and then on the weekends I would be editing “Greenlit”. We shot “Greenlit” the August before, which was when we were making our movie “The River Why” in Portland.
Q: Did your own experience as a first time director benefit from your experiences as a producer who’s worked with a lot of first time directors?
A: My movie “Greenlit” is a documentary so it was different because I was creating a story out of real footage that had happened and real events (rather than getting performances from actors). I was really trying to find what the story was. A lot of my directing was in my editing of the film and trying to figure out, “Okay, what’s the arc of this documentary?”
Q: What’s “Greenlit” about?
A: “Greenlit” is about me as an indie film producer kind of coming to the realization of how much damage our industry creates in the environment just in the nature of filmmaking and what can we do as independent film producers, directors and actors to lessen our impact? The other part of it is showing the industry that touts some films as environmental or green and (how) that label of being green doesn’t mean as much as it should right now.
Q: And “Greenlit” just had its premiere.
A: Yes at South by Southwest. It was so much fun and so great and the perfect festival for the film so I was really happy.
Q: Do you have distributor yet for “Greenlit”?
A: No. We just premiered it there and now we’re sending screeners out to distributors who are enquiring about it. It’s a comedy. It’s not an environmental documentary, it’s really a comedy.
Q: And are you looking for a distributor, as well, for "“Every Day”?
A: Yes, we are. We haven’t shown (the film at this point to) a soul. We’re really excited to premiere it at Tribeca. I’m hopeful that even though it is a dramedy it will attract a substantial buyer.