EXCLUSIVE: Last Vegas producer Amy Baer has launched Gidden Media, and the former CBS Films head and senior Sony Pictures executive gets off the ground with a batch of projects and a 7-figure development fund raised through a consortium of private investors. Baer will do what she does best, which is to invest the time nurturing material through the development process and then shop the results for feature films and longform television. Baer got her first taste of producing when she exited CBS Films two years ago to join Laurence Mark and Joe Drake on Last Vegas, the Jon Turteltaub-directed comedy that crossed the $33 million mark in its second weekend, with Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline starring for CBS Films.
Baer gets underway with several promising projects at Gidden, including some that she developed during her long stint at Sony. After starting her career working for late CAA agent Jay Moloney, Baer moved to TriStar in 1992 and worked her way up until she left to form CBS Films as president/CEO in 2007. Baer said she never forgot the unmade projects she shepherded all those years. Like a cop who won’t give up on a cold case, she approached her former Sony colleagues, who are letting her run with several stuck projects with great scripts. One is Endurance, the survival story of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, who rescued his entire crew in 1916 after his ship got trapped in ice for over a year while attempting to cross Antarctica. I wrote about this film numerous times over the years, but it never made it to the start line at Sony as a feature. Baer is going to get made as a limited series by Sony Pictures Television. Wolfgang Petersen, who has been trying to make this movie for over a decade, is producing and directing a script by Steve Zaillian. Viking’s Alan Gasmer will also produce.
“I went to [production president] Doug Belgrad, and said, ‘You know how much I love this, and that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the say I left the studio,’ ” Baer told me. “It is a very difficult film to make as a feature, but it’s perfect for longform. Sony has a similar project in Everest [Doug Liman is directing the Sheldon Turner-scripted story of British climber George Mallory's attempts to summit Everest], and I was able to get the blessing of Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton and was able to work out a budget with Helen Verno at Sony Pictures Television. We are in negotiations with a cable network, and Sony International is also involved.
“Development is an evaporating commodity, but I wanted to take a creative lane here and raised money to incubate content because I think it has to start with script in order for the rest to fall in place,” Baer said. “What I most loved being a studio executive was to be an advocate, to fight for the movie and the ‘yes.’ ”
Baer has hired Christopher Ceccotti to spearhead development, and she intends to make moderate-budget films that follow the model of Last Vegas, which got a strong cast at a $28 million budget. At Sony, Baer supervised projects that included The Pursuit Of Happyness, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Mast Of Zorro, S.W.A.T., Adaptation, Stepmom and Something’s Gotta Give, and her films grossed more than $1.8 billion in worldwide box office. At CBS Films, the pictures included The Back Up Plan and Beastly. I’ve always found Baer to be smart, tasteful and sometimes blunt. I still remember the first time I met with her. Having heard that she was the daughter of Happy Days star Tom Bosley, I asked her what it was like growing up with Mr. C, the dad who had all the answers. “He’s an actor, Mike,” is what she said.
Baer’s Gidden Media gets started with:
A Storm In The Stars, a period romantic drama about the tumultuous love affair between dangerously charismatic poet Percy Shelley and the brilliant and beautiful 18-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft, which ultimately inspired her to write Frankenstein. The script is by Emma Jensen, and Joannie Burstein and Rebecca Miller are the exec producers. Baer is out to directors with the hope to be in production in the spring.
Sarge, an inspirational true story/sports drama being written by Stan Chervin (with whom Baer developed the first draft of Moneyball) about Dallas Mavericks center Bernard James. In 2003, when LeBron James turned 18 and was the top pick in the draft, Bernard James was an unheralded Atlanta kid who also dropped out of high school to enlist in the Air Force. Unlike his namesake, Bernard James never played hoops until he joined the military. After surviving three tours in Iraq, he became the oldest player to be selected in the NBA draft.
The Brian Banks Story; Baer beat out several other producers and is now in talks to make a movie out of the harrowing story of Brian Banks, a football player whose ordeal was recently captured in a 60 Minutes segment. After verbally committing to USC in 2002, Banks’s life was upended when a classmate falsely accused him of rape. While he maintained his innocence, Banks was sentenced to five years in prison and five years of probation, and was forced to register as a sex offender. With the help the California Innocence Project, Banks’ conviction was overturned in 2012. He returned to the gridiron after a 10-year hiatus, playing arena football and going through endless NFL tryouts before finally making the Atlanta Falcons’ 75-man roster in April. Although he only played in four preseason games, Banks fulfilled his lifelong dream and is now an activist and spokesperson for the California Innocence Project.
Sundance Is Bulls**t, an ensemble comedy to be written by Twisted’s Adam Milch about a group of college friends who reunite in their 30s at a snowy Utah town when one gets a movie into the festival. Over the course of the weekend, a series of humiliating misadventures test the bonds of friendship and forces each pal to confront their own personal failures and barely repressed bitterness. Like The Big Chill in a frozen place.
The Wedding Detective, a comedy written by Pride & Joy scribe Celery Kovinsky about a forensic accountant who gets taken to the cleaners by her new husband and starts a business helping people expose the dirty laundry of their soon-to-be marital partners. The gumshoe falls for a client she is hired to investigate.