Even before the pandemic corralled Americans onto their couches to binge and consume a steady churn of content, producer Amy Baer knew the entertainment industry was missing an opportunity to sate viewers.
Hollywood is a fickle, numbers-obsessed business but Baer, who’d run CBS Films and was executive vice president of production at Sony, was convinced that the industry had long disregarded one particular area: making movies and TV for the over-50 demographic.
“I’ve always had an affinity for, as I like to call them, people movies as opposed to visual effects or, you know, superhero movies, but movies that speak to a more mature audience that is about a phase of life that everybody reaches but that sometimes get overlooked in the development and production process,” Baer said.
The result is Landline Pictures, a label launching this month under independent studio MRC Film, with the goal of releasing three to four films each year for both theatrical and streaming. Aimed at the 50-plus audience, Landline’s mandate is to generate textured, uplifting and inspiring stories that will cross over to a broad audience both conceptually and commercially. Based in Beverly Hills, the label has a staff of four.
Back in 2003, Nancy Meyer’s blockbuster romantic comedy “Something’s Gotta Give” proved there was a place in filmdom for stories about and led by the older demographic. The film, starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, then 65 and 56, respectively, not only earned critical acclaim but $256 million at the box office worldwide — more than three times its $80 million budget.
But the film’s success did not translate into a constant run of similarly targeted projects.
A study released in 2017 by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism looked at 1,256 films released between 2014 and 2017 and found that characters 60 and over were under- and misrepresented. While that demographic represented 18.5% of the U.S. population, it was reflected in only 11.8% of the films, the study found.
Baer, who supervised “Something’s Gotta Give” while at Sony, had done her own back-of-a-napkin assessment of the numbers and concluded there was a market.
In 2012 she raised a seven-figure development fund and launched Gidden Media, an independently financed content incubation company. A year later she produced “Last Vegas” starring Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. It grossed more than $134 million worldwide on a budget reported by Box Office Mojo to be of $28 million.
“Historically when you look at these movies, whether they have been traditional theatrical releases and now in the last couple of years on streaming platforms, they tend to be more successful than your average film,” said Baer, 54. “Because they’re usually made at a price and they’re made for an audience that craves content and then is habituated, certainly, to see theatrical motion pictures, but don’t have a lot of content created for them and for their lives and their experiences.”
For example, the 2018 Paramount Pictures film “Book Club,” costarring Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, was an unqualified hit, grossing $104 million worldwide. Now a sequel is in the works.
“Grace and Frankie,” the comedic portrait of aging starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin and created by Marta Kauffman, is set for its seventh and final season on Netflix, making it the longest-running series on the streamer.
“It’s hilarious that everybody’s always surprised when another one comes along and it works and everyone goes, ‘Gosh, well, we had no idea really,’” Baer said. “Like, ‘Wow, everybody went to see it. That’s amazing.‘ It’s a very strange phenomenon in that this audience is really hungry for content that speaks to their life experience and the themes and the emotions that they’re going through.”
Moreover, she added, “I’ve never seen one of these movies, nor have I worked on one of these movies, that doesn’t cross over to a younger audience.”
MRC copresidents Brye Adler and Jonathan Golfman thought similarly. Eighteen months ago they began looking to launch a label targeting 50-plus audiences.
“We were trying to assess the landscape of movie consumers both theatrical and streaming and identify audiences whose demand was not met with supply and focus on [those] areas,” Adler said. “Time and again we landed on this demographic.”
Baer was one of the first people the pair sat down with. MRC has released “Baby Driver,” “Ted” and the critical smash “Knives Out,” which garnered Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and generated more than $311 million in worldwide ticket sales.
The pair liked that Baer had worked both in the studio system and with independents. “She rolled up her sleeves, and that was an important key attribute in having a great partner going out making movies,” Golfman said. “Once the conversation started she was quick to connect this vision for us.”
For her part, Baer liked that the pair had come prepared. “I really admire the fact that they had done their homework about this need, and there was a true need and a space and an opportunity to reach an audience, and also that the buyers that they had talked to when they had done their homework were looking for this kind of content. So because they already had a creative instinct about these kinds of films, it was a really seamless fit.”
Landline is one of a trio of new genre-specific labels for MRC — all headed by women. It comes on the heels of the July announcement that Becky Sloviter, who produced the Hulu comedy “Palm Springs,” would spearhead a new label focusing on female-led comedies. In March, MRC launched an as-yet-unnamed label focusing on the romance genre, headed by producer Elizabeth Cantillon.
“I give tremendous props to the team at MRC because these new labels are all being run by women,” said Baer, who since 2018 has served as board president of Women in Film, an advocacy group for women in the entertainment industry. “And you don’t see that very often. It’s a really encouraging sign. You know, I would even venture to go so far as to say it’s doubly encouraging because two of the three women are over 50, which, again, is not something that you see every day in this business.”
Landline’s debut slate of films includes the comedy “Jerry and Marge Go Large,” written by Brad Copeland (“Arrested Development”) and directed by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”), about the real-life couple who won the lottery and bankrolled their dying Michigan town. Bill Holderman, who directed “Book Club,” is set to helm the romantic comedy “Scenic Route,” about a married couple who attempt to rekindle their 50-year marriage by re-creating their cross-country RV honeymoon.
“I think Amy is really smart about this,” said Danny Greenberg, cohead of literary content at WME.
Greenberg’s client Allan Loeb wrote the screenplay for “The Best Is Yet To Come,” with Jon Turteltaub directing the French remake of “Le Meilleur Reste à Venir,” about a pair of lifelong friends who reconnect after a huge misunderstanding separated them for years. The film is on Landline’s initial slate.
“She had a belief and passion that this audience in general was overlooked and in my experience I don’t remember a studio or a production company coming to me to say they were in one rarefied lane. I’d never heard anyone ID this group, and this felt pretty progressive and original to me,” Greenberg said of Baer.
Baer sees what she is doing with Landline as akin to what Jason Blum did for the horror genre.
“The task that I’m holding myself to … is that hopefully we build this to a point where, a la Blumhouse, that if someone has a movie for an older audience, we’re going to be the first stop and that we’re going to demonstrate that we know how to make these movies successfully, how to make these movies economically, and be able to sell them to the audience that’s there.”
Baer added: “There’s always been an opportunity and a need there, but it’s been neglected. And when you neglect a segment of the audience, you’re leaving money on the table.”