Four years after being elected for the first time to head the Producers Guild of America with Lucy Fisher, Gail Berman is ready to fully immerse herself in her daily work. Like many in show business, she didn’t initially think she had time to be Guild President in 2018 – but was assured the role would only take an hour out of her schedule a week. .
“I can use the time I do on the elliptical machine,” I thought. Then COVID happened,” Berman says. With just weeks until she and Fisher are laid off in August, she’s proud that “we made it, and luckily we’re on the other side and the organization is still standing. He is in his best financial situation ever.
A single woman running both television (Fox) and a movie studio (Paramount), Berman has a stellar roster at her company, the Jackal Group. She’s currently riding the neck-and-neck triumph of “Elvis,” which edged out Tom Cruise’s blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick” to take the top spot at this weekend’s box office with $31 million. It’s kind of a full circle for Berman, who caused a stir at age 23 when he staged a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on Broadway. After securing the rights to the Elvis catalog from two sets of owners, Berman said, “There was only one idea. Baz Luhrmann and Elvis. The grandeur and beauty of Baz, and the legacy of Elvis. The film had a lush premiere at Cannes and propelled star Austin Butler into early Oscar conversations.
The contemporary media landscape has changed dramatically, along with Berman’s career path. “When change is involved, I always see an opportunity,” Berman says of his future and the current landscape. “Showbiz is a great respite for the public. I am grateful to be able to provide this from time to time.
This extra hour per week should serve him well. Here, Variety chats with Berman about his next list:
In September, “Monarch” will air on Fox. This trailer got a lot of attention, especially Susan Sarandon with that big Southern hair.
I had a company called Sidecar and I worked with Fox. We had been there for about 18 months before the pandemic shut it down. I walked in and sat down with Michael Thorn and said, “What do you want?” He said they were really into the country music space, and I thought the idea of three generations of a country music family might be a good saga. He loved.
I thought, I can’t tell this story the way it needs to be told because of my experience, so we found someone who was. Someone suggested Jason Owen, and it was a love affair from the first second. He’s an accomplished musical director, representing artists like Casey Musgraves, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and Little Big Town. We partnered on the idea and then visited Melissa Hilfers who I had worked with before. From there, we lucked out with Susan Sarandon, Anna Friel, Trace Adkins. It starts in September, just after a big domestic league game, so we come after football.
There’s also so much ground swell about Tim Burton’s “Wednesday” on Netflix, of which you’re the executive producer.
All accessories go to [creators] Al Gough and Miles Millar. It’s their baby with Tim Burton. It’s a modern retelling of history, it’s a clever new take on it. You have never seen this before. I love “The Addams Family”, I always thought it was an amazing and underused brand. I met Kevin Mizracki a long, long time ago. The rights had become available and we took the plunge. I had a contract at the time with MGM for television, and they immediately embarked on an animated feature film. It’s been a wonderful partnership, and ‘Wednesday’ is one result.
You have another music project set up at Fox, the “Icon” music anthology that examines the stories of music legends.
The first concerns The Judds. Obviously, we had a very difficult and extremely sad thing with the passing of Naomi. It was shocking, we had gotten to know her quite well. It was devastating when I got the call. So before we start on the next icon, we want to see this in a way that suits our writer Adam Milch. We wrote two scripts and a bible. Naomi was a great girl, and a big boo, and wonderfully talented.
One of the most interesting things on your slate is “The Goonies.”
It’s a partnership between me, Amblin and Lauren Shuler Donner. When I was at Paramount, there were these young boys doing this movie about “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a shot-by-shot remake. He got some press at the time and the studio was very upset about it. I thought it was an amazing idea, and it always stuck in my head – how can you take an idea like that and turn it into a TV series?
We needed a great writer and great partners, so we brought the idea to Amblin and those guys loved it. Sarah Watson is our designer. The series is the story of a town and a family through the lens of “Friday Night Lights,” and within it they tell the story of a shot-by-shot remake of ” The Goonies”. We had to go to Warner Bros., Toby Emmerich, and ask if we could have the rights [to “The Goonies”]. They said yes, of course, because of Mr. Spielberg and the Donners. We do it now for Disney Plus.
Musicals are an integral part of your story. When did this fascination start for you?
My first show was “Joseph and the Incredible Technicolor Dream Coat”! I was a musical comedy girl. When I graduated from college my then business partner and I ended up producing “Joseph” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC and that little show became a big hit and eventually we got permission and the rights to take it to Broadway. This fascination dates back to listening to my parents’ “West Side Story” and “Mame” records. Having so much musical stuff right now is wonderful. That’s all I love about entertainment.
One of the two shows you have in development is “Black Swan,” which seems like a big swing for the theater.
In March we completed our 29 hour table. This is the concept of equity from the first chart read, and it happens over the course of a week. Our director is Rachel Chavkin, our composer is Dave Molloy, our screenwriter is Jen Silverman. We are recruiting a choreographer. The production team consists of Kevin McCollum, Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin. It’s not camping. It takes the story from the film and moves on to a much more contemporary ballet story. At the center of it is always this young woman. What we’re trying to do is a musical ballet thriller. It’s a big challenge, and we hope to organize it in December.