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Miranda Bailey is not just one thing—she is Miranda Bailey, the producer, director, actor, founder of CherryPicks, mother, and inspiration to women in the industry.
She’s produced over twenty films, including Oscar-nominated “The Squid and the Whale” (2005), the Spirit Award–winning “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (2015), and the indie hit “Don’t Think Twice” (2016). Bailey’s directorial narrative feature debut, “Being Frank” (2019), starring Jim Gaffigan, Anna Gunn, Samantha Mathis, and Logan Miller, comes out Father’s Day weekend. Her story is multifaceted and I’m so glad I could share her story.
REBECCA MARTIN: What led you on your path?
I remember walking into the concrete building and seeing this giant dollhouse [the sound stage]. And I was like oh my god, this is like the most huge dollhouse ever. And the actors were living dolls and I just watched them do their takes. And I said to myself this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
MIRANDA BAILEY: It was a pretty intense story. I was eight years old living in Denver, Colorado. My father was a stockbroker before I was born on Wall Street and his buddy stockbrokers were with Brian Dennehy. By the time I was in first grade, Brian was no longer a stockbroker; he was an actor and was in a movie with Walter Matthau. Brian invited me and my dad to visit the set in California. It was a magical moment. I remember walking into the concrete building and seeing this giant dollhouse [the sound stage]. And I was like oh my god, this is like the most huge dollhouse ever. And the actors were living dolls and I just watched them do their takes. And I said to myself this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
MARTIN: What was the film?
BAILEY: “Little Miss Marker” (1980).
MARTIN: That’s amazing. From there…
BAILEY: I tried to get out of Colorado so I could be in the movie biz.
MARTIN: Where did you go to school?
BAILEY: Well I wanted to go straight to New York or Hollywood to be an actor. But my mother was like, absolutely not. And she wouldn’t even let me go to a school that was a specialty of acting, like the dramatic academy. I had to go to a liberal arts school. So I applied early decision to Skidmore College, because it had the cutest boys, and cool dorm rooms.
MARTIN: Were you doing film stuff on the side?
BAILEY: We didn’t have that back then. I was an acting major, but what happened was I kept writing and directing. I remember at one point the faculty pulled me in and were like, no, Miranda you’re going to need to choose between acting, directing, or writing. You’re an acting major, but you’re directing a lot of plays, and you’re going to need to choose. And I was like well, Sean Felman is not choosing, and John Jacobson is not choosing. And they’re like, well it’s different. So I stayed an acting major, but I didn’t stop directing or writing. And then I came to LA shortly after that and was acting. Then I started producing as well. So I was producing stuff that I was acting in.
ACTING AND PRODUCING
MARTIN: What are some of the films that you acted in and produced?
BAILEY: One was “Dead & Breakfast” (2004), this really fun horror movie I made. It was like an American “Shaun of the Dead” (2004). It did really well, it didn’t cost a lot, but it was really really hard to make. I found that I was good at producing, because when shit hits the fan I was always there to clean the shit. …
And then [another was] “The Oh in Ohio” (2006). I acted and produced that one. I had small roles because I wanted to pick bigger projects rather than bigger roles.
MARTIN: So acting and producing went together hand in hand for you?
BAILEY: Yeah, I had some bad experiences when I was just acting. It’s the typical story that you hear, that happens to most girls when they come to LA, they have to take off their clothes and they are put into a weird situation. And I just wanted more control over what I was doing. Back then Drew Barrymore was like the first one to start producing her own stuff or at least that’s who I had heard about who was a young actress also producing but she was famous already. So it wasn’t really normal for someone like me, a no name, to start making her own work. This was before digital cameras and before the cool confident chicks like Lena Dunham. So I felt really awkward about it, guilty to try to create my own work, I felt like I was being a narcissist.
So I kind of hid away and hid my talent, and hid my desires for acting and focused on proving myself as a producer so I could be taken more seriously. And then somehow ended up directing. And that’s a place where knowing how to act and produce has been such a blessing.
MARTIN: What was your first directing project?
BAILEY: I had directed a bunch of theatre but my first film to direct was kind of by accident. One of my producing partners was directing a movie that I didn’t really like and I didn’t want to be a producer on it. But I wanted to support him and I wanted to contribute in some way, so I told him I’d be an executive producer and give some notes and I would shoot all the behind the scenes and making of, which I had been doing for our projects for while. The main producers of the movie were attempting to “green” the film, because they thought it would bring them sponsorship or money from Patagonia or something and I was like “well that’s not going to happen.” Also this is back in 2010 so hybrid cars were brand new; everyone was much more wasteful. I thought maybe I’ll do this little video about the “greening of the film” on the DVD as an extra. And it ended up being such an amazing disaster that it became its own movie called “Greenlit.” It was so much fun; it was a documentary.
MARTIN: When did it come out?
BAILEY: The film premiered at SXSW in 2010. I thought it was a huge long shot to get in because I had a pretty low self-esteem back then. But then it got in! From there I started to think of my second documentary, which ended up being a seven-year long process, a super controversial subject that everyone had an opinion on yet I didn’t want to make a documentary focused on one opinion. I liked documentaries that show all sides of something. “Greenlit” is the good and the bad about “greening” a film. Because nothing is all good or all bad if you look at it from all angles. “The Pathological Optimist” (2017) is a grey-area documentary as well.
“THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST”
MARTIN: Can you tell me more about the film, the controversial one?
BAILEY: It’s called the “The Pathological Optimist” and it is about Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the guy you hear about in the news that people say started the anti-vaccine movement. I started following him accidentally in 2010, right when he lost his medical license, so no one really knew of him in the United States yet. Originally I was trying humorist approach to it, like “Greenlit” style, which would be called “Chasing Mr. Wakefield.” It would be about me as a new mom trying to figure out what he’s about and if he is a liar or whatever. And he was refusing to meet with me, so I was meeting with other people who knew him, and I was talking to them.
A year and a half in to it, maybe two years into it, he said yes, that he would talk to me. He was filing a defamation lawsuit against the the British Medical Journal, and so then at that point, the movie that I was making stopped. I started making a movie about him attempting to clear his name with this lawsuit. And then over time—a lawsuit lasts a long time—it started to become a hot-button topic, not quite as bad as it is now; people were more open to talking about it opposed to screaming about it.
I didn’t really realize the murky muddy waters I was getting myself into. He had warned me, the people around me had warned me, but I didn’t believe them, I just thought they were a bunch of paranoid people. It ended up being a pretty tough documentary for many reasons. One, there are a lot of people who have some very sad stories, and two, you don’t know if your subject is telling you the truth or not. Things would happen with the doc subject, and I would find out after the fact. There were things that my subject did that would undermine the documentary that I was making. So that was very challenging. So during that time I started to write and direct a fiction comedy. Anyway, the film is called the “The Pathological Optimist.” I still really love it, I’m still pretty proud of it, and the music is amazing!
MARTIN: And you can find this film streaming?
MARTIN: I’m going to make sure to watch it soon!
BAILEY: Fantastic, it’s a fascinating movie. What I love about it is that it’s one of those movies where one person can watch one thing and say oh well, this is what it means, and another person will be like, no, this is what it means, you know, like Fox News versus CNN. Everyone looks for their own opinions to be confirmed. And in this movie, you can find it. … People who love him they think the movie is pro-him. For the people that hate him, despise him, think that the movie is anti-him.
MARTIN: I love that you did it that way, because I feel like a lot of documentaries are tailored to this is how you think about the film, and I like how you did it, you presented it and you said, you decide what you think.
BAILEY: You always go, yes, I want to find out more. And I did this poll of people who knew about him and saw the movie and half went back and started researching him, and half of them were on one side and half on the other. You start to write your own personal thoughts on whatever you pick up on in the movie.
MARTIN: When did CherryPicks come in? Has this been a long project that you’ve been working on?
And I was about to open my documentary and I was editing my comedy, and we were getting reviews that were mixed. And I noticed that there just wasn’t that many women critics, and I had to weed through, like which women liked it, which didn’t. Because this is definitely a movie for women. Then I was like, I wish I could just go to a website with just women critics.
BAILEY: No, not at all. So I’m about to release “The Pathological Optimist” in theaters … and I’m editing my comedy with Jim Gaffigan, and we had produced a movie before with Lake Bell called “I Do… Until I Don’t” (2017), within a week during this time. And I was about to open my documentary and I was editing my comedy, and we were getting reviews that were mixed. And I noticed that there just wasn’t that many women critics, and I had to weed through, like which women liked it, which didn’t. Because this is definitely a movie for women. Then I was like, I wish I could just go to a website with just women critics.
And I’m driving to work right after that. And this idea flies in to my window, we need to start a site for female critic reviews, and it will be called CherryPicks. It was an exciting idea, so I walk in to my office and talked to my producing partner Amanda, and I said, hey, I just had an idea, what do you think of this? And she’s like, mmmhmmm, that’s a great idea, but you are about to launch a movie, and you have to edit one you just started, so no, let’s not do that right now. And I was like, you’re right, I don’t know what I was thinking. And I tried to put it out of my mind. However, whenever I was in the bathroom, or the shower, I would think about it, it was like “hello, hello.” And I was like c’mon idea! leave me alone! I’m busy. But it wouldn’t leave my brain. So I gave into the idea. I was like okay, okay, CherryPicks or whatever you call yourself, I only know one person that knows about websites and I’m not even friends with her, I’m friends with her sister. I’ll call her and if she’s interested, I’ll do it. If she’s not interested, then you’ve got to leave me alone and go find someone else to pester. Well she was interested so here we are.
MARTIN: Let’s talk about your latest film. What’s it about?
BAILEY: It’s called “Being Frank” (2019), and it stars Jim Gaffigan, and it’s either a dramatic comedy or a comedic drama. It’s about a man who has a second family and is caught by his seventeen-year-old son.
MARTIN: That’s intense! Did you write the film?
BAILEY: I did a director pass on the dialogue. It opens in Landmark Theatres June 14.
PAVING THE WAY
MARTIN: For the young female filmmaker getting started, any advice?
The only reason I am still here is because I just persisted. You’re not always going to make something good; you have to be able to stick around. Eventually you just stick around, and other people do not, and they fall by the wayside, and then you know, you’ve done more than you ever thought you would.
BAILEY: Everyone has their own path. Honestly, I was thinking about this this morning, the only reason I am still here is because I just persisted. You’re not always going to make something good; you have to be able to stick around. Eventually you just stick around, and other people do not, and they fall by the wayside, and then you know, you’ve done more than you ever thought you would.
MARTIN: What I love about you is that you really support other women, in terms of giving them shout-outs, and lifting them up, and with the CherryPicks site. I think that the work you are doing is so important. And that’s what helps women get stronger in the industry, by looking at women like you who are setting the path.
BAILEY: Yeah, thinking back I was like, why is nobody helping me? And I was like, I’m not going to be that person. That person who is afraid that there is not enough room for everyone.