Berlin: Big Beach Films Execs Talk Gay Conversion Therapy Drama and Transgender Teen Film 'Three Generations' (Q&A)

Allison Michael Orenstein
Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf

Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf discuss their knack for handling hot-button issues, the status of their big-budget Spielberg collaboration and how the streaming giants have shaken up the movie business.

The calendar might say 2017, but you wouldn't know it from the dearth of interracial couples depicted onscreen. New York-based producers Marc Turtletaub, 71, and Peter Saraf, 51, continue to defy that status quo with their slate of films, from 2016’s Loving (made via their Big Beach Films banner) to this year’s Sundance darling The Incredible Jessica James (through smaller-budget offshoot Beachside Films) to even their 2009 Sam Mendes collaboration Away We Go. The pair behind Little Miss Sunshine — one of the all-time biggest festival breakouts — say their movies simply mirror the world we live in, even if the rest of the film business is slow on the uptake.

Up next is Big Beach’s transgender teen drama Three Generations, directed by Gaby Dellal and starring Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon, which will be released May 19. And perhaps even more hot-button is their gay conversion film, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, with Chloe Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane, which is being shopped in Berlin by UTA/ WME/Elle Driver.

Turtletaub, a married father of two who lives in the West Village, and Saraf, also a married father of two who lives on the Upper West Side, invited THR to their downtown Manhattan offices to talk about their commitment to making movies they’re passionate about, the status of Intelligent Life (a big-budget collaboration with Steven Spielberg) and how the indie film business has changed since Little Miss Sunshine.

Interracial love stories are still rare onscreen. Why do you suppose?

SARAF Mainstream media — whether you’re looking at television or film, even theater and literature — has been slow to embrace not just interracial stories but all kinds of stories that lie outside of a narrow scope with the storytelling. Marc and I feel that it’s important to expand those stories and expand peoples’ minds and their thinking and expose people to different kinds of narratives. Away We Go originally was conceived that way. It wasn’t really central to the scenario, but it just was conceived that way and cast that way.

TURTLETAUB We liked the idea that it feels incidental. Unless you’re making a movie like Loving, which obviously is about that subject.

Cameron Post tackles the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy, a topic particularly relevant given that Vice President Mike Pence has been a supporter.

TURTLETAUB We think it’s incredibly relevant. But it’s not the reason we chose to make the movie. Similarly, with Three Generations, we didn’t have an eye on what was happening in the media. We just knew that it was a great script and an amazing cast.

With Three Generations, were you frustrated by how long The Weinstein Co. held it in limbo?

TURTLETAUB We’re looking forward to this film coming out, and we’re really proud of the film. The performances from Susan Sarandon, Naomi Watts and Elle Fanning are extraordinary. It’s funny how people will say with Loving or Cameron Post or Three Generations, “Wow, you guys are really so timely.” But we’re not trying to predict what’s going to happen, and we certainly couldn’t have predicted Mike Pence as vice president.

SARAF Marc and I made a commitment to one another that we would only make movies and television shows that we were passionate about. We were always going to be more idealistic than opportunistic and never make a movie just because we needed to make a movie.

What’s the status of Intelligent Life?

SARAF Jay Roach is writing a new draft to direct, and Colin Trevorrow still is deeply involved, though he’s distracted with some other movies he’s directing [laughs]. But that’s a project we’re very excited to continue to work on and Colin is still intimately involved.

What’s the biggest change in the indie film business since Little Miss Sunshine?

TURTLETAUB The DVD market. Back in those days, you could make a movie and sell it at a much higher premium than often today. Another aspect is how filmmaking has changed and become much easier than it was when we were both starting in the business. You can do it now much more efficiently and cheaply.

SARAF Obviously, the theatrical marketplace is shifting radically, and we’re seeing the streaming players come in and replace a lot of that DVD money but in different ways. So that makes it a volatile marketplace, ever challenging. Television and film are viewed by the audience almost interchangeably. You have to find new and different ways to distinguish your work. The challenge is to be more distinctive and more original. That’s a good thing, but it certainly doesn’t make our job any easier.