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There was a time, not too long ago, when Will Ferrell and his producing partner, Jessica Elbaum, considered scrapping Gloria Sanchez Productions — not so much the company, responsible for female-fronted successes including Booksmart, Hustlers and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, as its name.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny to call it Major Company?’” recalls Elbaum, a reference to the fact that it would now encompass all of Ferrell’s projects as an actor and producer following the dissolution of his and Adam McKay’s original company, Gary Sanchez Productions.
Instead of maintaining its focus solely on female-driven comedies — as Gloria Sanchez had, since it was conceived by Elbaum, then Ferrell’s assistant, in 2014 — it would now house Ferrell vehicles like Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door and other commercial fare. Nevertheless, a name change seemed risky, the pair reasoned, if not flat-out foolish, given that it had done the near impossible by garnering name recognition (and major heat) in Hollywood and beyond.
Ferrell’s the first to admit he didn’t initially see Elbaum’s vision for a stand-alone female shingle all those years ago. “The honest truth is it went a little over my head,” he says now. “I was like, ‘Yes, great, love what you’re saying, but why a separate division?’” Still, he knew what he didn’t know, and was smart enough to trust Elbaum, who could see that the label — much like Elbaum herself — needed to have its own identity to be taken seriously in the industry.
Seven years later, the 10-person company has first-look deals at both Netflix (TV) and 20th Century Studios (film), and a track record that speaks for itself. Its most recent entries, Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, which Ferrell co-wrote and starred in, and 2021’s Barb and Star, had him and Elbaum hearing a lot of, “It was just so nice to laugh again,” from fans and industry types alike. “Pre-pandemic, comedy felt harder, and now I get called all the time, like, ‘Let’s build a comedy for this person.’ ‘I want to build a comedy for this person.’ Or, ‘What does Will want to do?’“ says Elbaum. “I think people are tired of crying in their showers.”
In addition to Shrink Next Door (dropping Nov. 12) and a third and final season of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated Dead to Me, the label is prepping, among other projects, a live-action film about Cinderella’s evil stepsisters from Barb and Star‘s Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, a sister comedy starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, a Miss World project with former Miss World Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and another Constance Wu film, co-written by and starring the Hustlers actress, about a woman (Wu) who creates a robot version of herself to go on dates while the real her observes.
Nearer term, Gloria Sanchez will roll out a darkly-comedic thriller, The Woman in the House, fronted by Kristen Bell, and First Ladies, a political comedy about the first female president (Jennifer Aniston) and the first lady (Tig Notaro), both at Netflix. The company has also submitted its Dakota Johnson starrer Am I Okay?, from co-directors Notaro and wife Stephanie Allynne, to Sundance; and recently wrapped production on its big, splashy Christmas musical, Spirited, starring Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, for Apple TV+.
Elbaum is particularly proud of the fact that Gloria Sanchez predates the #MeToo movement, and isn’t some kind of manufactured response to it. She’s also delighted to have a hands-on partner in Ferrell, which wasn’t always the case when he was trying to keep up with Gary Sanchez’s expansive portfolio as well. “In the past, when somebody was like, ‘What does Will think?’ Or, ‘What does Adam think?’ I found myself fumbling with, ‘Oh, they love it. No, no, they totally love it,’ and maybe it hadn’t been read yet,” Elbaum acknowledges of a sprawling empire that ultimately made Ferrell so uncomfortable, he shuttered his former company.
He acknowledges that there’s big business in that “expansive empire” model — Reese Witherspoon’s company recently sold at a valuation of $900 million, after all — but Ferrell wants to be able to be present: to read scripts and talk to filmmakers. And while Elbaum says she’d love to sell a company for $900 million, she and her staff love having Ferrell engaged even more. “Because when you get into business with Gloria Sanchez, you care what Will Ferrell thinks,” she says, “and I want to be able to say honestly, ‘He loves this,’ or, ‘This was his note,’ or, ‘He thinks this person might be better for the role.’ ” And now, with certainty, she can.
Read The Hollywood Reporter’s cover story on Ferrell here.
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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