Inside the editing room, Jonathan Baker is confident. People will watch this film, he says. They will think about it. And they will talk about it.
At first, Lionsgate wasn’t so sure.
Despite a cast led by Faye Dunaway, Gina Gershon and Nicolas Cage, the psychological thriller “Inconceivable”—due to hit theaters next year—wasn’t in the studio’s wheelhouse. And when the executives realized Mr. Baker was not only rewriting and directing the film, but producing and starring in it as well, they urged him to pump the brakes.
“You’re taking on too much,” they had said. “You can’t do this. Take it down a notch.”
He did just the opposite. He pushed the throttle forward.
“I’m in love with the journey, and you’ve got to be in love. For me, this is all about the romance,” the East Hampton part-timer said of filmmaking during a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles. “I’ve worked my whole life and I’m considered pretty successful in many different areas, whether in spas, hotels, branding. But it wasn’t until I showed up on ‘Inconceivable’ that I looked at myself and I said, ‘The journey I’ve been on collectively since I was 7 years old, only now have I allowed myself that moment to say, “I’ve arrived.”’
“And to arrive is to know that you’re doing—that you’re creating.”
Despite opening up c/o The Maidstone—founded by his wife, Jenny Ljungberg, and home to Mr. Baker’s aromatherapy line—as the Hamptons International Film Festival headquarters for years, this is his first attempt at what he calls 360-degree filmmaking.
“I truly think it’s an addiction,” he said. “You’re born with the DNA to either walk toward that light or kind of not see it. I’ve always seen the light. I’ve always wanted the light. I’ve always wanted to be a part of it.”
He doesn’t remember a time when he hasn’t been interested in filmmaking, and his three-decade career in reality television and as an entrepreneur finally brought him to Lionsgate with a passion project called “Icon,” a movie about American rock ’n’ roll.
They shot him down. And, so, he left.
“I don’t want to be a gun for hire. I’m not into shoot ’em ups. I’m not interested in superhero movies,” he said. “I’m interested in making dramas that change people. My idols are Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, people that have come out of yesteryear—where movies were movies, not amusement park rides.”
“I want to be seen, I want to be heard and when I get everything that I want, I want to do amazing things for the world,” he added. “The true character of a person is when you give them everything they want, who they show up as after that.”
After a heart-to-heart with his mentor, actor-director Warren Brady, the burgeoning filmmaker found himself back at Lionsgate ready to compromise. He agreed to a three-picture deal, and began reading scripts.
Four months later, he was still exactly where he started.
“One day, they said, ‘What do you want? We’re giving you movies with Bruce Willis, we’re giving you movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of these big-name actors and you keep turning them down.’ I said, ‘I want to make dramas. I’m not interested in making movies for popcorn.’ And they said, ‘Oh, all right, that’s a first,’” he laughed.
They gave him a film that had been sitting on the shelf—a “women’s movie” in a sea of “men’s movies,” he said—and he walked out the door with “Inconceivable,” a drama about in vitro fertilization, and what happens when it goes horribly wrong.
When he read it, he was hooked. Lionsgate was indifferent, he said, but agreed to let him rewrite it. They didn’t care about this market, he said, but he did.
“‘Inconceivable’ presents [a family’s] worst nightmare—whether the nanny comes in and f---s the husband, whether the surrogate comes in and wants the baby, all the things we don’t want to talk about this movie touches on,” he said. “We’re doing nothing but telling a story with true facts. And it’s very topical, but here’s the thing: Hollywood’s a man’s business that we’re trying to fight for women for.”
But, then, the women wouldn’t sign on.
“Here’s what happened, and here’s the crazy thing: I go out to every major movie star—I just lost my mind—I went out for six months to major, major stars and they’d say, ‘Who’s the man?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m offering you millions of dollars!’ Lionsgate said, ‘See? Told you.’”
He changed his approach and casts the male lead, Nicolas Cage, even though his character is secondary.
“I said to Nic, ‘I need you to support the women. Come in and be a co-star. If you just give me the platform, you’re going to do really good for this industry,’ and he agreed,” Mr. Baker said. “He said, ‘Go and fight for what you want. I’m going to be there with you.’”
Ultimately, Mr. Baker got it: a cast of professionals who each brought something different to set. Mr. Cage came in knowing everyone’s lines—which proved particularly important when they filmed the first half of the $12.8 million movie in one week, due to his tight schedule. Ms. Gershon gave the film “the slice of life it needed for it to be real,” Mr. Baker said. Ms. Dunaway brought her sheer experience, with a side of sass and diva, he said, and Nicky Whelan was the perfect psychopath, showing self-restraint in not playing it over the top.
“If there was a glitch in the journey, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Mr. Baker said. “But just so you know, it’s supposed to be about the Hamptons, even though we shot it in Ohio … I wanted to shoot in a hospital, but they had just had Nicole Kidman there. I went to the mayor and said, ‘If you let me shoot in the hospital, I’ll change the location from the Hamptons to Cincinnati.’ And they agreed.”
The film would wrap in 21 days total, and even though Mr. Baker is now in the post-production process, his sights are already set on “Icon,” with follows the journey of a soul that travels for 100 years until it reaches its success as a rock star.
“When that movie comes out, not only will I arrive at the arrival, I will say that I got to 100 percent of 100 percent of this lifetime,” he said. “Whoever I’m going to be, I’ll be because of that movie. That movie has been the product of everything I’ve done prior to get to it—and it’s the love story to America that nobody’s told.
“There is nothing unique left in the world,” he continued. “It all blurs and looks the same, but I’m going to give them something unique. I’m going to give them that last piece of me.”
He paused, and laughed to himself. “I’m going to start crying if you keep going.”