It’s been an epic few years for movie producer Daniela Taplin Lundberg, founder of Stay Gold Features, a female-led film production and finance company. She championed two of the most buzzed-about films this past awards season—Harriet, the Oscar-nominated biopic of Underground Railroad icon Harriet Tubman, and actor Shia LaBeouf’s autobiographical film Honey Boy. The Westport, CT, resident has also won the Hollywood Critics Association 2020 Producer of the Decade award where she was honored for her work in acclaimed films like The Kids Are Alright, Beasts of No Nation and Patti Cake$. Last spring, she released the movie Together Together with Ed Helms and Patti Harri- son and will soon be releasing Joe Bell with A-lister Mark Wahlberg.
Taplin Lundberg figured out her mission in the movie business early on: to develop and produce films that are about the triumph of the human spirit, but are still entertaining and commercial. “In all the movies I’ve produced, there is nothing in common with any of them except that the central characters tend to surmount all odds and win over a world that has counted them out. And that, to me, is a very worthy cause,” she explains.
ON BEING A MOVIE PRODUCER
I liken it to being the founder and CEO of a start-up company. The producer is usually the person who has the initial seed of an idea, hires a writer to execute it, finds the money, and develops the idea to script form. Once that happens, the producer has to assemble all the pieces like you would in a new company. You hire the director, the lead actor, find the financing to support the script, hire the crew, set the budget, deal with unions, and ultimately oversee the production and edits. In theory you’re the boss overseeing the entire life of the film.
ON THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
My lightbulb moment in my career was when The Kids Are Alright came along. It was a movie that no one in the industry was willing to take a risk on because it was about a lesbian couple and their family and that was just not mainstream. What we saw was a really well-written script about a loving family that just happened to be headed by two women. The script came with Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo attached, so we scraped 4.5 million dollars together and took it to the Sundance Film Festival. From there, the film ultimately won the Golden Globe, had tremendous success and changed a lot of hearts and minds. I realized then that I should be working on films that are trying to create conversation and inspire people, but are also commercial.
“THE INDUSTRY IS SO GLAMOROUS, BUT THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY DO WELL ARE THE ONES WHO STUDY THE FILM BUSINESS, WORK HARD AND DO THEIR HOMEWORK.”
ON MAKING HARRIET
I couldn’t believe there had never been afeature film about Harriet Tubman. The script had been sitting at Disney since 1994 and when it was brought to me, I immediately loved the concept of a young, bad ass Harriet. Not only was it an important story to tell, but it was fun and dynamic and brave. It checked all of the boxes to inspire people but to also be entertaining and commercial.
ON HOW TO MAKE IT IN THE MOVIE BUSINESS
Read all the relevant publications, study the great filmmakers you admire, and watch old films that can teach and inspire you. There is no greater student in this industry than Martin Scorsese. He’s studied every filmmaker and if you want to talk about French New Wave films he will be as much of an expert as a professor at NYU. If you want to be a filmmaker start shooting on your iPhone, edit it and post it. That’s the beauty of all the current technologies—you can really create anything you want, post it online and you have the potential to find an audience. The industry is so glamorous, but the people who do well are the ones who study the film business, work hard and do their homework.