In the dust-covered hills of Los Angeles in 1887, a ranch west of the city was founded by Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daeida, which they called Hollywood. With the exploding phenomenon of film and brilliant pioneers like Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner, the Hollywood Land sign became a symbol instead of a landmark.
We interviewed Mary Aloe (pandemic style) from her home in the Hollywood Hills. As an American film and television producer, she and her team often focus on true life stories whether, action, drama, comedy and faith based films. She is the owner of Aloe Entertainment based in Beverly Hills, California. We sat down with Mary to discuss her career path, films and working as a producer in the industry and the future of Hollywood. With 6 series and 34 features under her belt (producing and or financing 21 of them in the last 6 years alone) working with such stars such as Halle Berry, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Sean Penn, Jamie Foxx, Bruce Willis, Hillary Swank, Helena Bonham Carter, Sir Michael Caine, Charlize Theron, Shirley Maclaine, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon and Sharon Stone to name a few. Aloe is fast becoming one of the most prolific female independent film producers in the business.
How did you get involved in the film industry?
I attended USC but I dropped out to start actually working, but so did Bill Gates and many other super successful people - but I still recommend people get their college degree, I’m not anti-college—but I just went to work. My road was, I was head of publicity for a publishing firm and to get my authors on talk shows, I ended up packaging the entire shows; the front row guests, the guests on the stage and everything to make it a bestselling book. By the end of the first year of being the Director of Publicity, I had three offers for talk shows and off I went to New York to produce one at CBS. From there, I started doing news magazines and talk shows and investigative journalist shows. One of the exercises we had to do first thing in the morning was to find real-life stories, we each were assigned different territories of the US. I became sort of a life rights specialist. One of the things that I do—I tend to gravitate towards strong female leads—and they’re not always strong female leads, but a lot of them are real-life stories and inspiring as such. I got a call one day from a gentleman who used to give me tips on stories: “An Iranian princess was just smuggled to America because she fell in love with a U.S. Marine. It’s causing a national incident. Do you want to meet with him?” So, I grabbed a bag and went down to Mel’s Diner. [The Princess and the Marine] ended up being in one of the biggest bidding wars in history. Twelve studios and companies. It was a TV movie and done a little too fast because it should have been done better but I got an hour on Oprah for us and USA Today and Newsweek and everything. It was Columbia TriStar with good producers. That sort of began it but I knew I wanted to be in features.
From there, I started working in all capacities. I got my butt kicked a lot and worked very long hours from 8:00 in the morning until 12:00 at night, learning the different aspects of being on set and being a producer. But I’m still learning though. The other turning point is, I’m sitting behind a poster that Bob Evans and his house wrote me: “To Mary—Luck is when preparation meets opportunity and you got it, kid—Robert.” In 2002, the Sundance Film Festival, a friend of mine said “Hey, you want to go? I’ve got a friend there who’s got a great house.” I saw The Kid That Stays in the Picture, which is really a catalyst, an inspiration—talk to fifty percent of producers, and even directors, we were inspired by that movie. I have a lot of movie posters now at the house and office as I’ve done a fair number of movies now, I can’t fit them all in, but this one hangs between some important movies that I’ve done. This is the one I didn’t produce, but it inspires me every day and the interesting circle of life is I had a really incredible script and package, and Bob still had his deal at Paramount all the way ‘till he passed…he had a big office there and kept it [the poster] since the seventies when he did Love Story and The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown, and on and on. He was the guy. But what I got from the documentary, is he wanted to be the guy with a cigar. I wanted to be the girl with the cigar. I wanted to run the set but I knew running the set meant not being the dictator but being somebody that cared about everybody on set. Because it’s the domino effect. I left Sundance that year and I said “I know what I want to do.” And I really went full force producing and or financing 4 to 5 films a year. By the way, I want to say how grateful I am to have the best investment partners… women and men.
What films are you most proud of?
One that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival called Battle in Seattle…the WTO (World Trade Organization) Riots. It was so good and so important. In 1999 when Seattle became a war zone. It was everybody from activists to anarchists. Everybody came in for next to nothing to do the movie because politically they wanted to do it. Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum and Woody Harrelson and Michelle Rodriguez. We had a great cast. We had a standing ovation there. Unfortunately, our distributor went belly-up so we ended up with another distributor. Not enough people have seen it but I still get calls from colleges all the time and people around the world. Very proud of that.
As well, 55 Steps with Sony starring Hilary Swank and Helena Bonham Carter. We premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017, It’s the true story of Eleanor Riese who from inside a mental institution changed the law for mental patients. These are the types of true stories that I love. I have some amazing movies coming up that I’m very proud of. We just got announced that Barack and Michelle Obama picked up Worth. It was at the Sundance Film Festival last year. I got to meet Hilary Clinton for a little bit of time just by myself, well she had a security guard there, but it’s the story of Ken Feinberg who was hired by the insurance companies to come in as a pit bull [to broker a deal with the victims’ families involving the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.] It was originally called What Is Life Worth. He was trying to minimize as much spending of money as possible because he had to contend with all the airlines and insurance. The value of a CEO was a lot more than even a fireman. It was terrible. He was basically playing God but through it he had a complete arch, and the reason is he befriended Stanley Tucci’s character [Charles Wolf, a community organizer] who had lost his wife and began to actually defend them, understanding the value of life. Netflix picked it up. It’s going to be out on the tragic twenty-year anniversary of 9/11 in September. To have Barack and Michelle view it and pick it up as their own now, it’s very exciting.
I think Michael Keaton, like Stanley Tucci, can play any role. They’re human chameleons and phenomenal actors of our time. I came in on the financing end because I knew Michael Keaton could do an incredible job.
Also, I’m very proud of a female empowerment film sort of in the vein of The Champ, Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised. Our agent, he’s amazing, Alexis Garcia at Endeavor Content, he did an incredible sale to Netflix, it will also be out this year. It was her first time directing but she’s starring in every scene and she played basically an MMA fighter with demons and lost [custody] of her son to her ex-husband, who was shot in the line of duty. Her son, six years old, comes back to her and she has to get back in the ring. It’s very much a female Rocky as well. It’s incredible and inspiring and turned out so great.
Going from solely an actress to both an actress and director, what’s Berry’s directing style?
I do not know if I want to say her style but what I will say is that she knew how, as an actress, instinctively how to work with actors. Working in very harsh weather conditions, and in Jersey City, she’s doing these emotional scenes, and to hop right back behind the camera, I have ultimate respect for her. You guys will see it, if you have Netflix. It is really incredible.
What about more upcoming films since you do so many?
I have an upcoming animated film with Jamie Foxx I’m proud to be part of and an upcoming Sean Penn movie he’s directing and starring in with Miles Teller and Josh Brolin…I think for me in my life right now, I’ve done some popcorn movies, some okay movies and some great movies—all of us have been on that ride, but I think it’s very important that I use the medium of film. The power that we have and been blessed to work in this business, my philosophy is “Let’s wake people up, let’s inspire them.”
Last month we wrapped Karen in Atlanta. It’s a smaller budget film and the director is a force to be reckoned with. I said, “You had me at Karen. The script is great, I’m in." The concept is sort of in the vein of Get Out. It’s a thriller about an African American couple that moves in next to this woman, Karen. We bring Karen, the meme, to life. We see her in Borat, the subsequent sequels, we see her in the Croods, we see her on Courtside Karen with LeBron James, but we’re the first to bring it to life. In fact, we had the real-life attorney, Ben Crump, on set last night in Atlanta, playing himself. This is what we get to do. That’s a racial justice picture. It’s relevant, important, gets people talking, wakes people up.
Super excited about The Girl That Fell From The Sky, the true story of a 17-year girl whose plane got struck, she was the only survivor strapped to her seat, she fell 10 feet in the treetops of the Amazon and survived alone for 11 days. We just attached our star – it's amazing!
Since this interview is for ScriptMag, word is through the grapevine - you also moved into co-writing screenplays. Is this the next step for you and your company, producing and writing?
Yes most definitely, we still will be producing and financing other great movies that we have not written or own but we are moving in that direction. My writing partner Timothy Hayes and I have an incredible script based on a program that Putin implemented in Russia. Based on a book called Sexpionage: Secrets of the KGB - young, aesthetically pleasing, gifted athletes with high IQs were plucked from high schools and colleges to serve Mother Russia as a hero to their families. The females were called Swallows and the males called Ravens thus the name of our screenplay is Birdseye. They became trained in the art of infiltration through sex and assassination to infiltrate the US and UK at the time and never to see their families again. We have our star and our director and are packing with the agencies now. It’s a full-on kick-ass action thriller with a female lead. As well, Armistice with the great-granddaughter of President Eisenhower, the time of his presidency when he sat down and negotiated with “the greys” the aliens. The script is phenomenal, and we are packaging it now.
Can you tell me about the Women In Film organizations you’re involved with?
Women in Film is a great organization, but I do not even want to put it as about “women in film.” I want to put it about “as women in film,” not to talk about any one organization. People always ask what it’s like to be a woman in film. One day they won’t ask us this. You are the fourth person out of five interviews, and there’s nothing wrong with it by the way, I have a point to this so I’m glad you asked, but I did several interviews yesterday and today hearing it. I wonder if, and this isn’t adversarial, but do people ask men, “What’s it like to be a man in film?” Things are changing and I am thrilled they are changing for racial justice, female empowerment, and equality. I work with a lot of guys and I love working with them. I, of course, want to support and mentor other women. Before the MeToo Movement, I’ve still been a woman in film for all these years. I learned to navigate, I always learned to strategically sit in the board rooms when we would have conference meetings, going in for the pitch and close in the money. “Where am I going to sit? Who’s going to be there?” A lot of times back then, people did not see me coming. I never felt I had a glass ceiling.