EXCLUSIVE: Amy Poehler will make her documentary feature directing debut for Imagine Documentaries and White Horse Pictures on Lucy & Desi, the working title for a definitive film about the remarkable personal and professional partnership between comedian Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz.
This will be the biggest documentary to be fully financed by Imagine Documentaries and the film will have the benefit of full cooperation from the estate of Ball & Arnaz and their family. Through her Paper Kite banner, Poehler will produce with Imagine’s Justin Wilkes and Michael Rosenberg, White Horse’s Nigel Sinclair and Jeanne Elfant Festa, and Diamond Docs’ Mark Monroe. Imagine’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Sara Bernstein will be executive producers with White Horse’s Nicholas Ferrall and Cassidy Hartmann, and Diamond Docs’ Morgan Sackett. Monroe also serves as writer.
The film will tell the story of the groundbreaking comedian who changed the landscape, and possibilities for what funny, ambitious women might achieve in Hollywood. That includes Poehler, who started her own rise on Saturday Night Live before starring in his films, producing, directing and starring in the series Parks and Recreation, and directing and producing the feature Moxie, upcoming for Netflix.
Imagine’s Wilkes said the research is getting underway but that the estate has supplied previously unseen archival film still photos and writings that will be a guidepost to Lucy’s trailblazing journey as performer and a smart businesswoman whose decision to use Desi Lu’s clout to back Gene Roddenberry’s vision is really the only reason Star Trek got on the air and stayed there. He said their insistence on quality production values not possible in early days of television led them to stumble into what is still the format for syndicated television that exists today.
“I am so excited to work with Imagine Docs to help present the incredible life and work
of the brave and hilarious Lucille Ball, and her husband Desi,” said Poehler.
Said Imagine Documentaries president Wilkes: “As television’s long-reigning ‘First Family’, Lucy and Desi blazed a revolutionary trail through the cultural landscape that laid the groundwork for so much of the entertainment industry as we now know it. They created so many television firsts – not only in their portrayal of a multi-ethnic marriage or Lucy’s on-air pregnancy but as the first woman to head a studio and the creators of television syndication. It’s such an incredibly rich, inspiring and entertaining story and we’re honored to bring it to the screen.”
Ball’s childhood was defined by financial and emotional hardship but she was determined to pursue a career in show business. She met future husband Desi Arnaz on the set of the 1940 musical Too Many Girls and in 1951 they used their own money to produce and film the pilot for I Love Lucy, which was then bought by CBS.
During the height of I Love Lucy, two-thirds of the nation tuned in to watch Ball and her husband Arnaz every Monday night. The show was known not only known for its broadened view of what comedy could be, but also for tackling subjects many deemed too risqué for broadcast – the most prominent being the marriage of a multi-ethnic couple, and Ball’s real life pregnancy. Ball’s pregnancy became a story arc in the series, and when Ball went into labor on the show, which aired the same day she gave birth in real life to her second child, Desi Jr, it drew 44 million viewers, 15 million more than President Eisenhower’s inaugural speech from earlier in the day.
Imagine Documentaries is coming off the Bryce Dallas Howard documentary Dads, the Ron Howard-directed documentary Rebuilding Paradise for National Geographic Documentary Films, D.Wade: Life Unexpected about 13-time NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade for ESPN; and the Martin Scorsese produced Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band. The division also teamed up with Apple to produce a slate of feature documentaries and docuseries under an exclusive, first-look deal and made a joint venture with Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney.
This will be the fourth collaboration between Imagine and White Horse Pictures following the film Rush, the Grammy Award-winning film The Beatles: Eight Days A Week and Pavarotti. White Horse’s docu The Apollo recently received a 2020 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Documentary.
Said White Horse principal Nigel Sinclair: “Jeanne and I are thrilled to be reuniting with Ron, Brian, Michael, Justin, Sara and the Imagine team, and Mark Monroe to tell this extraordinary story about Lucille Ball and the way she transformed all of television while capturing the hearts of the nation. We are proud that Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., have trusted us with their legacy, and so excited to be going on this journey with the brilliant Amy Poehler at the helm.”