×

Neal Baer Keeps Busy in North Carolina with Docu, ‘Under the Dome’

'If You Build It' to premiere April 5 at Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham

For Neal Baer, all roads lead through North Carolina these days.
The multi-hyphenate is busy serving as showrunner on CBS’ ambitious fantasy-thriller drama “Under the Dome,” which is lensing in Wilmington and thereabouts. He’ll take a break April 5 to attend the world preem of “If You Build It” (pictured above), his latest documentary project, at the Full Frame Documentary Festival, which unspools April 4-7 in Durham.
The pic, which Baer produced with Christine O’Malley and helmer Patrick Creadon, tells the story of activists Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, who mounted a program in rural North Carolina to teach design skills to high school students in a struggling community. The filmmakers spent a year chronicling the innovative program and the impact it had on students who immersed themselves in Pilloton and Miller’s vision of “humanitarian design principals.”
Baer has been working with O’Malley and Creadon, the pair behind the praised 2006 docu “Wordplay,” for several years. He’s struck by the coincidence that his professional life in primetime would also take him to the Tar Heel state.
“The festival is only about an hour away from where we’re shooting the series,” Baer told Variety. “It’s nice for me to be there for both.”
The Full Frame screening is the start of a fest circuit tour for “If You Build It,” which Baer and his collaborators aim to push for awards attention. The preem at Full Frame was a natural fit because so many of the students who are in the film will be there.
Baer became a champion of “If You Build It” after reading an article about Pilloton’s work, which encompassed his interest in design and socially conscious entrepreneurial efforts.
The pic was initially supported by the MacArthur Foundation and the Sundance Institute. It also got a boost from Sundance’s Good Pitch program, which helps docu makers hone their pitches and meet with prospective financiers. “It’s a wonderful approach for documentary filmmakers,” Baer said.
“If You Build It” came out of the program with a blueprint for a social networking platform, ActionLab.org, that will encourage people to take action a la Pilloton in their communities. The goal is to have the site serve as a forum for connecting activists with foundations and other orgs that might provide funding for their proposals.
Meanwhile, “Under the Dome” marks another new approach to launching a series for Baer, who ran “Law & Order: SVU” for nearly a decade. The drama based on the Stephen King book of the same name earned a straight-to-series 13 episode order from CBS last November. There’s no sweating out a pilot pickup this time around, Baer said, but there’s also not as much feedback in the process between completing the first episode and diving in to the rest.
“It’s really just like being tossed in to the deep end,” Baer said.
He’s in good company with fellow exec producers and “Lost” alums Brian K. Vaughan, who wrote the pilot adaptation of King’s 1000-plus page book, and Jack Bender, who keeps production on track in the wilds of Wilmington just as he did in Hawaii for six seasons on “Lost.” Niels Arden Opley, helmer of the original Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” directed the first episode, to bow June 24.
“I’m having fun,” Baer said. “It haven’t done a writer’s room this intensive since ‘ER.’ ”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Conan O'Brien

    Why Conan O'Brien Moved Beyond Late-Night TV

    When Conan O’Brien signed his latest deal with TBS, he didn’t just agree to keep his late-night talk show on the air for another four years. In addition to hosting “Conan,” he promised to create digital content, podcasting, live tours, and other forms of entertainment. It wasn’t just an attempt to make more money or [...]

  • WWE NXT

    WWE's 'NXT' Moves to USA Network as Wrestling Competition Heats Up

    WWE has struck a deal to move its “NXT” franchise focusing on rising stars to USA Network starting next month. “NXT” will shift to USA from the WWE Network subscription streaming service as of Sept. 18. The deal comes as USA is about to lose WWE’s “SmackDown” showcase to Fox starting in October. USA is [...]

  • Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend Podcast

    Conan O'Brien on Podcasting and Why Late-Night TV Rivalries Are Over

    “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” is an irresistible mixture of philosophical discussions about art and life and pure zaniness. It’s a program from the late-night host turned podcasting ringmaster that defies easy characterization, and a show that manages to move seamlessly from moments of hilarity to unexpected instances of confession. In one episode, Jeff Goldblum [...]

  • Hollywood Recession Business Placeholder

    How an Economic Downturn Could Ravage Hollywood

    Trade-war fears, stock market volatility and, most recently, bond market signals that point to a pending recession are rattling investors, igniting concerns that another devastating downturn may be just around the corner. As those worries reverberate all the way from Wall Street to Hollywood, the entertainment industry is in for an unsettling reminder of the [...]

  • Apple TV Plus

    Apple TV Plus Will Cost $9.99 per Month, to Launch in November (Report)

    Apple is reportedly looking to launch the Apple TV Plus subscription-video service in November — around when Disney Plus is set to debut — for $9.99 per month. Apple TV Plus will bow in November with a “small selection” of shows, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources. At $9.99, which analysts have guessed would be the [...]

  • RuPaul Charles - Outstanding Reality -

    RuPaul Charles to Receive Variety's Vanguard Award at Mipcom

    “RuPaul’s Drag Race” leader RuPaul Charles has been tapped to receive the Variety Vanguard Award at the Mipcom international TV sales conference, set for Oct. 14-17 in Cannes. The award recognizes television industry leaders who have made a significant contribution to the global business of entertainment. Charles has hosted and executive produced the VH1 franchise “RuPaul’s Drag [...]

  • The Tempest review all female

    Harriet Walter Joins 'Killing Eve' as Third Season Begins Production

    British actress Harriet Walter has joined the cast of BBC America’s multi-award winning “Killing Eve” for its third season, which began production this week. Danny Sapani has also been announced to join the cast of the show, which stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. The Olivier Award-winning and Tony-nominated Walter recently finished production on Julian [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content