There’s a quote from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi that sticks with Dakota Johnson as she navigates the early years of running her production company: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
When asked what kinds of films TeaTime Pictures is looking to produce, it’s Rumi that Johnson returns to: “There’s no credo. There’s no mandate. It’s not like we make only one kind of movie with one kind of person. There are so many different worlds and people inside my mind and in my heart that I want to be able to to amplify,” she said in a conversation moderated by associate features editor Jenelle Riley at the Variety Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte.
Johnson co-founded TeaTime with former Netflix development exec Ro Donnelly in 2019 and brought on former Boat Rocker vice chair Katie O’Connell as a partner in 2021. While discussing TeaTime’s goal to seek out stories that struggle to get produced elsewhere, O’Connell shared a story about working with Zoe Lister-Jones to set upcoming comedy series “Slip” at Roku.
“I said to Zoe, ‘You should do something fun and cool. The new ‘Sex and the City’ has just come out — write something younger!’” O’Connell said. “Zoe was like, ‘I [already] wrote it. I wrote seven episodes. But I pitched it everywhere. Nobody wanted it.’”
The series follows a 30-something woman who feels restless in her marriage even though it’s going well, and journeys through parallel universes as she tries to find herself. O’Connell was immediately compelled, so TeaTime worked to pitch the show to the remaining distributors who didn’t know about it yet. Now, “Slip” is TeaTime’s first series to enter production.
“The people that studios are afraid of making movies with because they’re too honest or they’re too bold or too real, those are the kinds of people that I [want to work with],” Johnson added. “We’re fiercely protective of the soul of the project of the artist. I feel like there must be a graveyard shelf where all the great scripts go to. It happens all the time — I’ve read scripts and I’m like, ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read,’ and then it never ever ever gets made.”
Johnson says part of the reason she started TeaTime was because with a lot of the films she has starred in, she doesn’t get to watch them until everyone else does. As a result, she’s still developing her confidence as a producer.
“There’s something so broken about that. That’s not my full process as an artist,” she said. “I wanted to be in editing sessions. I wanted to be involved in the score, in the coloring.”
“A lot of my vision for TeaTime is very emotional. It comes from my heart. I don’t have the relationships that Katie has built throughout her career. I can’t call up a head of a studio and be like, ‘You should buy my show,’ but she can!”
“Yes, she can,” O’Connell laughed. “She 100% could, and should. We’d sell more shows.”
“Okay, I will! I’ll call Jen Salke today!” Johnson said, referring to the Amazon Studios head. She is also considering getting in the director’s chair.
“There’s a script from a writer that is one of those things where we could have taken it out and pitched it,” O’Connell said. “But it felt like the cooler way to do this, and more resonant way, was just to film it. We were sitting around this table in her house talking about, ‘You should direct it!’”
“The idea of someone else directing it, I got very, very jealous,” Johnson said.
Up next, TeaTime’s Sundance 2022 standout “Cha Cha Real Smooth” co-produced with PictureStart and Endeavor Content will debut on Apple TV+ on June 17. See a trailer below.