Picture this: Cher – randomly sitting in her Oceanside living room…watching a documentary (Hit So Hard) about Patty Schemel, the drummer of Hole. A phone rings in an office somewhere nearby – we’ll say L.A. to keep it colorful – and it’s Cher. She has an idea: she wants to make a documentary for her mother that chronicles her life in the entertainment industry. No, not Cher’s life – her mother’s life. Therein births the background of Lifetime’s Dear Mom, Love Cher.
This (sort of) really happened.
Producer Todd Hughes and writer/director P. David Ebersole were on the other end of their agent’s call when they discovered Cher’s penchant for the documentary that would soon take shape; a retelling that would alter the course of her mother’s life forever and bring a Hollywood family back together in a Malibu mansion over sunshine and old tales.
According to the film’s official website: The documentary begins with Holt’s humble beginnings in rural Arkansas where she first dreamt of stardom as a little girl. [It] continues through her six tumultuous marriages while pursuing a career among Hollywood’s elite as a singer and actress. Holt endures a series of dramatic personal and professional triumphs and setbacks but survived and overcame the odds—no matter the challenge—to successfully raise two loving daughters. One of the daughters would live out the dream Holt could never fulfill for herself and go on to become one of the world’s biggest stars.
“This project started as a gift for my mom’s 86th birthday. Like most things in my family, it was initiated by my sister Georganne, who asked me if I could update mom’s album. So I went BIG (I’m known in the family for doing that),” said Cher. “My sister and I are proud of our mom and we want to share her with the world. My mom is EXACTLY like Rocky. She NEVER gives up! Well…if we must nit-pick, they aren’t totally alike. Rocky is a fictitious boxer and mom’s a singer. He’s younger and a man. Other than that they are the same person! FIGHTERS.”
“When we found out Cher, one of the world’s most iconic stars, wanted to make a film about her mother, we jumped at the chance to partner with her,” said Rob Sharenow, Executive Vice President, Programming, of Lifetime Networks. “The film offers an extraordinary glimpse into this private family and we discover that Georgia Holt, like her daughter, is a very talented and fascinating woman.”
Dear Mom, Love Cher provides a rare peek into Cher’s fascinating family history and features in depth interviews with Holt, her daughters Cher and Georganne LaPiere Bartylak, and grandchildren Chaz Bono and Elijah Blue Allman.
We sat down with Ebersole to chat about Cher’s unique gift to Holt and what it was really like during production of a film chronicling a lifetime (get it, Lifetime…) of dancing in the spotlight.
Dear Mom, Love Cher is such an endearing concept. Why did it seem like the appropriate time to release this project now?
Cher and her family discovered the master tapes of an album that Georgia recorded in 1980. It wasn’t ever released and the tapes were decaying in Georgia’s garage. Cher had them re-mastered as a birthday present for her mother, plus made a short film for her – kind of a superstar’s version of home movie for her mom. Cher’s manager, Risa Shapiro, saw it and thought it could be something more. That started a snowball effect that led to Dear Mom, Love Cher.
How did Cher approach you for this project and did you have any trepidation accepting?
Our agent said, “This is probably the gayest call I’m ever going to make to you, but Cher wants to talk to you guys about a project.” Through her manager, Cher was looking for documentary filmmakers to do her mother’s story and had seen our last movie Hit So Hard about Patty Schemel, the drummer of Hole.
We were literally pinching ourselves. Could it really be true that Cher sat in her Malibu mansion and watched our movie? But you know what? She did. We had a two-hour call with her, where we pitched our take on the story and she told us so many great stories about her growing up with her mother. In just that call, we already knew we had a movie. We tried to end the call professionally by saying she probably wanted to talk about us with her reps and call us back with an answer, but she just said right then and there that she wanted to work with us.
Any fear you might have about who Cher might be – the fame, the legend – all of that gets immediately erased by her realness and her graciousness. We have had nothing but an excellent experience working with her, from that first phone call.
The documentary features a host of notable icons – Cher and Chaz among them. How did the crew manage to juggle their schedules to make this work? Was it an easy feat or a difficult one?
It was a miracle. The shoot all came together on one weekend. And with what we know now about how complicated Cher’s schedule can be, it’s hard to believe it actually happened. But you know, this was a labor of love for Cher, a gift to her mother. And when Cher calls in her favors, people say yes. Want to know a true thrill? Having Jose Eber on your call sheet. This is the man that invented the Farrah Fawcett hair style. We shot with four cameras to get a natural flow of conversation and just went for it. I did 100 years of research on her family before I got there so I could pretty much ask any question I needed to.
How long did filming take for this project?
Principal photography was all done in a long weekend. But the real work of this movie was the research and post-production. We went through thousands of family photos and searched down Georgia’s appearances on things like I Love Lucy and Ozzie and Harriet. Also, it was a pretty intense schedule for a documentary. We shot in September and now it is on air in May.
What locations were used for filming?
We shot everything at Cher’s house, in Malibu. The first time we went there, they buzzed us in, the gates opened and we walked down the long drive to the front door. We called it Cheradise. No one really knows what it means to let a film crew into their house until they show up and take over, so it was amazingly generous of Cher to let us film there. The truth is that it was just the easiest thing to do for Georgia. Cher and her sister Georganne were rightly protective of their mom and didn’t want the weekend to be too hard on her, so shooting in Cheradise made the most sense.
Dear Mom, Love Cher will premiere on Lifetime. Why was this network a great fit for this project?
For us, Georgia’s story illustrates the changing roles of women from the 1900s to today. And it lets us see the family life that shaped one of our culture’s greatest female icons. I think Cher is partly an icon for this generation because she represents the idea that a woman can be herself and be powerful, that she can do things her own way, against all odds. As glamorous as she is, everyday women see themselves in her. She is a hero for them. But she’s also a hero for men who love to see women express themselves at their fullest potential.
So then you have to ask: how did she get that way? We always felt this movie gave us the opportunity to say that behind every great woman is another great woman – can’t get more Lifetime than that!
Was there anything that stood out in particular during filming and production that you could share with us?
What might viewers be surprised to learn in this film?
Cher’s blonde mother is the one who is part Cherokee. Georgia hung out with the likes of Lenny Bruce and Robert Mitchum. Cher’s sweet sister Georganne originated mean girl Heather Weber on General Hospital. Elijah has a kind of spiritual side. And the first person Chaz came out to in the family was his grandmother.
Do you have any words of your own for your mother(s)?
Todd [Hughes, Dear Mom, Love Cher producer] and I are both very close with our mothers so this film is a nice opportunity to express gratitude for what a mother’s guidance and support can offer you in life. And Cher just said something hilarious in an interview with Jay Leno for Dear Mom, Love Cher: she said “True bravery is going on national TV with your mother!” They know all our secrets, so hopefully we never become famous enough so that someone wants to talk to our mothers on TV!
If you could sum up Cher’s relationship with her mother in one word, what would it be?
If you could sum up Chaz’s relationship with his grandmother in one word, what would it be?
Dear Mom, Love Cher was executive produced by Cher. The Ebersole Hughes Company (Hit So Hard, Room 237) and APIS Productions were joined by P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes, Risa Shapiro, and Lifetime’s Tanya Lopez.
Original air date: Monday, May 6, 2013 (10pm PT/ET). Additional air dates and times can be found on Lifetime’s official website.