Eyes in the Storm

By Kort, Michelle | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), September 29, 1998 | Go to article overview

Eyes in the Storm


Kort, Michelle, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


In an exclusive interview, filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey talk about the making of their documentary The Real Ellen Story

The moment is classic: Ellen DeGeneres--still in her I Love Lucy-like grapes-quashing costume on the set of her self-named sit com--expresses her love to cast and crew at the end of what she believes will be the series's final taping. The tearful scene plays perfectly in the documentary The Real Ellen Story, which premieres September 30 on cable's Bravo network (check local listings for times). In fact, the scene plays so well, viewers may assume that filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato cued DeGeneres to make the speech.

"That was an accident," says Barbato. "We had been put off so many times that we said, `We have to get on the set today. We need some footage.' It was just a fluke that we were there and had the only camera running."

What's more, in documenting the rise and fall of TV's first leading gay prime-time character, Bailey and Barbato created the rest of their hour-long documentary with no footage from the series and zero cooperation from ABC or Disney. Instead, they cleverly pieced together interviews with DeGeneres; her mother, Betty; Anne Heche; various Ellen writer-producers; and a former ABC executive to illuminate the making of 1997's Emmy-winning coming-out episode (also known as "The Puppy Episode," in which the character of Ellen Morgan announces her sexuality) and the eventual demise of the sitcom. "As we got into it," says Bailey, "we realized that this was a totally untold stow in which one person suffered an unbelievable amount in order to win her own personal troth."

Pop culture, the media, and the lives of gay and lesbian icons are familiar topics to Bailey and Barbato, who have been partners in love and work for the past 16 years. Among many other productions, their busy Hollywood- and London-based World of Wonder company has produced music videos and cable's VH1 talk show for drag star RuPaul (whom they also manage), the late-night British comedy series The Adam and Joe Show, and acclaimed documentaries such as this year's Sundance standout Party Monster.

The latter is a chilling chronicle of club kid-turned-murderer Michael Alig, who had long fascinated Bailey and Barbato when they too were part of the New York club scene--"but before the crack smoking and heroin shooting became de rigueur behavior," says Bailey. …

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