A Hollywood producer and a master of adaptation

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Freedom, Maine, residents 722, is about as far from Hollywood as it gets. So when Erin French, who runs the hugely popular Lost Kitchen there, saw bold names flock to her virtual doorstep seeking to purchase the film rights to her blockbuster memoir, she approached them with great trepidation and a little fear.

“It was intense,” Ms. French said of the experience of selling her personal story of food, addiction and abuse, recounted in the 2021 book “Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; from scratch. “You’re here, sitting in the middle of nowhere, a girl who felt like she’d grown up as a person, and then all of a sudden you’ve got Zoom calls with Blake Lively. was definitely a wild time.

In addition to Ms Lively, Ms French and her husband, Michael Dutton, have met other people like Ron Howard’s MGM and Imagine Entertainment. Ultimately, Ms French and Mr Dutton sold the rights to Bruna Papandrea and her four-year-old company, Made Up Stories. The couple said they were won over by Ms Papandrea’s passion for the project, her clear vision of how to turn it into a movie, and her track record of finding the right talent for the projects.

“We’re heading into what’s called ‘shark territory’, getting into this whole Hollywood world,” Ms. French said, “and we felt like Bruna was a fighter and Bruna was always going to protect us. and keep pushing cheeky. “

For decades, Ms. Papandrea, 50, has worked in the shadow of the entertainment industry of more famous collaborators, most notably Reese Witherspoon. Together they have produced successful adaptations like “Wild”, “Big Little Lies” and “Gone Girl”.

With Made Up Stories, however, Ms. Papandrea is firmly in the spotlight. Its latest series, “Nine Perfect Strangers,” which stars Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy and ends Wednesday, is Hulu’s most-watched original series, according to the streaming service, beating audiences for acclaimed shows. like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Act.” Like “Big Little Lies”, it was adapted from a book by Liane Moriarty.

The show’s success, according to those involved, is proof of Ms Papandrea’s tenacity. “She’s hard to say no,” said Craig Erwich, president of Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment.

Closed in Los Angeles by the pandemic, Ms Papandrea and her team quickly moved all production to Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia. Ms. Papandrea persuaded the brand new Soma Meditation Retreat to open its doors to production before opening to the public.

“I was like, look, I did a show called ‘Big Little Lies’, I’m telling you that just makes your property more, it gets it a lot of attention,” she said with her accent. Australian cut.

Sitting outside a beach cafe in Santa Monica, Calif., Last month, Ms Papandrea spoke with machine gun cadence, dropping words at the end of sentences as she switched between topics. It’s a pace mirroring the frantic schedule she manages as she prepares some seven productions for five streaming platforms – all movies or TV shows centered on complicated female protagonists.

Next year alone, she’ll be debuting one movie and two TV shows for Netflix, including the longtime adaptation of the hit novel “Luckiest Girl Alive”; a series for Spectrum Originals and BET on women’s college basketball; an anthology series for Apple TV + called “Roar”; an original Amazon series with Sigourney Weaver; and a romantic comedy series for Peacock starring Josh Gad and Isla Fisher.

It’s a sign of how Ms. Papandrea, known for her penchant for finishing novels in one sitting, is particularly well suited for a moment in the entertainment industry when the number of large companies capable of buying content is declining but the need for compelling evidence will attract audiences continues to grow.

“I look at all of this oddly because no matter what network you run or what streaming platform you run, you have to have curators, you have to have people with taste,” she said. “The hardest thing in the world is finding something someone wants to do, and that’s my talent.”

Ms Papandrea teamed up with Ms Witherspoon for three years, leading projects like “Gone Girl” and “Big Little Lies” onscreen and racking up accolades along the way, including Oscar nominations for Best Actress for. Mrs. Witherspoon (“Wild”) and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”). The two separated in 2017. Ms. Witherspoon formed Hello Sunshine, which was recently sold to a new company backed by investment firm Blackstone Group for $ 900 million.

Ms Papandrea took the company’s two former employees and, along with her husband, Steve Hutensky, started Made Up Stories. The company now has 12 employees and offices in Australia and Los Angeles.

She attributes the separation to the two women wanting different things and having “slightly different tastes.”

“In the end, she built a great business and I built a great business,” she said with a chuckle.

Ms. Witherspoon declined to comment for this article.

To finance her new operation, Ms. Papandrea sold a passive minority stake in her business to Endeavor Content, the production arm of entertainment and sports conglomerate Endeavor. The companies have also formed a joint venture – renewable each calendar year – that both serves as co-studios on all Made Up Stories TV projects and some Made Up Stories films. The two share the economic risk of their entire TV development roster, but Endeavor does not pay Ms Papandrea’s overhead costs. She and Mr. Hutensky maintain independence over all creative decisions.

“I love being independent. I love it, “she said.” This path has given us the freedom and the resources to compete in the market for the best material and the best writers, to bet on promising creators, to find the right one. path for each project and to choose the best houses for distribution among the many platforms.

Made Up Stories is one of the many companies that have partnered with Endeavor Content.

“We’re platform independent, so we can sell its shows and our shows and other people’s shows to any platform,” said Graham Taylor, co-chair of Endeavor Content. “We’ve kind of built a United Artists 100 years later that we’re providing shows at every point of sale. “

The work of a producer has never been easily defined. There are those who take the title simply because they have contributed money along the way. Others, like Ms Papandrea, work tirelessly from the book option to post-production and marketing to ensure that the promises they made at the start of an often long and torturous process will still be delivered at the end. .

“It’s a problem. The production credits are handed out like lollipops,” said David E. Kelley, the prolific writer and producer, who has worked with Ms. Papandrea on five projects including “Nine Perfect Strangers.” “This that we just did in ‘Nine Perfect’, for example, it’s kind of a miracle. Bruna had to make her way with the government just to get people into the country to shoot. It’s hard work, and it’s a lot of work.

Ms Papandrea, the third of four children, was raised by a single mother in a housing commission apartment in the working-class district of Elizabeth, South Australia. She dropped out of school twice: once after starting a business law degree at the University of Melbourne and later after earning an arts degree at the University of Adelaide.

She tried her hand at acting. It didn’t stick.

She then got a job as an assistant to Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe, an opportunity that saw her first as a commercials producer and then films. Her big break, she said, came when she started working for directors Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack.

The job took her to London and then to Los Angeles, where she learned the art of adaptation from two of the best in the business.

According to Ms. Papandrea, Mr. Minghella hired her because she was smart and made him laugh. He taught her to treat creative people with respect and never work with someone she didn’t want to eat with.

She clung to those early lessons and pledged to pay it forward by only hiring young talent with no connection to Hollywood.

“When we hire people now, we make sure they didn’t have access to the company. We will not hire someone on a desk, ”she said. “We try to find people who have no experience, because if not, how do you break them? “

Jessica Knoll was one of those authors. Ms. Papandrea worked with her to turn her novel “Luckiest Girl Alive” into a feature film. The two first met seven years ago, right after the premiere of “Wild”. But executive reshuffles, changing tastes, and other challenges kept the film’s development going for years. Throughout this time, Ms Papandrea has remained with Ms Knoll as the film’s sole writer – a feat in Hollywood today.

“She was so fierce in terms of how much she stood up for writers and how much she protected them and their stories,” said Ms Knoll, who had never written a screenplay before adapting hers and remembers Ms Papandrea her. gave Mr. Minghella’s. memory “Minghella on Minghella” and accompany it throughout the process.

“I want to be in business with her forever. The room is brighter when Bruna Papandrea is there.


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