Ralph Lauren's Son's $3 Million Bet on 'The Spectacular Now' Pays Off
This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For five years, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber's screenplay The Spectacular Now languished.
Originally set up at Fox Searchlight by producers Shawn Levy and Tom McNulty, the coming-of-age drama attracted interest from the likes of Spider-Man director Marc Webb. But Searchlight, not quite sure what to do with the tale of a teen alcoholic, eventually put it into turnaround. Then 18 months ago, the screenplay landed on the desk of New York-based producer Andrew Lauren (The Squid and the Whale). As the oldest son of billionaire clothier Ralph Lauren, the indie producer had the deep pockets to take a chance on the risky material.
Lauren first became enamored with film as a 12-year-old when he served as the projectionist in his father's home theater (former Time Warner CEO Steve Ross would send the elder Lauren first-run Warner Bros. films). After graduating from Brown, he tried acting but became disenchanted.
"If people knew who I was, it was a problem," recalls Lauren, 44, of the auditioning process. "I got a lot of, 'Can you send me some shirts?' So, I started to realize that perhaps there was another way in, a smarter way -- one that actually makes you feel more proactive and in control -- and that was through producing."
He spent years on his first project, G, a hip-hop spin on The Great Gatsby that he wrote and produced. But the studios balked at the film's commercial prospects, forcing Lauren to self-distribute. Still, he managed to get G to 500 screens, where it outperformed several studio films.
After the success of Squid and the Whale (the film earned a screenplay Oscar nomination), Lauren wanted to find another underdog project that he could champion. He found it in Spectacular Now. And it didn't hurt that Neustadter was his former intern.
"It seems like everyone was afraid to touch it," says Lauren of the James Ponsoldt-directed film that opened Aug. 2 to a stellar $50,000 per-screen average in four theaters. "It dealt with issues that were controversial. But to me it touched on them in a very gentle and very authentic way. It was about real kids, not about Hollywood-ized kids."
Shunned by film financiers, Lauren was forced to foot the nearly $3 million budget by himself. But the indie producer was game. After all, he has quietly built a reputation for backing scripts deemed commercially unviable.
Ponsoldt began shooting last summer with stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and the film made a splash at Sundance in January, where A24 paid seven figures for North American rights, beating out several distributors who offered more money.
Lauren says he sparked to A24's vision for marketing the film (the distributor, backed by Guggenheim Partners, which owns THR, has successfully rolled out two other 2013 tales of substance-abusing teens with Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring). "I felt like the risk of taking less money up front would potentially give us a better reward in the back," Lauren explains.
Now he's developing Matthew Dicks' novel Unexpectedly, Milo with The Gotham Group and screenwriter Marc Andrus (As Good as It Gets) as well as a film about a privatized space program titled Capture the Flag with Black List screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. With a staff of four in New York and indie veteran Michelle Krumm (Bobby) heading up L.A. operations, Lauren continues to look for great unheralded scripts.
"I don't consider myself a bank, so I don't like those types of projects where all they want to see is your pen," he says. "I'm very selective. I don't make a lot of movies. But I make films that I'm proud of, that I can look at, look on my shelf and say, 'Wow, I made that. That was pretty good.' "