Todd Phillips' Longtime Exec Exits to Focus on Social Action
Scott Budnick, producer of the blockbuster Hangover comedy franchise, has decided to end his 14-year association with filmmaker Todd Phillips' Green Hat Films to pursue his interest in juvenile justice reform and more socially conscious television and movies.
The executive's unusual change of direction grows out of more than a decade of work Budnick has done with young offenders inside the Los Angeles County jail system.
"I don't want to quit the Hollywood scene," Budnick tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. "But I do want to make films of social and political relevance. I'm seeking a meaningful way to connect the work I've been doing outside of Hollywood with movies and the people in the industry."
As an executive producer of the three phenomenally successful Hangover films, Budnick has helped the Green Hat productions gross more than $1.4 billion worldwide, but the 36-year-old Atlanta native is turning the page on the kind of career that hungry young executives dream about. But it is not a complete about-face.
He already has founded and helps run a politically influential nonprofit, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and last year was honored by California Gov. Jerry Brown as the state's Volunteer of the Year for his work helping to author two legislative bills that granted parole hearings and a chance at sentence modifications to the 6,500 California inmates serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.
To many, the inmates touched by Budnick's work are among the least sympathetic in the criminal justice system. As juveniles, all of them committed crimes — most of them violent — that allowed prosecutors to try and convict them as adults. Up until Budnick began lobbying in Sacramento, they were serving life sentences without hope of parole hearings, let alone any opportunity to lessen their sentences through evidence of rehabilitation. The bills Budnick helped write and for which he lobbied have changed all that, at least in California.
Now he plans to take his campaign for reform national and to produce film and television projects with a political impact that "creates awareness around pivotal social issues."
"Whether you are working on set or working in a studio or a production company, we have access that allows us to make a difference with very little effort," Budnick said. "We all have the ability to really move mountains."
Budnick, who grew up the privileged son of an affluent Atlanta physician, first became involved in the juvenile justice reform movement soon after arriving in Los Angeles as a young, fresh-out-of-college casting assistant. At the suggestion of an acquaintance, he volunteered in a writers' program that brought film people and journalists into L.A.'s juvenile halls, where they tutored young offenders in writing. To Budnick, the notion that the young people he met were essentially being tossed away by society simply seemed a tragedy.
"I would like to see as many juveniles moved out of the adult prison system as possible," he says. "I'd like to see these kids offered a comprehensive re-entry program, a chance at an education and job training. I'd like to really build up these young people to move out of incarceration to become leaders and advocates. And I'd like to engage as many people in the entertainment industry as possible."
Budnick first began working with Phillips' Green Hat films 14 years ago, as a casting assistant on the director's first studio film, Road Trip. Their association deepened on Old School, a film for which Budnick worked as assistant to the director. He went on to be associate producer on Starsky & Hutch and co-produced School for Scoundrels.
In addition to executive producing the three Hangover films, Budnick did the same with Due Date, which took in $200 million worldwide, and Project X, which grossed more than $100 million worldwide.
"I am deeply grateful to Todd for having faith in a casting assistant he met in Atlanta on Road Trip," said Budnick. "Spending the past decade by his side developing and producing hysterical and memorable films has been an experience I will always treasure."
For his part, Phillips said: "Budnick has been an invaluable asset both to Green Hat Films and to me personally. He is a longtime friend and collaborator who will be missed on a day-to-day basis. That said, I am excited to see what he has in store next, and I am confident that he will still take my calls!"