To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before producer Matt Kaplan loves John Hughes. And his ultimate (albeit lofty) hope for his trilogy of films — the last of which, Always and Forever, premieres Feb. 12 on Netflix — is that audiences a generation or two removed from the movie will talk about them “like we speak about Ferris Bueller.”
Kaplan first read Jenny Han’s book trilogy over a half-decade ago, prior to him starting his production banner Ace Entertainment while heading the film division of bygone youth media company Awesomeness. He placed the adaptation of the first book at Netflix before young adult films and romantic comedies became go-to streaming fodder. The first movie became one of the streamer’s biggest break-outs and begat two sequels, while the producer has steadfastly dedicated himself to making young adult features and series.
Kaplan is currently on location in London shooting his second project produced during the pandemic, the Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy starring The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Kaplan talked to The Hollywood Reporter about finishing the To All the Boys trilogy and what comes next next.
Did you ever consider a more traditional or theatrical route for To All the Boys, as opposed to Netflix?
We had offers to go theatrical. [But] at that time I thought, are young adults — who this movie is intended for — going to movies? And as I started to talk to Netflix — this is years ago — I just had a gut instinct. It had nothing to do with money. It was that the eyeballs were going toward Netflix. Netflix at that time was looking to expand globally. They did an amazing job getting it out to the world in a day. And without that, I don’t think this movie would have been seen by so many people.
In what other ways do you think Netflix was the right venue for these films?
At Ace, I would say we are always trying to think about how to make great content for the young adult audience, period. So, Netflix for this particular film at that particular time was 100 percent the right destination. They have built, in such a short period of time, an incredible company that has garnered over 200 million subscribers. But so has TikTok and if TikTok one day starts to release movies maybe that is something that we’re interested in. What I care about is making sure people see the work that we have done.
When did you know that the first To All the Boys was a hit?
I think immediately we knew people were really responding well but it wasn’t necessarily one of these movies that just on day one was the biggest hit of all time. It grew. There was something to be said— especially now, which is why I hope people watch the third one— that there is just something joyful about these movies that people kind of stopped doing. There were a lot of other types of films in the marketplace and there wasn’t really something that felt cozy to everybody. Netflix was growing so aggressively that their ability to get our movie in front of every single market in the world [was] pretty much at the same exact time, especially young people. You could watch Instagram and Twitter blow up, and it wasn’t just kids from the U.S.
What’s it like to have To All the Boys coming to an end?
Five years ago I started working on this movie, which is not a long time for three movies but a long time in my life. To All the Boys was one of the most gratifying [things I’ve done]. We all grew up together in this business, in a way, especially during a time from a streaming perspective where things were evolving so quickly. For Lana [Candor], Noah [Centineo], myself, and [director] Michael Fimognari it is so sad the idea that we don’t get to go to work together everyday. But [To All the Boys] showed there was an appetite, which is why we’ve doubled down at Ace. As a company, we want to grow to be a really strong young adult media company. We are going to try to make 10 movies over the next 24 months that are all in this space and not always romantic comedies.
What are some lessons learned during your time making these movies?
Ultimately, the most important thing is telling stories that you think in your heart people will connect with and coming at each story from a fresh perspective that is modern. There’s a movie that I made that I’m really proud of that, to be honest with you, no one wanted called Spontaneous. The distributors didn’t connect to. We’re currently at 98 percent [rating] on Rotten Tomatoes and the fans who have seen it love this movie. They absolutely love it. It was something that was a little bit more avant-garde than Ace typically makes but it is one of the movies I’m most proud of. Brian Duffield, who is the writer-director, is just an incredible talent. The movie will, I think, find a huge second life as people find it. But you gotta take risks and have the appetite for risk in order to take bets on people.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.