Jeffrey Katzenberg Takes Aim at Evan Spiegel with Unflattering Snapchat Series
'Frat Boy Genius' was a feature script on the 2018 Black List and will be made for Katzenberg and Meg Whitman's shortform platform Quibi. Says the mogul of the 28-year-old billionaire: 'He should be flattered.'
Quibi, the ambitious new digital-content startup founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, has announced that one of its buzziest launch titles will be a series about the rise of Snapchat. Katzenberg revealed the news Friday at his session at South by Southwest.
The project is based on Frat Boy Genius, a feature film screenplay by Elissa Karasik, whose dark, funny take on the story behind the social-media platform landed at No. 1 on the 2018 Black List. Like a Social Network 2.0, the script, as the title suggests, presents a deeply unflattering portrayal of Evan Spiegel, the app's 28-year-old founder.
"We want to tell a story that's as compelling and interesting about Snapchat and Evan as The Social Network was for Facebook," Katzenberg said. Moderator Dylan Byers said he could hear "alarm bells" at Snap HQ about the series. Katzenberg said "he should be flattered."
The project is being produced by Brad Weston's Makeready.
Adding another ironic twist is the fact that Michael Lynton — the former Sony chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment who greenlit The Social Network — is one of the key characters in the project. Lynton was one of the first investors in Snapchat and currently sits on its board of directors.
From the first page, it is overwhelmingly clear that this will be a warts-and-all version of events. Frat Boy Genius offers a semi-fictionalized take on the Snapchat story, narrated by a character named Lily, a former Stanford schoolmate of Spiegel's with an axe to grind: As the story unfolds, we learn one of Snapchat's most innovative features was her idea — but Spiegel pushed her aside and put a male programmer in charge of it instead. (Karasik also went to Stanford.)
Even the stage direction seems to hold Spiegel in low regard. It introduces him as "a surprisingly not-totally-unattractive combination of thin lips, hooked nose and butt chin." Later, the future tech mogul is called "a poster-boy for Gen Y...distracted by his phone in any given interaction" and given to "abrupt transitions between good-natured conversation and blistering intensity."
Spiegel is also depicted as a hard partier: In one early scene set at a rager at his Kappa Sigma fraternity, a girl does lines of cocaine of his desk as he, unconscious in bed, urinates on himself.
Through flashback, he's depicted as a spoiled and calculating teen from a wealthy Pacific Palisades family. In one scene, Spiegel guilts his divorcing parents into gifting him with a $75,000 car and in-home movie theater.
Spiegel's lawyer dad, meanwhile, is painted as a hapless parent who desperately wants to fit in with his son and his friends. The script suggests the father does cocaine with Reggie Brown, one of three Snapchat founders who later is forced out of the company.
Lynton is brought into Spiegel's orbit after his wife notices how much their tween daughter loves an early version of Snapchat, then called Picaboo. In the screenplay, Lynton invests $600,000 in seed money and later brings on the startup's first angel investors.
Over drinks at Soho House West Hollywood, Lynton tells Spiegel, then 23, that despite the app's early success, he's nevertheless "a moron. You're smart for a moron, but you are below the age of 40, which means you are a moron." He goes on to explain that he didn't get "really successful" until his 50s.
"I consider myself lucky to have been forced to wait for wealth and power," Lynton tells Spiegel, then suggests he should cut "dead weight" from the team when Spiegel's co-founder, Bobby Murphy, takes a bathroom break.
Later, the two have a blowout fight after the Sony hack reveals a trove of emails in which Lynton openly questions Spiegel's maturity level and ability to lead.
"Shut up. Just shut up," Lynton snaps over the phone. "Nobody gives a fuck about your feelings right now. I am the CEO of a publicly traded company worth 10 times the amount of Snapchat, which is currently under cyber-attack by a foreign nation as part of a geopolitical power play, so grow the fuck up and handle it or call your real parents, OK?"
Some mileage is gotten, too, out of Spiegel's tabloid-friendly dating life, including his brief romantic entanglement with Taylor Swift. During a text exchange, the singer writes, "Hamptons? ;)" to which Spiegel responds, "Want to be straight with you, I don't have time for a relationship rn :(."
"Feel free to write a song ;)" he adds, eliciting a "Fuck you, Evan" from the pop star.
Katzenberg said Quibi is expected to launch in April 2020. Once it's up and running, it plans to launch new series every other Monday.