In Hollywood terms, producer Tom McNulty might be considered a late bloomer. He was still working as an assistant in his early 30s for Sid Ganis, who gave the Long Island, N.Y., native his first shot in showbiz. But over the past eight years, the president of Fox-based 21 Laps has certainly made up for any lost time by becoming a dynamo on the Century City lot, known for his thick Rolodex and sharp comedic instincts.
“He’s not some 27-year-old D-boy,” says director-producer Shawn Levy, who three years ago tapped McNulty to run his fledgling banner, which has quickly become one of the most productive shingles on the lot, with such hits as “Night at the Museum” and “What Happens in Vegas.” “He has the kind of relationships in town that you don’t have at 27.”
McNulty, a self-described ADD sufferer, cultivated many of those contacts during his six-plus years at Happy Madison, eventually running the Sony-based shingle for partners Adam Sandler and Jack Giarraputo. During that stint, he recalls pouring over countless “lovable loser/slacker” scripts intended as Sandler vehicles.
“I would have to read them, and by page five, you’re already rolling your eyes, but you have to go through them anyway,” he remembers. “I even read a script from an A-list writer — who shall remain nameless — who wanted to branch off and write a broad comedy using a pseudonym. It was one of the worst, most unfunny movies I’ve read in my entire life.”
Eye rolls aside, that training proved invaluable for McNulty, who is praised by industryites for being able to spot a commercially viable concept and pair it with the ideal, albeit sometimes unconventional, writer. Such was the case with the screwball comedy “Date Night,” a project that is being fast-tracked by Fox, with McNulty and Levy producing.
“Tom brought in a writer (Josh Klausner) that no one had ever heard of,” recalls Levy, who will direct the film sometime next year. “It was a stroke of genius. Now we have Steve Carell and Tina Fey starring.”
Though McNulty has put his stamp on a number of Happy Madison and 21 Laps projects, he only received his first full producer credit on the Rainn Wilson starrer “The Rocker,” which Fox Atomic released Aug. 20. But the floodgates have now opened, with McNulty producing or exec producing about 20 projects around town, including “The Way Back” at Mandate and a “Night at the Museum” sequel at Fox.
“What I love about Tom is his passion and his great comedic timing and taste,” says Atomic prexy Debbie Liebling, noting that the one-time college theater major came up with some of the funniest moments in “The Rocker,” including a scene where Josh Gad is asleep with his eyes open. “I think actors and writers really respond to him. They see him as a kindred spirit.”
PROVENANCE: Huntington, N.Y.
INSPIRATION: Brian Grazer: “He was able to find movies that spoke to the zeitgeist, mainstream comedies. But over the years, they grew more and more sophisticated. Who wouldn’t want that career?” He also notes “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” John Hughes, Barry Levinson, Billy Wilder and Mark Gordon.