Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea Push for Female-Driven Material With Pacific Standard

Reese Witherspoon Bruna Papandrea Pacific Standard
Williams+Hirakawa for Variety

In a series of top-level meetings Reese Witherspoon had with studio executives in 2012, she grew increasingly frustrated by the answers she got to her question, ‘What are you developing for women?’”

As one might imagine, it was slim pickings. “I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30,” the actress recalls. “And I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’ ”

Busy indeed. Two years after launching Pacific Standard with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea, the company boasts two high-profile films being released within weeks of each other. First up was “Gone Girl,” based on the blockbuster Gillian Flynn novel, which debuted Oct. 3. Hitting theaters Dec. 5 is “Wild,” an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, which stars Witherspoon as a woman seeking to reinvent herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone. The actress’s raw, fearless performance is stirring early raves and Oscar buzz.

The production company also just wrapped an action-comedy starring Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara titled “Don’t Mess With Texas,” a buddy movie about a police officer and a prisoner on the run. The film will be released May 8.

Known for her portrayals of strong women in movies such as 1999’s “Election” and her Oscar-winning turn in 2005’s “Walk the Line,” Witherspoon had served as an exec producer on “Legally Blonde 2” and a producer on “Penelope” under her now-defunct Type A Films banner. Returning to producing was born of necessity, she says, after those initial meetings came up empty. “My daughter was 13, and I wanted her to see movies with female leads and heroes and life stories,” Witherspoon says. “I called my agent and said, ‘I need a producing partner, and I really want someone who is well-liked, has development experience and on-set experience.’ And that’s a tall order.”

Papandrea, who recently shepherded the Summit hit “Warm Bodies” to the bigscreen, and whose other credits include the Oscar-winning “Milk” and “All Good Things,” fit the profile. The two had crossed paths socially, and Witherspoon reached out to set up a business lunch, which essentially became the best blind date ever. “I knew immediately,” Witherspoon says. “She had a great attitude, her track record with material is fantastic, and she reads as voraciously as I do.”

It was Strayed’s story that truly sealed the deal on their partnership. “After our first meeting, we agreed to send each other some material,” Papandrea recalls. “And the first thing Reese sent me was ‘Wild.’ It was exactly the kind of movie I wanted to make. At that point, I knew we were going to be a good match.”

Sitting together in the company’s Beverly Hills office, the two women — cliches be damned — really do finish each other’s sentences. Both are working mothers; Witherspoon has two teenagers and a two-year-old, while Papandrea is the mother of 20-month-old twins. And the partners are, in Papandrea’s words, “huge book nerds” who share a deep respect for authors.

From the beginning, the pair agreed on a mission. “We share the same goal in terms of focusing primarily on developing roles for women,” Papandrea says. “And we are open to all genres at this company. What attracts us is character and a funny, unique voice, regardless of genre.” Echoes Witherspoon, “We just want to see different, dynamic women on film.”

Williams+Hirakawa for Variety

They also agree on a mantra: Lean and mean. Pacific Standard is made up of only three employees, including the two principals — though Witherspoon jokes that her 15-year-old daughter Ava, who often recommends material, is their fourth staffer. “We read everything ourselves,” Witherspoon says. “We call the filmmakers. We call the studio heads. We keep it small, because it keeps things much more containable.”

They wound up in their Beverly Hills location thanks to mutual friend Liza Chasin, president of production at Working Title Films. “We had some extra space, but we were very conflicted about renting it out,” Chasin says. “It was going to take a very special tenant to convince us. So when Reese called and said she was looking, I knew it would be a perfect fit.”

Witherspoon and Papandrea refer to Chasin as a mentor; Chasin notes that having them close by has been beneficial to her, as well. “We share thoughts on different projects, on writers and directors, on the business in general,” she says. “It’s great to have people to bounce ideas off. It’s always honest, and never competitive.”

Papandrea adds that she and Witherspoon don’t want to be beholden to another company. As an example, she cites finding the right studio for “Wild.” “There’s this pressure for you to say
yes to the first person who asks you to marry them,” she says. “But we didn’t do that. We looked for the right home. We took less money than we could have, because it had to be made with exactly the right people. And we very carefully chose Fox Searchlight.”

For her part, Fox Searchlight production president Claudia Lewis says backing “Wild” was a no-brainer. “It was clear from the outset that they wanted people who would not soft-sell the material or dumb it down, or weaken the strength, foibles, intelligence and insecurity of this complicated woman,” Lewis explains. “ ‘Wild’ spoke to our interest in women’s stories and dramatic narratives about unusual people in complex circumstances.”

Witherspoon and Papandrea say that so far, their business strategy has paid off. They were warned that it takes two or three years just to get one movie off the ground, but they’ve defied the odds by having just completed their third production at the close of year two.

The producers pride themselves in pouncing on material early. “Wild” and “Gone Girl” were acquired before being published and going on to become bestsellers. Witherspoon says it was simply a matter of throwing her hat into the ring. “I let it be known I wanted to see material,” she says. “And because we’re specifically looking for female-driven properties, I don’t think a lot of other companies were out there doing that.”

In the case of “Gone Girl,” the book was brought to Witherspoon by screenwriter-producer Leslie Dixon, who had written the actress’s 2005 romance “Just Like Heaven.” Witherspoon was already familiar with Flynn’s work; at one point, she was attached to star in an adaption of the author’s debut novel, “Sharp Objects.” Though it didn’t work out, she followed Flynn’s career. “Like me, she’s from the middle of the country, and doesn’t write about the slick urban lifestyle you usually see in films,” Witherspoon notes.

Papandrea adds that good work begets good work. “When people realize you have good taste, it brings more material — they know you can look after it,” she says. “And when you also have an actress who can star in a lot of the material, it’s a huge, huge asset.”

But Witherspoon says her goal is not simply to find herself starring vehicles. While she was interested in headlining “Gone Girl,” the role eventually went to Rosamund Pike after David Fincher signed on as director. “We just wanted the material,” Witherspoon says. “It didn’t matter if I was in it or not. And when you get someone like David Fincher to agree to do you movie — one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time — you basically go, ‘OK, whatever you want!’ And get out of his way.”

Consequently, Witherspoon and Papandrea had little to do with the production of “Gone Girl,” but were heavily involved in the making of “Wild” (both films had the same start date). “Every director’s process is different,” Papandrea says. “David has his own people,” whereas “Wild” director Jean-Marc Vallee “wanted his producers involved in all aspects, from casting to location scouting.”

When it comes to Pacific Standard’s productions, Witherspoon readily admits she’s not right for every movie. “Ego is the death of creativity,” she says. “The most important thing is to get the right person for the role.”

But she’s excited to star opposite Nicole Kidman in an adaptation of the novel “Big Little Lies,” one of Pacific Standard’s next projects. The producers have also optioned “The Engagements,” based on J. Courtney Sullivan’s book, and feel strongly about a draft of the script they just received. “It’s an international ensemble,” Papandrea says. “Reese can play a role if she chooses — I hope she does.”

The duo also has acquired a pair of books aimed at younger audiences; “Pennyroyal’s Princess Boot Camp” and “The Outliers,” the first in a trilogy that is being compared to “The Hunger Games.”

While the company appears to favor adapting great literary properties, “Don’t Mess With Texas,” an original story, and a new comedy at Paramount are in the works. The producers also have creative plans beyond the bigscreen.“We’re about to announce a big TV project with another inspiring female lead,” Papandrea says.

Asked to sum up the partnership between the two women, Fox Searchlight’s Lewis says, “It’s not yin and yang, it’s yang and yang. They’re like whirling dervishes, juggling their creative passions with their work and their families. They are both 100% committed, and profoundly respectful of each other’s intelligence and drive.”

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  1. To my knowledge there has never been a book written about the “true life” that goes on behind a Stewardesses smile. I wrote a book titled Behind Her Smile with Lulu publishing. I truly believe it would make a great movie or even a made for TV movie. It has everything you could ever want in a story. Growing out of poverty, living in the Norman Rockwell 50’s & 60’s, being told you couldn’t do something because of your height. Marrying the wrong man, dealing with severe depression. Falling in love with a professional basketball player. Living with a devastating incident that completely turned my life around and made me decide what I honestly wanted out of life. Meeting and befriending Elvis Presley. The emotions are a realistic roller coaster ride. One review read”You brought me to tears, made me laugh and inspired me all in about the span of 10 pages today.” What more could you ask for out of a book or a movie? I would be pleased to send you a copy of my book if you will send me the address and who to send it to. I’ve already decided I would love for Blake Lively to play me. This is a chance to make Stewardesses/Flight Attendants be real and have the truth be told. Not in stupid movies such as A View From the Top. It is long overdue for the truth to be out there about what we had to leave at home and go off and do PR for our airline. Please consider reading this emotional book. Thank you. Blessings. Beverly Golden Cuevas

  2. I’m an Author whose a testimonial writer. My motivational memoir book was published three years and I’d like to turn it into something bigger than print. Can you please give me information on how I can connect with someone to take a look at my book to see if they’re interested. Thanks!

  3. Alexandra Voulgari says:

    I love this article and admire both Bruna and Reese, however how on earth do I get an address to contact them from Australia. I keep coming across all these articles but nothing which gives me the information I am seeking. I would be most appreciative if anyone can help me.

  4. Brenda Smith Martin Myers says:

    I am a mother of two children. My son did auditions in Hollywood and my daughter tours the country and is a Nashville recording artist. Sorry to say when I speak to most moms their days are the same. My life is extremely unique each day.

  5. Ann Plaisance says:

    I have a very very good strong female story for you. I’ve had lots of professionals (not movie professionals) say thus would be a best seller!! True story and amazing “how is this woman still alive” type story. You are the only production company I’ve mentioned this to or will mention it to. Because I love and respect your work and your desire to celebrate the strong woman. Please please contact me!! Ann Plaisance

    • Ann Plaisance says:

      Ann Plaisance replying to my own….I’m in Minnesota and I follow you on Facebook. I also left a comment on your “red nose” picture

  6. Kerry Harley says:

    Congratulations ladies.
    What talented women you are and what wonderful role models for other women, young and mature. Your production company being discussed by a wonderful Australian actress, Mary Coustas, on our Sydney today show.( Google Effie)
    My daughters and I are great fans of Reece’s work which began with our love of Legally Blonde. That movie projected very strong messages and believe it or not , has given our family great inspiration. I became a single mum when I finally had the strength to leave my children’s abusive father. The reason I left my beautiful waterfront house was to be a role model for my girls. I didn’t want them to think that putting up with bullies and abuse was the life a woman should expect. It’s a tough gig , doing two jobs to support them but I don’t regret my decision for one second.
    My girls have grown into remarkable young women.My younger daughter is a law student who is planning to work in Human Rights Law and my elder daughter is a science student studying Medicinal Chemistry and planning to do drug research for disease prevention. Both girls have the intension of helping others and it is not by chance that they have developed in this way. We have been blessed to have other strong, smart and generous women around us, our dentist for example, a fabulous, funny Greek dentist who dresses in stilettos!
    Thank you again for your great work ladies, we look forward to watching your next production unfold.

    Kerry Harley,Australia.

  7. Heather says:

    And I have an Oscar winni g role for her and no response from her yet lol

  8. Timajin Ali says:

    I have an incredible women’s script to share with you Ms Witherspoon. I have written a trilogy to a new and improved wizard of Oz. My title is called Madea goes to Oz. This script can be found on ink tip. Check out my logline and synopsis if you don`t have time to read the script. I think this would be a good movie for Pacific Standard to produce. My spec(Generation Oz) did win the 2014 official finalist for The Hollywood Screenplay contest. I changed the name to Madea goes to Oz because I thought it sounded a little better

  9. Heather says:

    I understand they are ‘looking’ for strong female content.. it’s impossible to get it to them. ‘Average’ people have extraordinary experiences and unless you are ‘plugged’ into the culture in LA you have no chance of being heard or seen. I’ve been told that I cannot ‘tell’ my story to anyone for fear that someday I may sue them… isn’t that what lawyers and copyright are for? What happened to the days of ‘hey, this story needs to be told, let work out the details and get in front of people’. I will get this seen by someone who is willing to take a chance and I will wave to everyone else from the ‘red carpet’ next year.
    I am “100 Shades of Grey,” I am Wild” I am smarter than any ‘Gone Girl.” Just look and see.

  10. Linda Violo says:

    To the most talented “spoon” in the drawer…I have an incredible manuscript to share! ” The Man In The Room” my bold,cunning,poignant life’s story on the disease of addiction. Join me in changing the language of addiction in families! there is a preview in my blog “The Man In the Room” Thankyou kindly…Linda Violo

  11. This may be something you’ll be interested in. This Book, A Reunion of Ghosts, is due out in March and has been receiving rave reviews. Written by Judith Claire Mitchell (her 2nd book), a professor at Wisconsin University. Read the preliminary reviews. They’re fantastic. It’s a story of 3 sisters who decide to commit suicide and they can’t decide on the “suicide note”. Thought you might be interested!

  12. Monya Clayton says:

    Just saw Reese Witherspoon’s interview on the Australian edition of 60 Minutes. Glad to see women making features about women.

  13. RC Marlen says:

    Few know of the first author in the Northwest because her books disappeared the same year “The Grains” was published, in 1854. Why? One can only surmise the reasons, but Margaret Jewett Bailey was a woman before her time – an environmentalist, a feminist, and a woman who knew she was equal with any man. Also, the people of the Oregon Territory would have disliked that she wrote of her sexual affairs; one liaison was with a man who lived in their midst.

    I have written two historical novels – GRIST and Unbeknownst – about Margaret Jewett Bailey and think they would make an intriguing film.

    Please let me know if you have any interest or any questions.

    RC Marlen

  14. KAJ says:

    “Dandelion Growing Wild,” is a beautiful story of tremendous family struggle and personal triumph – written by Kim Jones, one of the best marathoners in the world throughout the 80s and 90s. Kim’s story gives a new definition to the word perseverance … in both life and sport. With her flowing blonde hair and bright smile (resembling Reese Witherspoon) she looked like an all-American college girl. Her autobiography, however, reveals a story of a young girl growing up in a large, close-nit family plagued with trouble – mental illness, drug abuse, suicide, prison – and a life spent managing pain and finding freedom. “Dandelion Growing Wild” chronicles her dual careers as one of the top American marathoners in history, and a mother trying to chart a smoother course for her daughters. This autobiography could be transformed into a fantastic movie or mini-series, and is the perfect fit for Standard Pacific – starring Reese Witherspoon.

  15. PS The book MALIE is about to be published.

  16. My mother and I wrote a book when she was 90. MALIE: Life and Tragedy in Paradise…the Untold Story. I have been told by many that it would make a great movie.
    A woman and her daughter, snatched from oblivion, survived a furnace from a volcano in January 1951.
    Amalia married Cecil in 1933 after an extraordinary five-day shipboard courtship. She is catapulted from sleepy Lismore in Australia to the wild heart of Papua New Guinea, walking the trail with murderers to her first home in Kokoda.
    The family is torn apart by implacable forces. A remote station in PNG is Paradise to Cecil, District Commissioner. But Paradise becomes an Inferno. Mt Lamington explodes, blasting thousands to extinction. In the face of oncoming annihilation, all one could do was scream. Scream she did.

    It is also a gut-wrenching account of a child’s memories.

  17. Gloria says:

    I just finished a wonderful new book and I think it would make an awesome movie. It is called “One Plus One” and is authored by Jojo Moyes. The characters are unforgettable, the story grabs you until the very end. I am sad that it is over. Wonderful writing, hope you get a chance to read it. Gloria

  18. shannon mccaskey says:

    I hope they have reasmd “A House in the Sky”, I’ve searched the web and found no stories of anyone considering making this book into a movie. The true story of a kidnapped woman and her quest for suvival, absolutely amazing story that would be perfect for Pacific Standard to produce.

  19. nancy robinson says:

    in honor of the tsunami of 2004 may i suggest the book WAVE to pacific standard…it is the beautifully, raw, well written and dramatic memoir of sonali deraniyagala who lost her husband, children and parents…

  20. My mother wrote a memoir when she was 90. I added to it and am ready to have it published. She and I were the only European survivors of Higaturu of the Mt Lamington eruption in Papua New Guinea in 1951, in which my father and brother and thousands of Papuans were killed.
    My editor says it’s the great untold story.
    I was recommended to you by a dear friend who said it would make a great movie.

  21. Lisa Marie Totzke says:

    Tossing around the idea of writing a book about my life; and that’s all the further it goes. I am not a writer; but I would love to have a book/movie of my life. I am a 35 year old mother of one lovely 15 year old daughter. I have bi polar disorder, and have survived sever suicide attempts. In 2009 my 22 year old amazing brother took his own life. My family on bother my mother & fathers side has mental illness. My father’s brother took his life in 1979. My story goes beyond mental illness, I have also gone through many physical ailments, and surgeries due to strange disorders. My main concern is that of my daughter and her healthy future. I’m a compassonate caring mother; and I belive my story could shed a a new light on women’s mental health.

    • KAJ says:

      Lisa, If you are seriously considering writing your life story, you should read “Dandelion Growing Wild.” I believe your story is very similar to the autobiography, and reading it may be helpful if you decide to go forward in your writing.

  22. Bryan Botje says:

    I saw the 60 minutes show, and my eyes lit up! I’ve been wanting to get a true story out about my mom. She was the strongest woman I ever knew. She’s my hero! She passed away in 2001. I honestly think it would make a Great Movie!! I’ve told a few of the people who knew her, that are in the movie industry, about my idea for a movie. And they asked me why it has taken me so long to try and get her story out. Without giving away any of the story on here, which I have been advised not to do. I would like to know how to go about getting this story to Reese, and Bruna. I honestly think this is right up their alley! I have documents, and audio accounts from my mother. She grew up in the Netherlands during WWII, just for a starter.
    I would like to pitch the story in person. It’s a very strong story I don’t want stolen. Someone will eventually pick it up. I’d like to give first dibs to Reese and Bruna.
    Her son,

    • Dave Kohli says:

      Have you folks thought about making a film of the life and times of Katie Lee? Do you know her, as she is part of your industry and what a female rebel! She is still very much alive in her ninety’s,so don’t wait.

  23. I have a couple of books about strong women that I think Reese and Bruna might be interested in making into movies. Susan Day and Val Kilmer were at one point. I am in Alaska and would like to send them to Pacific Standard production company. Any chance, you can give me an address or way to communicate?
    Linda Thompson, author

  24. Jane Hatch says:

    My daughter (29) and I just watched Reese on 60 minutes and all we could do is stare wide-eyed until they end when we both started with “OH..MY..GOD”. She talked of everything we dreamed of happening in Hollywood. She’s given us both courage. We CAN BE COMPLETELY FEMALE and make it in Hollywood..,,as writers and directors and actresses…Thank God the all male crew has to to step aside for real women making it happen. Ghandi said it would be Western women who saved the world and Reese is one of them. .WE LOVE YOU REESE.

  25. Benton Mcmillin Lee III says:

    i just watched 60 minutes and im so touched by Reese Witherspoons story.The passion and love is so apparent and clear.I can relate to everything in her story.Women are so much stronger than men .Im at a lose of words.Dear Lord i hope someone reads this that has the influence to allow me to be apart of Pacific Standard.i will walk off my job and work for minimum wage.I will take of the trash,mop the floors,fix the plumbing or whatever to be apart of this story. I could go on and on.I am also from middle Tennessee,I work at my families store in Baxter Tennessee.Thank you for never giving up! I will have my back pack ready! And never stop dreaming. Go Vols!!! Ben .

  26. Suzanne says:

    So excited and happy for them. Women will change what ails the studio system of movie making. Can’t wait!

  27. L. Farr says:

    Hi, Wanted to let you know that in the third paragraph it’s the Pacific CREST Trail, not the Pacific Coast Trail. Easy mistake to make. Thanks!!

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