Doing good for humankind while making bank at the box office can be tricky business, but producer Scott Budnick’s activist content company One Community has received millions of dollars in fresh financing and kicked off development on an action thriller with Margot Robbie.
Budnick, an executive producer on hit comedy franchise “The Hangover,” set up shop this January with Endeavor Content leading an initial $25 million investment. Originally named Good Films, the operation now has $50 million in slate financing thanks to a few new key players.
Live Nation Entertainment and its CEO, Michael Rapino (through his eponymous family foundation), join Kimberly Steward’s K Period Media as investors, alongside PMC stakeholder Dan Loeb, former hedge fund manager and bitcoin billionaire Mike Novogratz, Starwood Capital CEO Barry Sternlicht and Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin among others.
Budnick has also made key hires in content and strategy, which fulfill what the executive called “an enormous initiative for us on the first page of our business plan — to increase diversity in Hollywood.”
Four women of color sit atop One Community: chief content officer Zola Mashariki, a veteran producer with stints as programming chief at BET Networks and production SVP at Fox Searchlight; chief impact officer Sonya Lockett, also from Viacom; creative vice president Adriana Ambriz from Fox; and creative executive Misha Schwarz from WME. Ben Yano is vice president of operations.
When the major studios or socially conscious peer companies like Participant Media work on “impact” films, they tend to spend heavily on highlighting causes and educating the public in the weeks leading up to release. The difference at One Community, Budnick said, is that the company is working to effect change on key issues no matter the stage of film production.
Take “Firefighters,” a project that has Academy Award nominee Robbie attached to produce, and that One Community optioned for her from the 2017 New York Times piece “The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s Wildfires.”
It’s a harrowing story about convicts who battle devastating disasters for $1 an hour, only to be blocked from pursuing the same careers on the outside due to their felony records.
“I was able to go to Gov. Jerry Brown with this article and tell him we’re going to turn it into a film,” Budnick said. “He pledged that before he was out of office he would make a pathway for folks who were formerly incarcerated into firefighting careers.”
Brown walked his walk, and in May he set aside $26 million in the California state budget to build a training facility for up to 80 formerly incarcerated people at a time to prepare for firefighting careers after parole. The early awareness sets the table for an effective issues campaign ahead of the film, Budnick said, while his creative team works on delivering a diverse and action-packed ensemble thriller from “Mad Men” and “Westworld” writer Carly Wray.
“Gov. Jerry Brown pledged that before he was out of office he would make a pathway for folks who were formerly incarcerated into firefighting careers.”
Scott Budnick on a primary ambition of the One Community film “Firefighters”
Budnick’s team is also working to effect change on a micro level. One Community is a co-financer on the upcoming Warner Bros. release “Just Mercy,” which sees Michael B. Jordan playing activist and attorney Bryan Stevenson, who worked to free an innocent man from death row. During production, Budnick met with Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara and lobbied him to hire three formerly incarcerated people as interns at the studio. He then convinced Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell to do the same at his Comcast-owned studio, and recently received a pledge from Bob Iger to make the hires at the intern level at Disney.
Mashariki, who worked on the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” series, told Variety that at Searchlight she championed films that were both commercial and had strong messages, and aims to do the same at One Community. “The films don’t have to beat you over the head,” she said. “We want to do tentpoles, action adventures, romantic comedies, everything imaginable.
“Our goal is to make an impact,” she added. “What’s the impact if nobody sees the movies?”
|One Community’s Misha Schwarz, Creative Executive; Adriana Ambriz, Vice President of Content; Sonya Lockett, Chief Impact Officer; and Zola Mashariki, Chief Content Officer.|