Scott Budnick, the producer of “The Hangover” movies and “Old School,” has launched Good Films, a film and TV production company that plans to leverage the movies and shows it makes to effect positive social change. Good Films is in the process of raising a $150 million content fund with Endeavor Content as the lead investor.
Budnick made a name for himself as the producer of hit comedies, but he switched gears in 2013, and moved away from moviemaking to get involved in prison reform. He formed the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which provides a support network for formerly incarcerated men and women.
Budnick will serve as president and CEO of Good Films, while entertainment and media finance expert Roy Salter will serve as non-executive chairman of the board and investment committee. A significant amount of the $150 million has been committed.
In an interview with Variety, Budnick said he and Salter believe that entertainment properties are uniquely capable of “changing hearts and minds.” As an example he cited the role that portrayals of gays and lesbians in the likes of “Will & Grace,” “Milk,” and “Brokeback Mountain” played in convincing a majority of Americans to support marriage equality.
“We believe in the power of storytelling to enact social change,” said Budnick.
Budnick said that when word broke that he was stepping back from the entertainment business, he had several eye-opening conversations with industry figures. The likes of Tobey Maguire, former Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer, Washington Wizards and Washington Capitols owner Ted Leonsis, and Legendary Entertainment founder Thomas Tull urged him to think about a way to combine his past and present passions.
“From those calls and meetings, the message I got was that it was great that I cared so much about this issue, but that I shouldn’t forget that there was a way for films to get messages and stories out to the world,” said Budnick. “That resonated with me.”
After connecting with Salter, Budnick began putting the pieces together for a different kind of entertainment company. Their new venture is a for-profit enterprise, but the content that Good Films backs will have a philanthropic component. For each of the projects it co-finances, the company will be involved in programs that raise social awareness around a particular social issue and will push for legislative efforts that can alleviate problems. It’s a model that’s somewhat similar to what Participant Media, the film production company founded by internet billionaire Jef Skoll, does with films like “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Spotlight.” Those films also urge viewers to get involved in an issue, though Good Films seems to have as much interest in pursuing the legislative side of the equation as it does in raising awareness.
The first project under the new banner is a film adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s best-selling book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.” Good Films’ will co-finance with Warner Bros. which optioned the book last year with Michael B. Jordan attached to star. Stevenson’s books followed his history of working for criminal justice reform. Gil Netter will produce the picture, with Destin Cretin coming on as the director.
Though Budnick has become a major figure in pushing for bipartisan support of prison reform, Good Films’ projects will take on a range of social, environmental, and political causes. A particular focus will be issues of inequality, which include social and racial justice, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, woman and girls equality, education reform, poverty, and children in need.
Endeavor Content originally got interested in the project when Budnick and Salter were looking for insight into how they could form the company and find financial backers.
“We began our relationship with Scott and Roy as advisors and decided to invest in Good Films because there is both a business and moral imperative to finance social impact content and to leverage the Endeavor Content platform to engage communities,” Endeavor Content Co-Presidents Graham Taylor and Chris Rice said in a joint statement.
Endeavor Content is a newly rechristened entity of WME and IMG, which announced last fall that it was combining its film financing and scripted TV sales operations under the leadership of Taylor and Rice.
Part of Good Films’ pitch to investors is that they can do good while making money. Its research into films with a social message demonstrated that many of them have been profitable — it’s a list of successes that includes “Lion,” “Moonlight,” and “12 Years a Slave.”
Good Films will partner with production companies and studios, endowments and philanthropies, and celebrities committed to positive social change, Budnick said. He’s already met with the likes of the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and has also reached out to major studios to let them know about the types of projects Good Films is interested in making. Budnick said they’ve already been presented with roughly 40 projects that might fit their model.
At the same time, Budnick is tapping his rolodex of Hollywood figures. Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal sit on Budnick’s philanthropic board at The Anti Recidivism Coalition, while Budnick has worked closely on prison reform and related social justice issues with Patty Jenkins, John Legend, Eva Longoria, Common, Harry Belafonte and Allison Williams. The logistics are still being worked out, but Budnick said that many of these people will serve as Good Films ambassadors and production partners.
“I’ve worked closely with Scott on criminal justice reform. I’ve witnessed firsthand his passion for lifting up the voices of those who are often unheard,” said Legend. “I’m excited about Good Films and their commitment to utilize their fund to partner with my production company on film and television projects that can help shine a light on issues that need to be brought to the forefront.”
“Since I’ve gotten to know Scott, I’ve never seen anyone so truthfully put their money where their mouth is,” said Jenkins. “Scott walks the walk, artfully balancing his commitment to philanthropic work with a vibrant filmmaking career. He understands and respects the power of storytelling and is humbled by its responsibility. That combination makes him the ideal person to lead a company like Good Films, and I look forward to partnering with him on future projects that bring important causes to the screen.”
Good Films will be based in Los Angeles, and Budnick said he’s already found office space and will begin hiring in the coming weeks. Prior to the current round fundraising, entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul Blavin provided the seed money for Good Films two years ago.