Hello Sunshine’s Lauren Neustadter on Gut Calls, Building a Studio and Reese’s Piece

Lauren Neustadter
Courtesy of Lauren Neustadter/Hello Sunshine

One of the hardest calls a development executive faces is deciding on the right home for a project.

Lauren Neustadter, head of film and TV for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media banner, has a gut check that she exercises before the company gets involved with a new project. As she explains to Variety podcast “Strictly Business,” before they get behind something, she tries to make sure that the project isn’t a prestige item for a network or streamer’s development slate, but actually has a hope of getting made.

“We really do look at it not just from a passionate producer point of view, but from a buyer point of view, and that has been helpful,” Neustadter says.

Neustadter worked in film development for 20th Century Fox and in TV for Fox Broadcasting Co. before she was tapped as one of Hello Sunshine’s first employees.

“A huge part of the reason I moved to television was because I felt like (feature development) was so disappointing to the writers,” Neustadter says. In television, she says the focus tends to be “how do we make this the best it can be” whereas in film “it was harder to know that I was going to make something that a writer had worked on for years and put their heart and soul into,” she says.

Today, Hello Sunshine has grown to more than 70 employees with activity in a range of media, from short-form content to big-budget TV and features. Hello Sunshine is starting to serve as a co-studio partner on its projects such as the Hulu miniseries “Little Fires Everywhere,” which was co-produced with ABC Studios.

“A really key piece for us is that Reese is always dialed in,” Neustadter says. “There isn’t a separation between Reese and the company. She’s inextricably linked” to everything going on, including personally sending out emails for pitch meetings.

Hello Sunshine’s focus on film and TV is squarely on projects that put women in the center of their own stories. They’re fortunate to have the resources to option books and other materials that allow them to work on projects in-house before shopping to prospective buyers.

“If we love a book, we’re going to option it and we’re going to give ourselves the time to put it together in the way that feels most right for that property,” Neustadter says.

Hello Sunshine’s active slate also includes Apple dramas “The Morning Show” and “Truth Be Told.” The company has quite a range of material ready to roll out, but the selling environment has been challenged as networks and streamers adjust to pandemic-battered economic conditions.

“The planes are backed up at LAX,” Neustadter quipped. Networks “haven’t been able to make things in the way that they would have been, and that is impacting their ability to buy.” The slow pace of activity in development isn’t all bad, she added. “It’s given us the opportunity to slow down and be intentional about the development on our slate.”

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.