A Hollywood producer and a master of adaptation

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Freedom, Maine, with a population of 722, is about as far away from Hollywood as you can get. So when Erin French, who runs the very popular Lost Kitchen there, got bold names to her virtual doorstep to buy the film rights to her best-selling memoir, she approached them with a lot of trepidation and a bit of awe.

“It was intense,” Ms. French said of the experience selling her personal story of food, addiction and abuse, told in the 2021 book “Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch.” “Here you are, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, a girl who felt like she had grown up like a nobody, and then you suddenly have Zoom conversations with Blake Lively. It sure was a wild time.”

In addition to Ms. Lively, Ms. French and her husband, Michael Dutton, met others such as MGM and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. Finally, Mrs. French and Mr. Dutton sold the rights to Bruna Papandrea and her four-year-old company, Made Up Stories. The pair said they were won over by Ms. Papandrea’s passion for the project, her clear vision to make it a film and her track record of finding the right talent for projects.

“We’re going to what’s called ‘Shark Territory,’ and getting into this whole world of Hollywood-ness,” said Ms. French, “and we felt like Bruna was a fighter and Bruna would always protect us and keep pushing forward.” .”

For decades, Ms. Papandrea, 50, toiled in the shadows of the entertainment business of more famous associates, most notably Reese Witherspoon. Together they produced hit edits such as ‘Wild’, ‘Big Little Lies’ and ‘Gone Girl’.

However, with Made Up Stories, Ms. Papandrea has stepped firmly into the limelight. Her latest series, “Nine Perfect Strangers,” starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy and ending Wednesday, is according to the streaming service Hulu’s most-watched original series, beating audiences for critically acclaimed shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Deed.” .” Like ‘Big Little Lies’, it is an adaptation of a book by Liane Moriarty.

The success of the show, according to those involved, is a testament to Ms. Papandrea’s tenacity. “It’s hard to say no to her,” said Craig Erwich, president of Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment

Ms Papandrea and her team, which was shut down by the Los Angeles pandemic, quickly moved the entire production to Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia. Ms. Papandrea convinced the brand new Soma Meditation Retreat to open its doors to production before opening to the public.

“I was like, listen, I did a show called ‘Big Little Lies,’ I tell you it just makes your property more, it draws a lot of attention,” she said in her clipped Australian accent.

While sitting outside at a beach cafe in Santa Monica, California, last month, Ms. Papandrea spoke to a machine gun rhythm, dropping words at the end of sentences as she switched topics. It’s a pace that matches the hectic schedule she’s on as she prepares some seven productions for five streaming platforms – any movies or TV shows centered around complicated female protagonists.

The following year alone, she will debut a film and two television shows for Netflix, including the long-running adaptation of the bestselling “Luckiest Girl Alive”; a series for Spectrum Originals and BET on women’s college basketball; an anthology series for Apple TV+ titled “Roar”; an Amazon original series starring Sigourney Weaver; and a romantic comedy series for Peacock starring Josh Gad and Isla Fisher.

It’s a sign of how Ms. Papandrea, known for her penchant for finishing novels in one sitting, is ideally suited to a moment in the entertainment industry when the number of major companies that can buy content is shrinking, but the need for immersive shows that audience will continue to grow.

“I look at it all curiously because no matter what network you run or what streaming platform you run, you have to have curators, you have to have people who have taste,” she said. “The hardest thing in the world is finding something that someone wants to make, and that’s my skill.”

Ms. Papandrea worked with Ms. Witherspoon for three years, directing projects such as “Gone Girl” and “Big Little Lies” to the screen, collecting accolades along the way, including Best Actress Oscar nominations for both Ms. Witherspoon (“Wild”) and Rosamund Pike. (“Gone Girl”). The two went their separate ways in 2017. Ms. Witherspoon founded Hello Sunshine, which was just sold to a new company backed by the investment firm Blackstone Group for $900 million.

Ms. Papandrea took over the two former employees of the company and started Made Up Stories with her husband, Steve Hutensky. The company now has 12 employees and offices in Australia and Los Angeles.

She attributes the split to the two women who want different things and have “slightly different tastes”.

“In the end she built a big business and I built a big business,” she said with a chuckle.

Ms Witherspoon declined to comment on this article.

To fund her new operation, Ms. Papandrea sold a passive minority stake in her business to Endeavor Content, the manufacturing arm of the entertainment and sports conglomerate Endeavour. The companies also formed a joint venture – renewable each calendar year – that will allow both to serve as co-studios for all Made Up Stories television projects and some Made Up Stories films. The two share the economic risk of their entire TV development plan, but Endeavor won’t pay Ms. Papandrea’s overheads. She and Mr. Hutensky maintain their independence in all creative decisions.

“I just love being independent. I love it,” she said. “This path has given us the freedom and resources to compete in the marketplace for top material and writers, to bet on emerging creators, to find the right path for each project, and to find the best homes. to choose between the many platforms for distribution.”

Made Up Stories is one of many companies partnering with Endeavor Content.

“We’re cross-platform, so we can sell her shows and our shows and other people’s shows to any platform,” said Graham Taylor, co-president of Endeavor Content. “We’ve built a kind of United Artists 100 years later that we deliver shows to every point of sale.”

The work of a producer is never easily defined. There are those who take on the title simply because they contributed some money along the way. Others, such as Ms. Papandrea, work tirelessly from book option to post-production and marketing to ensure that the promises they made at the beginning of an often long and arduous process are still kept at the end.

“It’s a problem. Producing credits is given out like lollipops,” said David E. Kelley, the prolific writer and producer, who has worked with Ms. Papandrea on five projects, including ‘Nine Perfect Strangers.’ in ‘Nine Perfect’ for example, that’s a bit of a miracle. Bruna had to go through so many traces with the government to get people into the country to shoot. It’s hard work, and a lot of work.”

Ms. Papandrea, the third of four children, was raised by a single mother in a flat in the working-class Elizabeth, South Australia. She dropped out of college twice: once after starting a commercial law degree from the University of Melbourne and later with an arts degree from the University of Adelaide.

She tried her hand at acting. That didn’t stick.

She then got a job as an assistant to Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe, an opportunity that led her to become a producer of commercials first and then films. Her big break, she said, came when she started working for directors Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack.

The job took her to London and then Los Angeles, where she learned the art of customization from two of the best in the business.

According to Ms. Papandrea, Mr. Minghella hired her because she was smart and made him laugh. He taught her to treat creative people with respect and never to work with anyone she didn’t want to eat with.

She stuck to those early lessons and has vowed to pay it forward by hiring only young talent with no Hollywood connections.

“Now when we hire people, we make sure they haven’t had access to the company. We won’t hire someone from an agency,’ she said. “We try to find people who have no experience, because how else do you break into those people?”

Jessica Knoll was one such author. Mrs. Papandrea worked with her to turn her novel “Luckiest Girl Alive” into a feature film. The two first got together seven years ago, just after ‘Wild’ was made. But executive shuffles, changing tastes, and other challenges kept the film in development for years. All the while, Ms. Papandrea stayed with Ms. Knoll as the film’s sole writer – a feat in modern Hollywood.

“She was just so fierce in terms of how much she stood up for writers and how much she protected them and their stories,” said Ms. Knoll, who had never written a screenplay before adapting her own and recalls Ms. Papandrea showing her the film. from Mr Minghella. memoir “Minghella on Minghella” and coached her through the process.

“I want to do business with her forever. The room is a brighter room when Bruna Papandrea is in it.”

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