EXCLUSIVE: Andrew Lauren and producing partner DJ Gugenheim are behind two of this autumn’s most anticipated movies: Natalie Portman starrer Vox Lux, which debuts in Venice next week, and Claire Denis’ Toronto-bound sci-fi High Life, starring Robert Pattinson.
In writer-director Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux, Portman plays a successful pop star who is also trying to raise a teenage daughter. Jude Law and Jennifer Ehle are among co-stars while Killer Films and Bold are also producers. Denis’ English-language debut High Life focuses on a group of criminals taking part in space a mission to find alternative energy. Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth and Andre Benjamin are also among cast.
Lauren, son of designer Ralph Lauren, is part of a wave of wealthy young sons and daughters who have over the past decade set up U.S. production shops [Annapurna, K-Period Media etc]. He made his entree with Noah Baumbach’s 2005 pic The Squid And The Whale, and followed that in 2013 with James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, investing $3M of his own coin in the latter.
His New York-based production and finance company Andrew Lauren Productions has been relatively quiet in the past five years, but Gugenheim joined three years ago and the company is now busier than ever. We spoke to the duo about their two festival buzz titles, next projects and their investment strategy going forward.
How did you get involved in Vox Lux?
Andrew Lauren: I was introduced to Brady a while ago. I was very impressed by Childhood Of A Leader. The initial script we received was with Rooney Mara in the Natalie Portman role. We were trying to work out if it made sense for us. When Natalie came on board it pushed the button for us to say yes.
DJ Gugenheim: We made an offer on the movie contingent on the director meeting. We sat down with Brady for three hours in New York and I remember coming out and saying ‘that may be the best director meeting we’ll ever have’. Brady had an answer to every question.
Scott Walker did the score and Sia the original songs. Is it all Natalie’s voice for the songs in the movie?
DJ: It’s all Natalie singing and dancing. No CGI. She was great at both. You have a haunting juxtaposition of pop and contemporary classical sound in the music. Natalie was a natural. It was effortless as soon as she got on stage. Her dancing was the same. The finale is very ambitious and it took a lot of work.
How did you come to High Life?
AL: CAA reached out to us in the first place. We received a scripment of around 60 pages. It was an unusual format. It was Claire’s vision for the film. It was quite skeletal. The script really took shape as we were filming.
DJ: This is an ambitious movie. It’s a multi-territory European sci-fi co-production in the $10M range. Andrew had seen Beau Travail with his dad when he was younger. It seemed like a unique opportunity and very different. That’s what independent film should be about.
I’m a big fan of Claire Denis’ movies. This one sounds as interesting as ever. By all accounts, the deconstructed nature of the script and process was challenging for some of the actors…
AL: I think a lot of people take a leap of faith with Claire. They might not always know what they’re getting into but they have so much respect for her track record and filmmaking that they go with it. It was challenging. There were meetings when actors wanted to get a handle on characters and were confused. They wanted to know more about how space works. We had astro-physicists come down to talk with them.
DJ: Claire purposefully didn’t need her performers to understand every beat. Part of this movie is about the unknown and about characters who don’t necessarily understand why they are where they are.
AL: Everything was a work in process for her. It can be scary for everyone else but she ultimately knows where she is going.
Let’s talk about your company. Someone told me once the only way to make a small fortune in the industry is to start with a large one. Do you think that’s true?
AL: I would respectfully disagree. I’ve done well so far. We take risks but they are calculated. The goal is not to lose, it’s to win. Someone once asked me about being a patron of the arts but I see myself as a businessman. The goal is to build a strong slate but there are no guarantees.
Your last narrative feature was The Spectacular Now in 2013. Why the hiatus?
AL: I’m very particular about the movies I get involved in. But meeting DJ and assembling our team gave me confidence to get more aggressive and make more films. [The company now has a head-count of five with business affairs guru David Boyle on board as external counsel. It is also working on TV and plays]
I want to make strong, unique films that are commercially viable but also appeal to an art-house base and have breakout potential. It was crucial to have DJ to help me understand more about the business. It has made me more bullish.
You invest your own money, is that correct?
AL: Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is. Ultimately, my track record is fairly good. I don’t make many movies but sometimes to get things going you need to take the lead. I hope people will think we’re worth taking a chance on and perhaps we can raise a fund down the line. I’m very fortunate to have money to invest and to have that autonomy.
So what’s the plan?
AL: I want to make more movies. These two opportunities were exciting. We initially said we wanted to do 2-3 films per year in the $5-15M range. But it takes some time to build that. That’s still the goal.
Does your dad ever give you business advice?
It’s all about passion. ‘Do you love this? Is this the type of movie you want to go see?’ [he says]. He jokes with me that I should make a happy movie. One day I will. But he’s supportive and proud.
What else is coming up?
DJ: We’re in post-production on an under-the-radar movie called Light Years. It’s an awesome low-budget comedy that Channing Tatum’s production company Free Association brought to us. We financed and produced it in partnership with them. The film follows a guy called Kevin who on the anniversary of his best friend’s death, takes a mushroom trip down memory lane, forcing him to relive a pivotal night from his adolescence. But when he starts tripping, within his trip he sees everyone through the form of his adult self. It’s written, directed and stars (in almost every role) Colin Thompson (It’s Us), a Vermont-based filmmaker. Also in the movie are Russell Posner (Paramount Network’s The Mist) and Makenzie Leigh (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk).
AL: It’s a movie about shrooms. If you’re ‘shrooming’, it’s possible you might see yourself in everyone. Hence Colin playing so many roles. The premise wasn’t in the plan to begin with, it was just a joke, but it made sense. We also have feature Lucky Strikes in development [which Deadline broke a story on yesterday]. DJ saw Ken Burns’ documentary on baseball. There was a segment on the G.I. World Series played in Nuremberg just after WWII. General Patton and the army was trying to keep the peace and thought why not host a baseball game. It’s a great story.