EXCLUSIVE: As they sort through offers on their three Sundance films Shirley, Some Kind of Heaven and Summertime, Los Angeles Media Fund principals Jeffrey Soros and Simon Horsman are broadening the company footprint with increasingly ambitious feature films, scripted and unscripted series, and Broadway productions.
They’ve just set Oscar-winner Jodie Foster to direct an untitled drama based on the Seymour Reit book The Day They Stole the Mona Lisa. The film is being fully financed by LAMF.
“This happened in 1911, and it was the thing that made the Mona Lisa so famous,” Soros told Deadline while in Park City. “It was developed by Phoenix, which is still involved, but we have got a whole new script that Bill Wheeler is writing for Jodie Foster to direct. This is in the mold of The Thomas Crown Affair, with The Sting also a plot device comp. It is a fun story, and the crime itself is not sophisticated. Our story mixes truth and fiction, and the focus is on the characters behind orchestrating the theft.”
Soros and Horsman were in Park City to launch Shirley, the Josephine Decker-directed drama that stars Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg and Logan Lerman, about the writer Shirley Jackson who finds inspiration for her new book when she and her professor husband take in a young couple; the Darren Aronofsky-produced and Lance Oppenheim-directed Some Kind of Heaven, a docu about The Villages, the largest retirement community in the U.S., spanning three counties; and the Carlos Lopez Estrada (Blindspotting)-directed drama Summertime, about a series of young performers from Get Lit, an organization that helps young people express themselves through spoken word poetry. “Carlos presents it almost like a musical, but where people break into poetry instead of song, with monologues and duets, interrupted by life all around them,” Horsman said.
The Mona Lisa drama is one of several films moving fast at the company. A March start date is set for Rob Peace, which Chiwetel Ejiofor scripted and will direct with Antoine Fuqua producing, based on Jeff Hobbs’ bestselling book The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League. Peace and Hobbs were roommates at Yale, and the film tells the tragic story of a brilliant young African American academic prodigy on a full scholarship to study molecular biochemistry. Peace had a second identity as a campus pot dealer, and he wound up getting killed in a drug deal gone wrong.
“Rob Peace was a kid from East Orange, New Jersey whose parents lived apart,” Soros said. “His father, Skeet, was convicted of brutally murdering two women, and injuring a third. Rob was close to his father to that point and grew up believing in the innocence of his father, who was given a life sentence.” The youth’s mother, Jackie, worked several jobs to get him to a private prep school that had been populated by wealthy white students until white flight allowed room for all comers and it became very clear he was gifted academically and he won the Yale scholarship. He became the biggest pot dealer on campus – only pot – and in a lot of ways he was his father’s son as well as his mother’s son, as he was very determined not to leave her and his closest friends behind and the best option to support them was drug dealing. He turned down an opportunity to work in a lab at Stanford, to be close to home. Then he was killed in a drug deal. “The movie is a fascinating portrait of identity and opportunity and what pulled him back to East Orange,” Soros said. It will shoot in New Jersey and they are casting, with LAMF arranging the financing. Fuqua is their producing partner with Rebecca Hobbs, wife of the book’s author, Andrea Calderwood and Kat Samick.
Also due for a production start this year is Il Duce, an absurdist tragedy about an American diplomat named Richard Washburn Child, a Harvard-educated writer who after helping Warren Harding get elected, was made the ambassador to Italy. “He found a rising star in Benito Mussolini, and became interested in the doctrine of fascism, which seemed compatible to American pro-business sentiments,” Soros said. “He eventually had a side job as Mussolini’s head of propaganda, and helped him organize the March on Rome, which consolidated Mussolini’s power.” Child went on to edit the Saturday Evening Post, featuring many pro-Mussolini pieces in the Americana magazine, and ghost wrote Il Duce’s autobiography. “He basically helped create a monster and then could not put the genie back in the bottle,” Soros said. “It’s about the embrace of leaders like him, which we now see around the world. This is a fascinating lens into the life of Mussolini.”
A Private War’s Arash Amel wrote the script and they are out to directors. The film is being packaged by CAA and Endeavor Content, both of which represent LAMF.
It’s just one of the priority projects on the LAMF slate of film and TV. They’ve just set a deal for Rick Famuyiwa to direct the pilot for Keys to the City, a series that takes a look at the worlds great cities and drills down on the peak moment of disruption for each one. The first city they look at will be Istanbul, which is now the fastest-growing city in Europe. They are getting ready to pitch that one. Famuyiwa directed Dope, and is percolating numerous high-profile films that include Children of Blood and Bone. And two episodes of the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and exec producer/director of The Chi.
Soros – the sole financier of LAMF’s growing ambitions – started the company in 2012 with Horsman as they opportunistically provided equity for several films. Soros said he had been “knocking around the film business my whole life. I came out of college as an actor, and emerged from that chapter with my anonymity still intact.” Next he got a job as a script reader, then in marketing and development and tried writing scripts. Through it all he learned how scenes function, about talking to directors, and storytelling structure.”
Horsman was a lawyer in the UK and California and CEO of the U.S. arm of Future Films, mostly doing complex finance deals before linking up with Soros to start LAMF.
After establishing themselves, LAMF’s focus became, as Horsman said, “fishing further upstream.” That meant expanding into development and working toward larger projects. They’ve broadened to Broadway, this after a successful investment in Oklahoma which won them a Tony for Best Musical Revival. They’ve got a development team including book and theater scouts, and they’ve got a successful scripted television business — two of them are a TV adaptation of LAMF’s film Juliet, Naked, and Stapleton & Montgomery. Latter are the two most popular characters in the novels of Coma author Robin Cook, pathologists who team to unravel medical crimes and conspiracies. Paul Redford (Designated Survivor, Suits and The West Wing) is writing the pilot and LAMF is exec producing with him.
There is an unscripted division, Invent TV, with six shows on the air, and a documentary division that is readying I Am Ronaldinho – about the rise of the Brazilian soccer icon who for two seasons was the world’s top player, with Andrew and Stuart Douglas directing what is a particular passionate project for Brit Horsman, a big fan of the pitch. “It is close to my heart, and looks at this iconic athlete, who for two seasons greatest soccer player on the planet for Brazil. His style was infectious and when he played he seemed like the happiest man in the world,” Horsman said. “The film covers his rise from the favela to the pitch, and also asks why did his peak only last two seasons while the dominance of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo has lasted 13 or 14 seasons.” LAMF is producing with Bernie Goldmann.
Another priority sports docu is Showtime, a five-part docuseries focusing on the Showtime era of the Los Angeles Lakers, with LAMF fully financing and producing with the Lakers Organization, the Buss family, and Haven Entertainment.
LAMF also last year started Beyond Athlete Management, a full-service sports agency with a focus on NBA and NFL athletes including Eagles star Miles Sanders, Golden State Warriors star Glenn Robinson III, and standout Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton.
While multi-tasking with a broader business, Soros and Horsman remain particularly keen in growing their film business, making prestige films of value, while mitigating risk as much as possible, they said.
Foster is repped by CAA, Famuyiwa by WME and manager David Lonner. LAMF is putting together the Ronaldinho film and Lakers docuseries with Endeavor Content, and the Mona Lisa and Rob Peace films with CAA Media Finance.