Interview with Andrew Lauren, an exclusive reprint from the archives of Manner of Man Magazine


Interview with Andrew Lauren

Image courtesy of Ralph Lauren and photographer, Arnaldo Anaya.


This exclusive interview with Producer, Financier and Chairman of Andrew Lauren Productions Andrew Lauren was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in NYC during may 2018.


How did your interest in film develop?

I grew up in a family consumed by movies. My father was very good friends at the time with Steve Ross, the CEO of Warner Brothers. Every weekend, Steve would send us films from the Warners library. This was before the advent of VHS and DVDs, so the films were delivered in reels in a box. I was the designated projectionist, projecting movies like CASABLANCA, THE SEARCHERS, STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE across our dark living room. There was something truly magical about the intimate experience of discovering all these incredible films with my family at such a young age.


You were acting but moved into behind the camera roles, what was that decision based on?

When I graduated college I was unclear with what career path to pursue. I was interested in politics, but found the idea of working in city and state government grueling and unappealing.  A few film directors encouraged me to take up acting. They thought I had the right ingredients to make it in the business, and at their suggestion, I started taking acting classes. Through family connections I managed to briefly work for Joel Schumacher on THE LOST BOYS and then was cast in minor parts in Woody Allen’s SWEET AND LOWDOWN and Richard Donner’s CONSPIRACY THEORY. Richard Donner, a true gentleman, called me to say that he thought I was a good actor, but that he had to cut me out of the film for timing’s sake.

I found a manager to represent me and went to LA to find an agent. I managed to get a meeting at CAA.  I was in a room with 5 agents when Mike Ovitz, the then head of the agency, walked in. He shook my hand and then began with “why do you want to be an actor?

Do you know how many of my top clients call me every week worrying about their next job, or how they scream at me because they lost out on a role to their competition. It’s all about rejection. This is not the life for you.” He continued with the fact that I was lucky to have the financial means to become a tastemaker; a generator of my own projects. New York, being the center for publishing, theater and business, would give me a leg up. I went on one more audition in LA. The part was for a gunslinger. I was completely prepared. I bought a toy cowboy pistol and gun belt prop to my audition. I gave it my all. I was good. At least I thought I was. The casting director stopped me as I was walking out and said “Kid, not bad. Unfortunately we’ve already cast the role, but I’ll keep you in mind”.  The role went to Leonardo DiCaprio and the film was THE QUICK AND THE DEAD.  I thought about what Ovitz said to me. I liked the idea of being in charge of my own fate. I’d be championing projects that I wholeheartedly believed in from inception to the very end. That was the moment I decided to become a producer.

I attended NYU’s School of Continued Education to take a program on producing and directing. I wanted to better understand what being a producer actually meant, so I found internships at several production companies: reading scripts, giving notes, and discussing the merits of a project. I decided to set up shop in my apartment. (PS-not a good idea when you have dozens of interns and only one bathroom.)  I started making cold calls to literary agents, introducing myself and my new venture and tried to define the type of films I wanted to make. Sensing new blood, I was immediately overrun with every bad script gathering dust in their offices.  I realized that if I just took the conventional path of waiting for a good script to come my way, I could be waiting forever. One of my producer heroes, the late David Brown, (producer of JAWS, THE STING) invited me to come to his office. I was so inspired by his story of discovering A FEW GOOD MEN at an off Broadway reading. I have a letter framed on my wall that he sent my father after our meeting. It reads “Andrew shows a knowledge of the marketplace and an ability to evaluate material. I believe he has to create his own place in the industry rather than go job hunting which at best in NY offers very little. I’m confident that he will make it in a business that takes no prisoners.”

So I started attending off Broadway shows, optioning books that I found interesting in my nightly outings to The Strand, and introducing myself to the universities (Columbia, NYU, Northwestern) that had screenwriting programs.


You have taken personal risks backing films that have out performing studio big budget productions what does that say about the state of the industry?

My entire career to date has been one big risk after another. I chose a career path away from the family business to define who I was. I didn’t want to be known as “the son of.” I was fortunate to have the financial means to independently finance my own development and production. I was the captain of my own ship. I never got a free ride in the industry. I asked for no favors.  I took the hard road.

My first film was a hip-hop take on a GREAT GATSBY kind of story. It was an idea I came up with inspired by hip-hop mavericks buying mansions in the Hamptons. Sometimes I still ask myself what was I doing, a white guy, producing an urban drama about the trials and tribulations of African-American upward mobility? When we premiered ‘G’ at the inaugural Tribeca Film Festival we received a rave review in VARIETY, but every distributor thought it was a “white film with a black cast.” They didn’t know what to do with it. This was before the Tyler Perrys of the world helped make African-American films more mainstream. I was heartbroken by the rejections I was getting until Graydon Carter, the publisher of VANITY FAIR, called me after attending one of our screenings and convinced me that I had something special on my hands and that I shouldn’t give up. With new confidence, I decided I take an unorthodox route and self distribute the movie. I would do my best to educate myself on how it could be done effectively; studying the successes and failures of other self distributed films.  I put together the best team possible, including Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a distributor, Bill Lewis from the former MGM, and a street team to go out on the streets and get the word out. We came up with a strategy to open the film in 4 markets in densely populated African-American neighborhoods, and in success, would proceed to open on 500 screens nationwide the following weekend. It was a ballsy move… dangerous.

The film was going up against new studio releases. We made a terrific commercial that played during OPRAH. At the end of that first weekend run, my little film out-performed the studio releases in every market we opened. I received a congratulatory call from all the studios and Sony Pictures, admitting they were wrong about their initial perceptions, asked if they could take over distribution and home entertainment.  I was lucky that the story ended well. There are dozens of other examples ending in disaster which could have easily happened here, save for good planning and a lot of luck.  The saying in Hollywood that no one knows anything is completely apt.  It was a good lesson for me. I got insight into how the system works beyond just movie making. Moral to the story; sometimes if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.


Clearly your interest in quality over quantity is clear. You are on record for talking little money up front to reap the benefits on the back end in a way an old Hollywood strategy few today understand.  Do you see this as a personal standing or have you seen others do the same?

I haven’t made a ton of movies over the span of my career. I’ve been extremely selective because there are not that many scripts that I read that resonate for me, and if they do resonate, the business model has to work.  I’m very suspect of anyone that pitches a film as a “home run” or “no brainer” regardless of who’s directing or what star is attached. When I get estimates from foreign sales companies, I‘m fascinated by the idea that they can attach values to a project based solely on a script and the talent attached. That whole concept is bizarre to me. I know they’re good at what they do, and foreign sales is a very important part of putting together a smart finance plan, but I take their numbers with a grain of salt and look at their lowest projections as the ones to consider. I always ask what’s the worst case scenario because the money to finance is coming out of my own pocket. I don’t have a fund, and if I did, I would still be asking the same question. I was always told to never use your own money in making movies. I am particularly cautious and have surrounded myself with experienced and trusted advisors to help inform my decisions. I will take risks, but they are calculated ones. There are no guarantees in my business. I’ve passed on plenty of projects that have succeeded and have worked on plenty of projects that failed or never saw the light of day. A lot of success in my industry is created by luck, fluke, timing and hype. What is most important for me is to collaborate with great partners whose experience and solid track records help me to learn. I’m lucky to have a great team working with me led by my producing partner, DJ Gugenheim. I’m not good at schmoozing and I’m not good with numbers. That’s not what I do. I am creative. I find it odd that actors and directors get all of the spotlight and attention when in reality it’s the creative producer who bears the brunt of the burdens and risks.

When the script for THE SPECTACULAR NOW crossed my desk it had been in turnaround at Fox Searchlight and passed on by everyone in Hollywood. The overwhelming concern was over teenagers and alcohol and the message it was sending. I thought the original book and script adaptation handled teenage issues in a very raw and honest manner. It reminded me of the movies of my generation; films like John Hughes’ SAY ANYTHING and BREAKFAST CLUB.  I very much liked the team I’d be working with including Shawn Levy, Tom McNulty, Scott Neustadter, Mike Weber and I felt that the director James Ponsoldt’s vision was on point. I decided to produce and self finance it, with the requirement that since it was my movie, I would have control and final approval over all casting and the ultimate power for a producer; final cut. We broke a lot of talent including Miles Teller, Brie Larson, Shailene Woodley and our second time director, James Ponsoldt. I made it my prerogative to be on set in balmy Athens, Georgia for the whole shoot, which came in handy later during post-production.


You clearly pay particular attention to the productions you get involved with and follow your gut instinct so in an industry obsessed with money and bottom-line numbers before production begins how do your colleagues view your approach?

I remember how excited I was in anticipation of traveling out to LA to see the screening of the director’s cut of THE SPECTACULAR NOW. I pulled out all the stops: rented a room at the Chateau Marmont, and invited my lawyer to come celebrate. When the screening ended my lawyer turned to me and said “I’m sorry my friend. You’ll get them the next time.” He was right to a degree, but I knew that the movie I watched was not the movie we shot. The editing process is a real creative challenge, but despite my disappointment, I had to believe there was a great movie to be found in there. Having the power of final cut gave us the movie that I am very proud to have made.

Every project is different and there are times when you need to step back and take a back seat to the creative process. Working with auteurs and visionaries like the legendary French director, Claire Denis on our upcoming film HIGH LIFE (starring Robert Pattinson, Juliet Binoche and Andre Benjamin) and Brady Corbet on VOX LUX (starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law), you need to give them an amount of freedom and space required to allow them to express themselves to the fullest. 

You can make a great film but in the end its’ fate lies in the hands of the distributor. In the case of SPECTACULAR NOW, I decided to take less money up front and gamble working with a newly formed distribution company, A24. They were the new kids in town. I liked their youth, energy and excitement and their interest in having my team involved every step of the way.

They had released only a few films: BLING RING and SPRING BREAKERS, being their most successful at the time, but they knew how to market movies to a younger demographic in a unique and unorthodox way. I’ve remained close with Daniel Katz and his team at A24 post our release. I am truly impressed by their successes and how they’ve stayed true to their mandate.


The studios do not produce the same quality today as independent producer productions, so this begs the question where do you see the big studios heading?

When SQUID AND THE WHALE was nominated for 3 golden globes and an academy award in 2006, that was the year that independent films dwarfed studio films at the box office and awards ceremonies. Steven Spielberg told an audience that he could have made all of the independent films combined that released that year and have money to spare on the one studio film he made. Studios don’t make movies anymore they acquire them.  They are extremely risk averse. They have parent companies they have to report to unlike in the old Hollywood days. They focus on their tent pole IP based blockbusters. They let the independents do the heavy lifting. We had a project at a studio and it was sacrificed by rewrites, casting requirements and a regime change. Would I like to make a studio film? Yes. But I find the process arduous and frustrating. Frankly, it’s more rewarding to develop and package a film independently.  Control is the name of the game.


How do the big talent agencies impact the film making process today? Or do they at all anymore?

Agencies have made it their priority to create a one stop shopping experience. If they have a client with an idea, they would rather keep it in house and package the entire project with their own clients from top to bottom. It is reminiscent of the old studio days when one was under contract with a studio and you were not a free agent to work elsewhere. I get it. It’s in the agency’s best interest and affects their bottom line. But the question is…is it in the best interest of a project overall? As a producer, keeping both the creative and financial prospects of the project in mind, I’d rather have the best person for the job.


In your opinion, what is the future of cinematic film production?    

I’m not sure what the future holds. Ultimately, it all comes down to the ability to tell a story. It doesn’t matter what format you tell it on, whether it’s on a cave wall, on a big screen, or on someone’s Ipad. The technology changes but whatever the medium, it all comes back to good storytelling.

I don’t go to the cinemas like I used to, particularly as technology improves in the home theater space. Of course home theater can’t compete with the oversized visuals and surround sound of a movie theater, and the communal interaction of sharing the experience is what makes going so special

However, I’m becoming less patient and more attuned to streaming and binge-watching series on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Story lines and production values of SVOD’s are becoming as good, if not better, than some features.  I’m reading more and more film scripts where I’m wondering whether they work better as a movie or better as an extended series for TV. I think in time, day-and-date releases will become more the norm for smaller releases, and the blockbuster spectacles will remain the bread and butter for theaters. 

My company has been exploring VR. I have friends who are completely focused on taking it to the next level. I’ve been to some amazing demonstrations. I’ve been under the sea and onto the battlefields of WW2.  Phenomenal sensory experiences, but for the moment, it’s an interactive amusement park ride. I think it will be challenging to captivate an audience for a feature narrative format.  But it’s in the infancy stage of development. It will happen. Someone will figure it out.



The above interview with Andrew Lauren 2018 © Manner of Man Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.