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Scott Budnick’s path to purpose began in the unlikeliest of places: the freezing cold set of a movie in his native Atlanta as a lowly extra, playing a Civil War prisoner in the mud, getting pelted by rain machines, watching director John Frankenheimer on a crane and thinking ‘I’m not going anywhere’. Leaving behind a pre-med career to embark on a career in TV and film, he worked his way up the ladder in Hollywood one step at a time. “I was down to eating ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese and I get a call from Todd Phillips to be his assistant on ‘Roadtrip”. Budnick went on to run Phillips’ company, and produce ‘Old School’, which in turn led to enormous success as a producer on ‘The Hangover’ trilogy, which grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide.
But something was restless inside of him. “It’s very easy to become trapped in the bubble that is Hollywood, nice meals, and clubs, and partying with celebrities. I started to ask myself: ‘Am I really happy? Am I really serving the purpose I’m intended to serve?”
Just as the bubble was starting to close in, another producer invited him to Sylmar Juvenile Hall to teach a class. “I walked in intimidated. It was a creative writing class, but I was the one who ended up getting schooled. I met this wiry kid with a mohawk named David and I asked him ‘how’s your week?’ He said, ‘Not too great – I just got sentenced to 300 years to life in prison.’ He went on to explain that he was standing next to a guy who shot someone in the rear end (and who was in and out of hospital in one hour), and just for standing next to someone he got sentenced to 300 years to life.” The sheer injustice hit Budnick like a ton of bricks. “I made a commitment to him. And once I made that promise, it was over. There’s nothing on earth that tugs on my heartstrings more than kids being hurt. Who the hell are we, to judge someone so harshly on something they did as a 15-year-old child? That is saying that you have no ability to change and grow, and I call bullsh**.”
This moment led Budnick to quit the film industry and start the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), where for the next five years he lobbied lawmakers for legislation that would help the incarcerated and support them with jobs and opportunity when they got out. Over time, he realized that something even more powerful could be created if he married his passion for social justice with his talents as a storyteller. “I had the insight that shows like ‘Will and Grace,’ ‘Ellen’, and ‘Glee’ heavily advanced the cause of LGBTQ+ rights. I realized that entertainment and culture are some of the most powerful tools in advancing social impact,” said Budnick. That led him to return to Hollywood and raise $50 million to establish One Community, a film, TV, and new media company that focuses on creating content that effects positive social change.
William Morris Endeavor was the lead investor, via their Endeavor Content arm, with an 8-figure investment, and the rest of Budnick’s investors are a who’s who of powerhouse names: Michael and Jolene Rapino of Live Nation, Variety owner Dan Loeb, Bitcoin billionaire Mike Novogratz, Wes Edens, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, Michael Rubin of Kynetic (co-owner of the Philadelphia 76-ers), Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Capital, Chris and Crystal Sacca of LowerCase Capital, and Kimberly Steward’s K Period Media. Budnick is now well on his way to raising a further $100 million of capital for future projects.
Walking into the airy open offices of One Community in Downtown LA, what strikes you is the friendliness, diversity, and professionalism of the team there. A large portion of the staff are formerly incarcerated young people and are testimony that Budnick, and Sam Lewis, who took over leadership of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (which is housed in the same offices) not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. Budnick’s One Community team is also unique in Hollywood in that it is hyperdiverse: providing it with a breadth and richness of experience that allows it to identify opportunities that others may miss. Members of the team include Chief Impact officer Sonya Lockett, Creative Vice President Adriana Ambriz, Vice President of Impact Ashley Baia and Creative Executive Misha Schwarz.
The first projects announced were an adaptation of the Bryan Stevenson memoir ‘Just Mercy’ featuring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson, and an as-yet-untitled project featuring Margot Robbie, about the incarcerated women in California correctional facilities who fight fires for just one dollar a day–and who are not allowed to become firefighters after they are released. Budnick’s lobbying skills returned in full force when he met with California Governor Jerry Brown and convinced him to not only change the legislation regarding these heroic women but to also set aside $26 million dollars in the state budget to train them.
His activism has also led to him helping people like Kim Kardashian-West and her husband Kanye West to take their first steps in learning more about the issue of mass incarceration. Budnick is tight-lipped on future projects but it looks like other major A-listers from the worlds of film, TV, and stage are interested in partnering on more stories that could change the world. One Community is also interested in partnering with like-minded brands who are interested in collaborating and supporting the films and their social justice campaigns.
Whether it’s working with individuals (Budnick still teaches that same creative writing class every Saturday morning at Sylmar Juvenile Hall) or audiences at scale via the films that One Community makes, it’s clear that the passion and drive he has for using the power of storytelling to help solve injustice in the world shines bright and is much needed in these divisive times.
July 1, 2019 at 05:45PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs