The name of her company says it all: Made Up Stories. And producer Bruna Papandrea is good at finding them and turning them into huge hits. Take the one that she is most likely best known for, Big Little Lies. She has an executive producer credit on the Golden Globe-winning series, but also knew that she wanted to strike out on her own. Made Up Stories is “the company I was always meant to start”, she says. She founded it three years ago, after the success of the first season of Big Little Lies, which she produced with Reese Witherspoon, with whom she also co-founded the production outfit Pacific Standard, responsible for such critically acclaimed features as Gone Girl and Wild. But success does not come overnight, least of all for a producer, and she certainly paid her dues.
Papandrea, a native of Adelaide, Australia, dropped out of two of the best universities in her birth country: “I thought I wanted to be a writer and an actor. I worked as a barista and waitress while I was doing this.” She did get some acting jobs in theater companies but soon discovered that doing workshops and developing plays, the behind-the-scenes work, was more her calling. She moved to New York to broaden her scope and calls getting an unpaid job on an independent movie her “big break” and with good reason: “I worked for free and did every job I could on the movie and ended up with my first co-producer credit.” She segued to producing commercials saving to produce a short film with a director friend. This led to her first feature producing gig in 2000 on Better Than Sex, that got a screening at the Toronto Film Festival. She met Anthony Minghella at TIFF and “six weeks later I was living in London working with him and the great Sydney Pollack.” She learned a lot from them, soaked up their wisdoms over the next six years.
After making a name for herself in Hollywood on projects like Smart People, Wedding Daze, Hot Pursuit and the aforementioned Big Little Lies, she decided to not only “put more women in the center of stories, but also put more women behind the camera. Not just directors, but female novelists, creators, and storytellers”, she explains. Papandrea made the mystery thriller series Tell Me Your Secrets, and Queen America, a dark comedy with Catherine Zeta-Jones. She reunited with her old friend Nicole Kidman for The Undoing, but also partnered with Kidman on Nine Perfect Strangers, the latest book from Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty, that they optioned together. It is in pre-production. In addition, Papandrea entered into a partnership with Agatha Christie Ltd. for a new series, that is inspired by the mystery novels and the 20 short stories Christie wrote between 1927 and the early 1970s with her Miss Marple character as the amateur crime solver.
The Aussie is also behind Anatomy of a Scandal, the story of sexual consent within the British elite and the women affected by it, starring Sienna Miller, Rupert Friend and Michelle Dockery, which is in the last stages of filming, while Penguin Bloom based on the Cameron Bloom book will come out in January. Naomi Watts, Jacki Weaver and Andrew Lincoln are the lead actors. The crime thriller The Dry is in post-production, and Pieces of Her, an 8-parter with Toni Collette will be released next year.
And if your head is not spinning yet, she also optioned Christina Baker Kline’s novel The Exiles in July and will turn that into a TV series. And then there is Tinker Bell, with Reese Witherspoon attached and an adaptation of Ali Benjamin’s novel The Thing About Jellyfish, that will star Millie Bobby Brown, as well as Luckiest Girl Alive based on the novel by Jessica Knoll about a New Yorker whose life unravels when she is faced with a trauma.
All of them, stories by women, made by women, but not just for women. Yet, when it comes to the behind-the-scenes jobs, Bruna Papandrea, who not surprisingly also serves as an ambassador for Reframe, the Women in Film/Sundance Institute initiative to further gender parity in the media business – is certainly putting her money where her mouth is.