When readers and audiences hear Hello Sunshine has acquired a best-selling book, it’s likely the production company’s president of film and TV, Lauren Neustadter, has spearheaded the deal.
Before joining Reese Witherspoon’s production company in 2017, Neustadter spent over a decade working in film as an executive at such companies as Miramax and 20th Century Fox, eventually transitioning to TV and serving as a Fox network exec. Once she landed at Hello Sunshine — and before she developed a slew of book-inspired series, including “Big Little Lies,” “Little Fires Everywhere” and “Truth Be Told” — she had an early book-to-screen adaptation, “Americanized,” that made it to the final stages of thenetwork development pilot cycle.
Iranian immigrant Sara Saedi’s memoir of the same name aligned with Hello Sunshine’s mission to depict a series centered around women’s unique experiences. In October 2018, it was announced that Hello Sunshine was going to adapt “Americanized” as a half-hour comedy with ABC Studios. What motivated
Neustadter to acquire “Americanized” was its ability to provoke social commentary, while also serving as a show that “parents and kids could watch together.” “Americanized” allowed Hello Sunshine — which carefully curates women-centric projects — to fill that space.
Saedi’s memoir-turned-pilot resembled “The Wonder Years,” but was set during the author’s childhood during the 1990s.
“It really centered around an Iranian teenage girl who was in America, living near Silicon Valley. This character, Leila, clearly inspired by Sara, did not know that her family was in the country illegally. In the course of the pilot, hijinks ensue, and she realizes that they’re undocumented,” says Neustadter. “I
just thought it was such a wonderful, beautiful show that balanced something that felt really substantial, with a tone that felt really accessible and entertaining.”
Since the story was the author’s lived experience, it was filled with emotion and humor, Neustadter explains.
“I think there was a real buoyancy and humanity about it. She found the laughs, [even though] she didn’t know that they were undocumented,” she says. “I thought that the themes of it, like it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what matters is who you are, who you love and wherever your family is, that’s home. The truth is, Sara loved being American and it was a journey toward becoming a citizen. But it was really sort of the truth of that moment.”
Developing Saedi’s very personal story was no simple feat, but Neustadter says, “Everything really starts with the relationship with the author. We always talk about honoring the book, and that the first and most important thing is we honor the book,” she says. “It’s always sensitive when you’re working with someone who’s adapting something that they wrote, and even more so when it’s somebody adapting something that they wrote that’s so personal.”
Neustadter respects an author’s work and recognizes the intimate connection between a writer and reader — traits that have allowed her to develop a steady flow of book-to-screen adaptations within the past year, recently releasing four adapted series: “Daisy Jones and the Six,” “The Last Thing He Told Me,” “Tiny Beautiful Things” and “From Scratch.”
The Hello Sunshine exec is hopeful that the “Americanized” pilot will one day join her long list of produced adaptations. “I hope that someday it’ll come back around — never say never,” she says. “The great thing about these stories is that once they’re written down there’s always a possibility of them being told.”
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