Di Novi Pictures Inks First-Look Film Deal With Amazon Studios

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EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios has closed a first-look feature deal with female-led production company Di Novi Pictures to develop and produce content.

Di Novi Pictures, led by producers Denise Di Novi and Margaret French Isaac, has been behind such empowering, commercially successful female-driven movies as Oscar-nominated Little Women ($216.6 million at the worldwide box office), A Walk to Remember, Crazy Stupid Love and Stepmom.

Under the pact, Amazon Studios and Di Novi Pictures will develop Tiger Mother, a gritty, female-driven action comedy spec written by Emily Dell, with Sasie Sealy (Lucky Grandma) attached to direct. Di Novi Pictures will also produce Hannah Hafey and Kaitlin Smith’s adaptation of Flynn Meaney’s YA novel Bad Habits, which Amazon Studios optioned.

Related Story Amazon Studios Inks Overall Deal with TV Scribe & Playwright Brian Otaño

“We couldn’t be more excited about working with Denise and Margaret,” said Julie Rapaport, co-head of movies at Amazon Studios. “Di Novi Pictures has a long standing track record of delivering powerful, female-driven films. Their passion and sensibility will continue to amplify diverse voices, and aligns perfectly with our vision at Amazon Studios.”

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“We are thrilled that our relationship with Amazon Studios has turned into an official one,” said Di Novi and French Isaac. “They have always understood and valued our shared goal of quality commercial entertainment that appeals to all ages and especially the power of representing an authentic movie experience for girls and women.”

Di Novi’s feature projects have grossed over $1 billion worldwide and include such movies as Batman Returns, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants franchise, the Sandra Bullock-Nicole Kidman feature Practical Magic, the Will Smith-Margot Robbie noir pic Focus, Edward Scissorhands, and the TV series The District. Sabrina Parra serves as Director of Development. Jerry Longarzo at Klevan Longarzo Vance Blumensaadt LLP negotiated on behalf of Di Novi Pictures.

Amazon Studios recently had the most watched streaming movie over Labor Day weekend with the Camila Cabello musical Cinderella which drew 1.1M U.S. households per Samba TV. That’s the second-most watched feature musical debut during the pandemic after Disney+’s Hamilton in 2020.

Amazon Prime series to begin filming in Asheville area. Here’s how you can be an extra.

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If you’ve ever dreamed of appearing in a science fiction thriller series, now is your chance.

This fall, several Western North Carolina cities will set the landscape for Amazon Prime Video’s new series, “The Peripheral.”

“The Peripheral” is an adaptation of William Gibson’s bestselling novel of the same name, published in 2015. It is the first of the “Jackpot” series. Gibson, a New York Times bestselling author, also penned “Neuromancer” and “Agency.”

Filming is slated to take place from Sept. 25 to Oct. 22, according to a casting call post on social media.

Yancey County’s Economic Development Commission welcomed Amazon Studios to the area as it begins filming the sci-fi thriller drama series.

“We are pleased at the opportunity to join our neighbors in Marshall, Weaverville, and Asheville in welcoming this major studio production project to our western North Carolina community,” Yancey EDC Executive Director Jamie McMahan stated in a press release.

Related:Marshall town board signs off on renting Blannahassett Island for web series filming

“The Peripheral” is a futuristic drama based in a small, rural mountain town where drug business thrives, poverty is evident and technology has subtly altered society. The story jumps through time and into an alternate reality leading the characters to question what’s real and what’s fantasy?

“The Peripheral” novel was adapted to screen by creator/executive producer Scott B. Smith (“A Simple Plan”). The production crew includes executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy—the creators of HBO’s “Westworld”—and their Los Angeles-based production company, Kilter Films.

The cast list leads with Chloë Grace Moretz and Jack Reynor, who portray brother and sisters “Flynne Fisher” and “Burton.” The supporting cast includes Eli Goree, Gary Carr, Charlotte Riley, JJ Feild, Adelind Horan, T’Nia Miller, Alex Hernandez, Louis Herthum, Chris Coy, Melinda Page Hamilton, Katie Leung and Austin Rising, according to Deadline.

The eight-episode first season is scheduled to premiere on Amazon Prime Video in 2022.

The production is expected to make a positive impact on the region’s economy. The cast and crew will spend money on housing and will have a per diem to spend in the area, said location manager Bass Hampton in an interview with Madison County’s News-Record & Sentinel.

McMahan and the Yancey EDC also predict an economic boost from hosting the production team this fall.

“The Yancey County Economic Development Commission is dedicated to promoting economic investment in our community across all sectors,” said McMahan. “This opportunity to join our colleagues in neighboring counties to host a premiere film production project broadens the diversity of our economic development opportunities into new industry sectors, will result in the direct economic impact of dollars spent in our community, and will advance the tourism and visitor economy of Yancey County which has seen explosive year over year growth in recent years. Yancey EDC and our partner local governments look forward to hosting this project and extend a warm welcome to ‘The Peripheral’ and its creative and production team, cast and crew.”

Call for Extras

“The Peripheral” is seeking residents to serve as background actors in the series.

Also, automobile owners are requested to loan their vehicles ranging from the 1970s to modern-day, as well as old trucks.

The casting call for extras was posted on the NC Extras Casting group page on Facebook.

Individuals are needed to portray residents of a small mountain town. The features are described as “classic Americana” and “character faces of the Appalachian area.” Other casting opportunities may be posted soon.

To submit for extra acting roles, send an email to ashevilleextras@gmail.com with a heading stating one’s age, ethnicity, race, and city/state of residence. Include in the body of the email two current cellphone photos (close-up and full-length), name, phone number, age, city/state residing, height/weight, clothing and shoe sizes, and describe any visible tattoos and piercings. Also, provide the color, make, model, and year of the owned vehicle(s).

The selected extras will be required to take a COVID-19 test pre-filming, provided by the production.

The empty dream that LuLaRoe sold

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If you’ve never heard of LuLaRoe, the multilevel marketing company best known for its stretchy, often garishly patterned clothing and multiple ongoing lawsuits, then you’re probably not on Facebook. Still, the bold mission statement that appears on its homepage pretty much says it all.

“We believe everyone is beautiful, unique, and powerful; and that through these attributes, one can live with purpose and gratitude,” it reads, underneath a picture of seven smiling, 30-something-ish women dressed in clothing far more muted in tone than some of the company’s most infamous offerings. “These beliefs are why LuLaRoe was created; they bind us together like threads, sewing us into a community of lasting love and fellowship.”

Empowerment. Gratitude. Purpose. Sisterhood. More than leggings or stretchy dresses, LuLaRoe sells a vision of femininity, independence, friendship, and a happier life, in language that verges on the religious. Like other multilevel marketing companies (MLMs), LuLaRoe earns its revenue by selling its stock to individuals, who in turn sell it to others. Those individual sellers earn money through sales and by signing up more sellers “beneath” them in a “downline,” a percentage of whose sales they receive as well.

Like many MLMs, LuLaRoe touts unlimited opportunity. But that has a shadow side: If the opportunity to earn money through their company has no limit, then any barriers you hit must be your own fault.

What LuLaRoe is selling, however, is more than just financial opportunity — it’s a whole image. And so this shadow side applies to more than just earning potential. LuLaRich, the new four-part documentary about the company’s rise and unraveling, digs into that darker dynamic and what it reveals about a certain sort of American feminine ideal.

Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, LuLaRich looks and feels similar to their 2019 film Fyre Fraud, along with other movies about famously scammy enterprises, such as this year’s WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn and the 2019 Theranos documentary The Inventor. After a brief, eye-popping montage that sets up the story (in this case, involving women talking about stinky leggings and clips of creepy talks at conferences), things start off on a high note, mixing footage from brightly lit interviews with LuLaRoe founders DeAnne and Mark Stidham, former LuLaRoe retailers, and reporters who’ve written about the company with peppy archival clips from its marketing and communications.

The picture that’s painted, at first, is one of American innovation and success. DeAnne, the 10th of 11 children born to Mormon parents (with the improbable last name Startup) who campaigned against the equal rights amendment, tells her tale. She started LuLaRoe in 2012 as a single mom who made a maxi skirt for her daughter, and grew the company to enormous heights with the help of her husband, Mark. At its 2016 apex, LuLaRoe reported nearly $2 billion in sales and counted nearly 80,000 people, mostly women, among its “independent retailers.”

In the beginning, it cost $5,000 to join LuLaRoe, and though the price has dropped (the current buy-in is $499), tens of thousands of people invested many thousands to start as sellers. LuLaRoe doesn’t sell directly to consumers; instead, after sending in their money, new sellers receive an initial shipment of clothing (ranging from dresses and tops to the famous “buttery soft” leggings), then sell them to friends, family, acquaintances, and, in the case of LuLaRoe, Facebook followers via Facebook Live “parties.” If you sign up sellers (the “downline”), then you receive a cut of their earnings. Some early sellers found themselves earning tens of thousands of dollars monthly as they grew their downline.

By the second episode, the exploitative nature of the business model becomes clear, powered by the rise of social media. Those who joined the company early made a lot of money, but the potential to earn diminished for later adopters. Potential LuLaRoe retailers were told they shouldn’t go into debt to join the company, for instance, but several people interviewed in the series cite advice to sell breast milk to NICUs so they can afford to increase their inventory of LuLaRoe’s products.

The Stidhams’ interview footage — it’s shocking, to be honest, that they agreed to be in the series at all — is juxtaposed with clips that cast doubt on the rosy story they’re telling the filmmakers. Those clips include selections from their copious video addresses to LuLaRoe’s sellers, as well as deposition footage from the state of Washington’s 2019 pyramid scheme lawsuit against the company. (In February 2021, LuLaRoe settled that lawsuit for $4.75 million.)

The third episode delves into some of the creepiest aspects of the company, from its founders’ pressure on its top sellers to undergo drastic weight loss surgery to the company’s cult-like leanings. Attendees at LuLaRoe conventions and cruises, where Mark Stidham would quote the Book of Mormon and compare himself to the Latter-Day Saints founder Joseph Smith, were exhorted to “retire their husband” (that is, make enough money to let their husbands quit their jobs), but with an underlying assumption that, as one woman puts it, women would “be empowered at first, and then the husband was supposed to take over and the roles were supposed to be changed.”

The goal, ultimately, was to have a family business modeled on a particular vision of the family, with a man in charge and a woman helping him. Some interviewees note the celebrity worship of the Stidhams and the eerie sameness of the LuLaRoe sellers — everyone dressed alike, with softly curled blonde hair, and “all obsessed with the [clothing] prints,” as one woman puts it.

Then there was the deluge of moldy, defective inventory that sellers began receiving, sometimes with huge holes or bizarre prints (which could make it look like the wearer had an erection or emphasized genitalia). When sellers complained to the company, they found themselves with little recourse; instead, the Stidhams and other leadership more or less gaslit them about “escaping the victim mindset.” Encouraged to quit “whining,” via video and conference talks, the sellers were told over and over that everything was fine and that they were only hampered by their willing submission to the “drama triangle.”

The final episode chronicles the fallout — a mass exodus of disgruntled sellers and a cascade of lawsuits. But it didn’t lead to a complete collapse. LuLaRoe still very much exists, albeit with updated guidelines and restrictions that are supposed to keep the company out of legal hot water.

Its base has shrunk drastically, however, and all but one of the former independent retailers interviewed in the film have since left the company. Tearfully, they each explain that while they made money with LuLaRoe in the beginning, many found themselves thousands of dollars in debt, with broken marriages and families. “Working for LuLaRoe absolutely destroyed my life,” one woman says.

She means more than just her finances, though of course that’s a big part of it as well. She really means her life. It wasn’t just that LuLaRoe preached wealth; it pitched to potential distributors a very specific ideal of beauty and domesticity — a big and peaceful home, a wealthy and happy husband, nice vacations, a certain kind of personal appearance deeply tied to a particular vision of the stay-at-home mom (who represents an “underutilized resource,” according to Mark Stidham). To put it more bluntly: It’s “a white girl business,” says one former LuLaRoe employee-turned-seller, who is Black.

LuLaRoe’s entire sales pitch to women was that they could be successful stay-at-home moms with the world by the tail, girlbosses but with a conservative twist. If they joined the company (which is to say, if they paid LuLaRoe for merchandise), then the assumption was that they’d bought into that vision.

So if they failed at that vision — failed to earn enough, hit a rough patch in their marriage, didn’t have the right house or hairstyle or body shape — then it was a personal weakness. It was a reflection of bad character. In the LuLaRoe universe, that weakness meant you were adopting a “victim mentality,” refusing to take responsibility for your decisions. If you weren’t thriving, the only answer was that you were making excuses.

It wasn’t the business model or pay structure or product that was wrong. It was you.

That’s common language for multilevel marketing companies, which rely on guilting underlings into selling more in order to benefit those higher up the chain. But it’s also what makes LuLaRoe’s gaslighting of its sellers — which the Stidham interviews reveal is still, to an extent, ongoing — especially galling. Women pulled smelly or defective inventory from boxes and, when they complained or tried to exchange it, were told the problem was theirs. The company was, in essence, banking on its sellers — whom it constantly told how empowered they were — being unable to accept the truth in front of their faces.

LuLaRich points out that the angry sellers instead used the same platforms that they’d used to sell products (Facebook groups, in particular) to band together and confirm that no, they weren’t crazy; the inventory really was messed up, and the company really was lying to them. They were able to fight back because the same networks of friendship and “sisterhood” that the company sold as unique to LuLaRoe could also be used to revolt.

What the sellers still lost was incredible — time, money, friendships, and, for some, their entire sense of independence and selfhood. That’s what LuLaRich so keenly illustrates: In the game of MLMs, it’s still the ones at the top who win. The Stidhams are still living a comfortable, even extravagant lifestyle; some of their closest former “business associates” are left holding the bag. It’s not beauty, power, uniqueness, gratitude, and purpose they’re selling. Instead, they’ve preyed on the insecurities, uncertainties, and disadvantages of the women they target.

Mixing go-girl empowerment with rank misogyny is hardly new. LuLaRoe wasn’t the first to do it, and will hardly be the last. But as LuLaRich shows, the identity LuLaRoe sold to its closest devotees was an empty dream — wrapped in garishly patterned fabric, stretchy, comfy, and always buttery-soft.

All four episodes of LuLaRich premiere on Amazon Prime on September 10.