A conversation with Simon Horsman, producer of Elizabeth Moss’ new film, Shirley

British film producer and media lawyer, Simon Horsman is Co-CEO of Los Angeles Media Fund (LAMF), a production and financing entertainment company. As an attorney, qualified in both California and the U.K., Horsman has represented some of the world’s largest technology and new media firms. In 2014, Horsman and veteran producer, Jeffrey Soros founded LAMF, and have since produced many feature films, television shows, and documentaries. Some of their projects include, Juliet, Naked (Lionsgate/Roadside), Step Sisters (Netflix), an Emmy-nominated basketball documentary, Shot in the Dark and the Emmy nominated United Skates (HBO), which also won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. LAMF’s latest feature film, Shirley, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, along with the documentary, Some Kind of Heaven and feature film, Summertime, directed by Carlos López Estrada.

Shirley follows the life of renowned American horror and mystery author, Shirley Jackson during the early 1950’s. The film stars Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman.

I sat down with Horsman to discuss Shirley, and learn more about his future projects.

How does a lawyer from the UK become a Hollywood producer?
I first qualified as an attorney in California, and practiced in the media and technology sector in Los Angeles for many years. At some point, I wanted to broaden my horizons, and having advised many clients – film producers, financiers, distributors, etc., I had the desire to be on the business side of things as a producer.

Where did your inspiration come from to make a film about Shirley Jackson?
The script always comes first. At LAMF, we have a creative team that reviews anywhere between 30 to 50 scripts per month. Out of a minimum of let’s say 350 scripts a year, we produce 3 or 4 films a year, and we option a few more for development. So, we end up getting involved with under 3% of the projects we review in any given year. Shirley, which was written by Sarah Gubbins, based on a novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, was one of those scripts that just stood out for its richness and complexity. The script reminded me of the Edward Albee’s play,Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, which was adapted into a film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Elisabeth Moss described Shirley as the best script she has ever read.

Once we have agreed on a project based on a script, we look to the other creative elements, and in this instance, we were very intrigued by the prospect of working with the amazing, Josephine Decker, who was already on board before we came on to the project. Josephine had previously written and directed Madeline’s Madeline, which was amazing and received rave reviews.

How did you come to decide on Elizabeth Moss as the lead role?
Elisabeth is a remarkable actress and there was literally no better person for the part. We were so fortunate to get her. She already had a relationship with one of the producers, and as I mentioned, she loved the script and wanted to work with our director, Josephine Decker. Among Moss’ many gifts as an actress is her versatility, and the Shirley Jackson character in the script needed someone capable of capturing a very complex and eccentric character. Her performance is amazing and it’s so fulfilling to see her work alongside Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Shirley’s husband, Stanley Hyman. Two actors at the very top of their game.

What were the challenges in making Shirley?
There are a myriad of challenges in producing any film, as there are so many moving parts; to be honest, so many things that can go wrong. First, the financing needs to come together, which in this case, LAMF provided. Then the cast needs to come together, and our producing partners, Christine Vachon and David Hinojosa of Killer Films, were very helpful here in closing deals. Then you just hope the production itself runs smoothly. Time can be a very precious commodity in shooting a film, as any director will tell you. A delay in shooting can impact the schedule, which puts pressure on the whole creative process. There was a lot of rain when we shot Shirley (in upstate New York), but thankfully in this instance, a lot of the film takes place in the house of our lead characters. Otherwise, I am happy to say we had a truly wonderful team both in front and behind the camera, and there were no major issues in making the film.  

What projects is LAMF currently working on?
We are currently in production on two sports documentaries. As a lot of the work is done on these films in the edit room, we have been able to work on these films through COVID. One is a feature documentary on the iconic soccer player, Ronaldinho. The other is a docu-series on the history of the Los Angeles Lakers with the Lakers as our partner. We are also close to going into pre-production on a film based on The New York Times bestselling book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs. Chiwetel Ejiofor has adapted the book to a screenplay and will direct and star in the film. Antoine Fuqua is a producing partner. We have also teamed-up with Jodie Foster in the development of a scripted television series based on the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911. Jodie Foster will direct and executive produce the series. And then we are in development of many other scripted and unscripted projects.              

Sabrina Joshi
Hollywood Correspondent