this film to be this successful at the box office. It’s one of those films that connected. The concept was timely and it was done in a way that’s easily relatable and comprehensible. Don’t even get me started trying to pretend like I know why.”
Lassiter breaks in with, “people are really feeling the movie. They come back and say ‘I love that movie.’ It’s gratifying. What we didn’t expect is for younger kids to see it. And parents are taking their kids to see it. [Our market analysis showed] that kids really wouldn’t want to see the movie.”
It’s easy to see how the two have built a multimillion-dollar enterprise — with Smith as the flagship brand. They practically finish each other’s sentences and refer to each other as business partners. Smith readily admits he wouldn’t be where he is today without Lassiter. “J.L. does everything,” he says. “My sensibilities are dead center and James’ sensibilities are much more outside the box. He’s looking to break the mold whereas I’m looking to maximize it. So our sensibilities blend into this beautiful, just slightly left of center [team]. I don’t choose my movies, so essentially J.L. goes through 50 scripts in the course of a year and says, ‘These are the three that are the best. What do you feel?’ Then we talk through my career strategy. But for the most part he does the heavy lifting.”
Lassiter has done a stellar job mapping out Smith’s career, starting with the popular sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Today, Smith reportedly earns up to $20 million per film.
The business partners met while Smith was attending Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School in 1985. At the time, Lassiter, an Overbrook alumnus, was a sophomore at Temple University. Although they grew up in the same neighborhood, it took a mutual friend, Jeff “DJ Jazzy Jeff” Townes, to introduce them at a rap audition. A long series of jobs with Smith and Townes led to Lassiter becoming their manager.
Both men learned valuable business lessons the hard way. Smith was nearly bankrupt in 1990 after blowing through all his money from a successful music career, including the Grammy Award-winning singles, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime.” He recovered by agreeing to star in The Fresh Prince. Lassiter and Smith later fumbled a movie deal with Universal Studios after launching Overbrook in 1998. “We were learning how to produce movies,” says Smith. “Unfortunately, our learning time was on Universal’s dime.”
Today, the duo has a first-look agreement with Sony in which the film studio can bid on material Overbrook develops or acquires.
Their production company is currently working on at least four films for release under this arrangement: Time Share (2008), Tonight, He Comes (2008), Sisters of Mercy (2008), and Lakeview Terrace (2007) with Samuel L. Jackson. “We plan to do at least one Will film and one non-Will film per year,” says Lassiter. “Our short-term goal is every year to make [Overbrook] grow. We have several movies in development.”
The pair also has