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The past few weeks have been particularly busy ones for Scott Budnick, the 36-year-old executive producer of the hilarious, cringe-inducing, and incredibly lucrative Hangover film franchise. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is opening weekend for The Hangover Part III, starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms. It is almost certain to kick ass at the box office—so least so long as they didn’t let Mike Tyson sing again.
Yet even as Budnick prepared for his big premiere, the ink was still drying on the incorporation papers of his other major launch this month. Unlike the comedies he produces—Starsky & Hutch, Project X and Due Date are also among his babies—the Anti-Recidivism Coalition is serious business. It’s a nonprofit whose task is neither glamorous nor lucrative, and whose payoff will be measured not in ticket sales and licensing deals, but in bills passed, lives saved, futures salvaged, and families reunited.
ARC is just the latest of Budnick’s efforts to ensure a second chance for young California prisoners who have shown the will and the desire to make something of their lives. It’s partly a support network for high-achieving former prisoners—many of whom have Budnick to thank for the education they managed to get behind bars. But it’s also an advocacy group that uses the kids’ turnaround stories to convince jaded state legislators that rehabilitation is possible, if only they would enable it. His kids have already managed to restore $1.8 million in state cuts to prison college programs. In recent weeks, they have been rallying behind SB 260, a bill that guarantees a sentencing review after 10 years for prisoners who committed their crimes as minors. If they have taken serious steps toward rehabilitation, the judge could reconsider their sentence.
“I was very skeptical when I first met him,” recalls Julio Marcial, who oversees violence-prevention programs for the California Wellness Foundation, one of Budnick’s primary funders. That introduction took place at the Sylmar branch of LA County’s juvenile hall, circa 2003. Budnick was volunteering at the time (and still does) with InsideOUT Writers, a Hollywood nonprofit that brings journalists and creative types into juvie to help incarcerated kids find positive ways to express themselves. “I’ve seen Hollywood folks come and go. I’ve seen people do this to make themselves feel better,” Marcial says. “But when I asked the kids why this program was so important to them, they said Scott was the consistent adult in their lives. He became a father-like figure to them.”
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