With news this week that a biopic about the late Boy Band mogul Lou Pearlman is in early development stages, it reminded me of the early days when I was brought aboard to act as production legal counsel for a 2001 motion picture he produced.
An extravagant showman in the tradition of P.T. Barnum, Lou was in every way a larger than life figure. A complex, driven man who managed the careers of the most successful boy bands of the Nineties—including *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys – Lou recently passed away in prison while serving a 25-year sentence for orchestrating one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history, swindling investors out of a half-billion dollars.
In 1999, I received a call from an entertainment lawyer colleague who told me that entertainment counsel was needed for a motion picture, Longshot, written and produced by Lou at the height of his career. Among the cast members were Paul Sorvino and Hunter Tylo, with cameos by Britney Spears, *NSYNC and Lil’ Kim, among others. I agreed to be production legal counsel for the film.
I had never met him before then and I became aware of what an interesting character Lou was, because although the budget for the film was hefty – an extravagant sum for an indie film at that time – clearly, none of the rules of conventional film making applied. The legend goes, one of the film’s producers reported that when she visited Lou’s complex of offices in Florida, and walked through doors marked “Trans Continental Airlines,” she discovered only an empty room.
The movie premiered in Orlando on New Years Eve in 1999. Lou took over Planet Hollywood and he flew everyone in for the premiere, including me. He had several floors of a hotel, and threw a lavish catered party. I was thinking, “What’s going on here?” It was clearly a set up to impress his investors.
In person, he was a jolly guy. But as jovial and loving as he seemed, there was something sinister, a distance. You could never get a pulse on him, or feel like you were talking to the real guy.
He was an impresario who could put it all together. Lou was a master of buttering people up and knew how to say the right thing to the right person at the right time. He was an extremely bright, intelligent man; an ideation guy who used his creativity for good in creating these successful groups. But he fell to the dark side. The number one lesson has been told time and time again: Greed seduced him. And he used his intelligence and creativity to hurt people and to steal.
But his influence on popular culture was undeniable. As *NSYNC member Lance Bass noted, “He may not have been a standup business man, but I wouldn’t be doing what I love today without his influence.” Echoed Justin Timberlake, “I hope he found some peace. God bless and RIP Lou Pearlman.”