Sanders grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida and was a 1975 graduate of Gibbs High School in Pinellas County, Florida, which at the time was undergoing court-ordered desegregation, and to which he was bused. He was Class President at Gibbs. He is a 1979 graduate of the University of Florida. During college he worked as an intern in the advertising department of the St. Petersburg Times.
Sanders began his career at Radio City Music Hall in New York, producing artists including Liberace, Sting, Diana Ross, and The Grateful Dead. He was Executive Producer there for 15 years and has been credited with reversing the venue’s steady decline after its near-bankruptcy in 1978. Sanders brought in rock concerts and popular cultural events including the Super Bowl halftime show and galas for President Bill Clinton.
Sanders co-founded and became president of Mandalay Television, and executive produced six network series, including include Young Americans, starring Kate Bosworth, Ian Somerhalder, Katherine Moenning, and Michelle Monaghan; Cupid, Mercy Point, Rude Awakening, Rick Reynolds: Only the Truth is Funny, and Penn & Teller: Don’t Try This at Home. His production company Creative Battery was responsible for solo Broadway shows by Elaine Stritch and the Barry Humphries character Dame Edna. Sanders also was Executive Producer for Queen Latifah’s jazz album, The Dana Owens Album, which received a 2005 Grammy Award nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album
In 2007 he founded Scott Sanders Productions, a film and theatrical production company based in New York City.
In 2010 Sanders produced the theatrical production of The Pee-wee Herman Show starring Paul Reubens, first in Los Angeles and then in New York. Sanders is a lead producer on the first revival production of Evita based on the life of Argentine first lady Eva Peron, staged in 2012, and starring Ricky Martin and Elena Roger. Sanders and Ahmet Zappa co-produced a film written and directed by Peter Hedges, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, released by Walt Disney Pictures on August 15, 2012.
In August 2012 Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sanders agreed to mount stage productions of Sony films and announced that Tootsie, the 1982 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman, would be the first project.
In September 2016, Sanders was named creative head of global entertainment for Westfield Corporation, which confirmed its acquisition of Scott Sanders Productions.
Sanders had read Walker's book and wanted to produce it as a musical. The project took over eight years to realize, partly due to the reluctance of Pulitzer Prize-winner Walker to give permission for the adaptation of her novel. Walker was eventually won over by Sanders, and gave her permission and support. Sanders thought that it had similarities to Fiddler on the Roof – "a community of people that the audience would follow over time," and told her so.
The Color Purple, which premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and opened at the Broadway Theatre in New York City in December 2005, had an all-black cast and Oprah Winfrey as an investor. Sanders promoted the production with television advertising, and had hired Fantasia, an American Idol winner, for the lead role. The production was noted for its contribution to a “redefinition of the Broadway crowd,” a reference to its ability to attract a multi-racial audience. Later, Sanders would describe the work of producing a musical as "wrestling an octopus, keeping all the puppies in the box," and the hardest thing he had ever done, "more white-knuckle than I'd like, and the most fun I'd ever had."
The London production at Menier Chocolate Factory, directed by John Doyle, was co-produced by Sanders and Roy Furman and ran from July to September 2013. On January 9, 2015, producers Sanders, Furman, and Winfrey announced that the Menier Chocolate Factory production would be mounted on Broadway, with Jennifer Hudson making her Broadway debut in the role of Shug, Danielle Brooks playing the role of Sofia, and Cynthia Erivo reprising her role as Celie. Previews began November 10, 2015, with the official opening December 10 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Cynthia Erivo won the 2016 Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical. The production won the 2016 Tony Award for best revival of a musical.
Sanders’ production opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theater in October 2010. It was dubbed by one critic “Nothing less than a bubble bath of nostalgia for the many adoring fans of Pee-wee.” All advance tickets had been sold at full price. For months prior to the opening the producers and Paul Reubens used social networking sites Facebook and Twitter to the production’s advantage to stimulate media and fan interest. By opening night the Pee-wee character had acquired approximately 750,000 followers on the two sites. Sanders has said of the success of the production's use of social media, “You’re talking about a database of fans that costs zero.”
Sanders was one of the producers of the musical revival "Evita," which opened in New York on April 5, 2012. Efforts of the producers and star Ricky Martin using Twitter and Facebook generated about $500,000 in advance ticket sales. Both the show's website and social media efforts were in Spanish and English, and are credited with expanding the appeal of the show.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a 2012 Walt Disney Pictures film co-written and directed by Peter Hedges, was co-produced by Sanders and opened in U.S. theaters on August 15, 2012. Based on a concept by Ahmet Zappa, the fantasy film is about a magical pre-adolescent boy whose personality and naïveté have profound effects on the people in his town.
Sanders produced After Midnight, a Broadway production of City Center Encores' Cotton Club Parade, which premiered in November 2013 and closed in June 2014.
The romantic-comedy stage musical Up Here debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse in July 2015, with an official opening on August 9, 2015, starring Matt Bittner and Betsy Wolfe in the leading roles. Directed by Alex Timbers, the show features songs and libretto by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and presented by special arrangement with Scott Sanders Theatrical Productions.
In 2007 Sanders started a production company, "Scott Sanders Productions," receiving funding from a private equity group which includes New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, David Kraft, Roy Furman, and Jim Fantaci, and signed a film deal with Disney.
The company signed a five-year deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment in August 2012 to develop and produce live versions of Sony films.
In 2016, Sanders and Mara Jacobs began producing a film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical In the Heights through Scott Sanders Productions, with a script written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who authored the book for the original production. Sanders and Miranda previously worked together during The Odd Life of Timothy Green.
Sanders has won two Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, and a Grammy Award. He won his first Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event in 2002 for Elaine Stritch at Liberty.
In 2004 Sanders won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Special for "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" (2002).
Sanders received a 2005 nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Queen Latifah's The Dana Owens Album, a 2005 nomination for Best Special Theatrical Event for "Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance", and was nominated in 2002 for a Best Special Theatrical Event for "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty."
In 2006, The Color Purple was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Play, and Best Lighting Design of a Musical.
In 2012, "Evita" received three Tony nominations, for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, and Best Choreography.
After Midnight received seven Tony Award nominations (Best Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Sound Design of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography), earning the award for choreography. It also earned three Drama Desk Award nominations (Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Revue, winning in the latter two categories. Of five Outer Critics Circle Awards nominations (Outstanding New Broadway Musical, Outstanding Director of a Musical, Outstanding Choreographer, Outstanding Costume Design and Outstanding Lighting Design), the show won for Outstanding Choreographer. After Midnight was also the most-nominated production at the 2014 Astaire Awards, where it won for Outstanding Male Dancer, Outstanding Female Dancer and Outstanding Choreographer.
Sanders won his second Tony Award as lead producer for Best Musical Revival winner The Color Purple in 2016.
He earned a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album as producer for The Color Purple in 2017.
Sanders married Brad Lamm in California in 2008 in a ceremony officiated by Alice Walker, who was ordained by Universal Ministries for the event.