Deep-pocketed streaming services are hungry for buzzy film titles and willing to pay a premium to get what they want. In 2017, Netflix (NFLX) shelled out a whopping $36.5 million for 10 features out of Sundance, including $12.5 million for Dee Rees’ Mudbound. This year, Amazon (AMZN) spent more than $45 million on five films, including $13 million on Mindy Kaling’s Late Night and $14 million on Adam Driver’s The Report. That’s a lot of money. But occasionally, filmmakers are looking for more than just a massive payday.
Lulu Wang’s The Farewell was a Sundance sensation this year, earning a perfect 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 48 reviews and selling to A24 for between $6 million and $7 million. But that was just half of what Wang could have earned. In a recent interview with Vulture, the writer-director reveals a “streaming company” offered her “more than double” what the prestige indie studio was offering, though her reaction to such lavish interest may surprise you.
“I was pretty upset because we were all so happy with the [A24] deal before this other offer came in,” Wang said. “That’s kind of how capitalism works—it ruins things because it shifts your perspective entirely.”
The Farewell is deeply rooted in familial thinking so, naturally, Wang asked her mother for advice. “The film is your baby and you have to give it to the place that is not necessarily the wealthiest, but will give it the most love and joy and bring it into the world in the right way,” her mother told her.
Overall, Wang decided “it wasn’t about a number,” but about the ability to slowly and carefully roll out a film theatrically to maximize its cultural footprint. A24, which has received a total of 25 Academy Award nominations since its founding in 2012, has seemingly mastered the art of the high-end independent distribution that resonates with key audiences. And since A24’s check is roughly more than half of the film’s budget, it’s not as if Wang is going home empty handed.
The Farewell follows a Chinese family who arrange an impromptu wedding as an excuse to gather when they discover their beloved Grandmother is terminally ill but decide not to tell her of the diagnosis. Billi (Awkwafina) feels out of place in her home country and struggles with the family’s decision to hide the truth from her grandmother. It is based on Wang’s own experiences.
The Farewell opens in select theaters July 12.