The road to theatrical releases for indie films can differ wildly.
Last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians” famously rejected some big-budget offers from streaming services to premiere the film because they wanted to do a theatrical release. The gamble paid off, the movie becoming a massive box-office hit and scoring excellent notices.
This year the coin flipped the other way. Amazon Studios paid out many millions to snag the Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling-led comedy “Late Night” after a smash hit launch at Sundance, but despite good reviews the film bombed upon release and is expected to lose the distributor up to $40 million according to some estimates. Nothing is a guarantee.
It’s now filmmaker Lulu Wang’s turn. Her newest film “The Farewell” was arguably the most unanimously well-received film at Sundance this year, and quickly became part of a bidding war between some major distributors and streaming platforms.
She ultimately went with boutique theatrical distributor A24 who spent a reported $6-7 million on the rights to the film, twice its budget, to snag it and open it in cinemas next week. The decision cost Wang who tells Vulture she turned down an offer from a streaming service for twice that amount because she wanted to go theatrical:
“I was pretty upset because we were all so happy with the [A24] deal before this other offer came in. That’s kind of how capitalism works – it ruins things because it shifts your perspective entirely.”
The film stars Awkwafina as a young woman that goes to China to see her dying grandmother, however she realises the family has kept the diagnosis a secret from the aging matriarch and instead brings joy and family to her on her deathbed.
Wang based much of the film on her own true experiences and so to make her decision, she explained the unexpected situation to her mother, saying she told her mother: “I can buy you a house now. And you can tell all your friends.” Her mother put her right, saying:
“Why would you buy me a freaking house? I already have a house. 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.”
“The Farewell” opens in cinemas on July 12th.