When Anita Gou launched her production company Kindred Spirit in 2018 the mission was to produce “purpose-driven, cross-cultural, and boundary-pushing content aimed at a global audience.” A year later Gou did just that when Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The mostly subtitled comedic drama starring Awkwafina sparked a Park City bidding war. A24 ultimately nabbed the pic for approximately $6 million. The film broke the box office record set by “Avengers: Endgame” for per-screen average, taking in $351,330 in four theaters when it opened in limited release on July 12. Since then “The Farewell” has earned just under $16 million. Gou is at TIFF with another film she produced — Shia LaBeouf’s “Honey Boy.” Written by and co-starring LaBeouf, “Honey Boy” premiered at Sundance where Amazon acquired it for $5 million.
“Honey Boy” made its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year. It sold to Amazon in February and will be released theatrically on Nov. 8. Why take it to TIFF?
We sat with the film for a while after the Sundance premiere and really kept it close hoping that we could launch it in a proper way so that it could be part of award (season) conversations. So TIFF was the perfect launching point (for the film) going into the fall and then building towards our theatrical premiere.
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As a producer who attends both TIFF and Sundance each year, what’s the biggest difference?
TIFF just feels a lot bigger. It has a bigger international presence. I think TIFF has room the smallest independent film and the biggest independent film at the studio level. And for me, who’s always looking for interesting, new filmmakers and even international filmmakers who are looking to do their first English-language film or cross over in some way, it’s a wonderful place to scout talent and take meetings.
It has been reported that a streaming company offered over double what A24 paid for Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell.” Why did you go with the lower offer?
When Lulu started working on “The Farewell” she always had A24 in mind as partners who she ultimately wanted to work with. So there wasn’t really any real question that we were going to go with them. Obviously we did have to really think about it because of what was on the table, but you know premiering the film at Sundance and seeing the effect it had on audiences made us want to be able to do that to its maximum effect.
When picking a project how important is the commerciality of a film?
Commerciality is a very important aspect of how I look at projects and choose projects to get behind and support. My mission is to work with newer filmmakers, but at the same time I absolutely want to do everything I can to make sure that their films get seen by the biggest audience the film deserves. The way I approach it is to find projects that have the indie sensibility, but also have that breakout potential and that ability to connect with a wider audience.
How do you determine how much of your own personal financing will go into a project?
It depends on the structure of the financing for every project. I very much like to work with partners and I think that building a strong team goes a long way every time. So it’s a very case-by-case situation.