The New York Rights Fair opened with a conversation about the evolution of actor Reese Witherspoon's production company, Hello Sunshine, and her wildly popular Instagram book club. Lauren Neustadter, head of film and television for Hello Sunshine, noted that the company, which was founded in 2017 was premised on the idea of "telling stories about extraordinary women, often written by women" and avoiding clichés. "We have boundaries around the stories we like to tell: we don’t want them too depressing or political, and we are not interested in stories where, for example, a woman is locked in a room and tortured."
Witherspoon’s book club Instagram handle has more than one million followers, and several of the more than 20 titles selected since the club’s June 2017 launch have landed on bestseller lists, among them Deliah Owens's Where the Crawdad's Sing and Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, which Hello Sunshine is producing as a television show. "We are very selective in what we pick to promote," said Neustadter. "But, ultimately, it must reflect [Witherspoon’s] brand, which is one of 'grounded optimism.' She makes the final decision on all book club selections."
Neustadter was accompanied on stage by Charlotte Koh, head of digital media and unscripted productions at Hello Sunshine. Koh said the vision for the company is to "make it into a fully integrated media brand" and, to that end, "we find a great story and ask what format is most appropriate for sharing it with our community." In one example, Koh cited the company's relationship with Audible, which is publishing a trio of first-person, audio-only memoirs by woman and produced by Hello Sunshine. In addition, the company is using its digital platform to offer writers an opportunity to publish personal narratives. "The mission is to focus on women's empowerment and getting those stories out into the world."
The several hundred people gathered for the talk were also treated to some personal insight into how to work with such a high profile company. "We work primarily through established agents and scouts," said Neustadter. "Submit to us through [Hollywood talent agency] CAA; they know how we work and what we want, which are stories that not only inspire, but that we will be inspired while we are working on them."