Reese Witherspoon's media and production company Hello Sunshine is all about creating and promoting content by and about women. It created the HBO hit Big Little Lies, whose second season airs in June. It's currently shooting The Morning Show, a series starring Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston that will air on the newly announced streaming service Apple TV Plus. But the company doesn't have something that many production companies crave: investment from major Hollywood studios.
Witherspoon explained why not at the recent Adobe Summit conference. "Probably seven years ago, I read one of the worst scripts I've ever read," she said in an onstage interview. "I thought, 'I'm not going to do this piece of crap.' It was terrible and misogynistic."
She called her agent and told her what she thought of the project. The agent's response: "Every actress in Hollywood wants this part." Witherspoon took this as very disheartening news. "I said, 'I've got to do something about that. These women are accomplished and they deserve to be the center of their own stories. Everything the woman in the script says is in service of the male characters."
When she fumed about the bad script to her husband, he told her, "You read more books than anyone I know. You should buy some and produce them."
"I do?" she remembers saying. But she saw the sense in his suggestion and female-focused production company was born.
As to its funding, "Most production companies take money from studios," Witherspoon explains. "But then the studio says, 'We don't want another movie with a woman at the center, we already have one this year.'" To avoid conversations like that one, Reese got funding instead from Otter Media, owned by AT&T. As of last month, Laurene Powell Jobs is also an investor through her organization the Emerson Collective.
Witherspoon isn't new to the entrepreneurial life. In 2015, after being pitched by major brands to put her name to a line of clothing. "I said, I know how to market. I've been making clothes for different characters for 25 years," she said. So she decided to do it herself, creating Draper James, a clothing company styled after the American South, says Witherspoon, a Nashville native. There weren't many clothing lines reflecting that aesthetic, she explained. She raised $10 million in funding from Forerunner Ventures.
"I love data," she told the audience. "These SKUs [stock keeping units] aren't performing. We know we should have fewer SKUs but go deeper. In the past, you could waste time and money on products that don't work and don't sell."
The prevalence of data is also what she loves about streaming content. "Data has really changed our business and the emergence of streaming has changed the playing field," she said. "With streaming we know what's popular. We know which storytellers touch people's hearts. We're getting more expansive versions of humanity." Viewers don't necessarily want to watch the same 20 stars over and over, she added. "We want to walk through the world we live in and we weren't seeing it in the traditional movie business."
Hello Sunshine is already changing that. When Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and other actresses first assembled to shoot Big Little Lies, they all noticed something very different about it. "It's about five characters who all speak to each other and have a deep experience," Witherspoon said. "And we'd remark about it on set--it was the first time most of us had a long scene with another woman."