“Will & Harper,” a heartfelt and heartbreaking documentary about Will Ferrell’s cross-country road trip with his best friend Harper Steele, who recently came out as transgender, sold to Netflix after its Sundance Film Festival debut. Financial terms of the pact were not disclosed, but “Will & Harper” was drawing interest from several buyers.
The film, directed by “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” filmmaker Josh Greenbaum, was warmly embraced in Park City with two standing ovations after the credits rolled.
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“We are thrilled about how audiences received the movie with open arms at Sundance,” the filmmakers said in a statement. “It’s a movie about the power of friendship and acceptance, that we hope can help shift the culture, and so we are excited to have a partner in Netflix that has the ability to reach the largest possible audience worldwide.”
Ferrell and Steele were hired at “Saturday Night Live” — as a performer and writer, respectively — at the same time in the 1990s. Steele, who co-wrote “Eurovision Song Contest” and other Ferrell films, came out as a trans woman in 2022 at age 61. In “Will & Harper,” the duo drives from New York to California over 17 days, making pit stops at NBA games, dive bars, highway diners, dirt track races and other places where Steele hopes to feel more comfortable going since she transitioned.
Netflix has been very active when it comes to buying Sundance movies. As Variety first reported, it purchased “Daughters,” a documentary about a program that allows young girls to participate in a special dance with their incarcerated fathers. In the biggest deal of the festival, the streamer shelled out $17 million for the horror film “It’s What’s Inside.” It also purchased “Skywalkers,” a buzzy documentary that follows a couple Angela Nikolau and Ivan Beerkus who are drawn together by their love for climbing tall buildings, as well as “Ibelin,” a non-fiction film about a Norwegian gamer named Mats Steen, who died of a degenerative muscle disease at the age of 25.
Documentaries have seen a resurgence when it comes to sales. In recent years, distributors have shied away from the genre, believing that they lack commercial appeal. But they have changed course at Sundance, with “Will & Harper” and “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story” among the hottest titles looking for distribution. Warner Bros. Discovery ended up buying “Super/Man,” which looks at Reeve’s life as a movie star and disability rights advocate, for $15 million.
Variety‘s chief film critic Peter Debruge praised “Will & Harper,” writing that “it can sound like a cliché to say that any given movie is what the world needs now, but ‘Will & Harper’ earns that distinction. Struggling to recognize her own beauty in a society that often seems determined to deny her identity altogether, Steele brings the trans experience down to earth.”
Ferrell spoke to Variety prior to the premiere of “Will & Harper” and admitted that he had “zero knowledge” about the trans community before Steele came out.
“I had met trans people, but I didn’t have anyone personally in my life,” Ferrell said. “So this was all new territory for me. It’s a chance for us in the cis community to ask questions, listen and be there as a friend to discuss this journey.”
Ferrell produced the film along with Jessica Elbaum for his company, Gloria Sanchez. Greenbaum, Rafael Marmor and Christopher Leggett were also producers on the project. Justin Baldoni, Andrew Calof, Jamey Heath and Steve Sarowitz for Wayfarer Studios were executive producers. UTA Independent Film Group brokered the deal.