The Rise of A24
December 17, 2020
Film is instrumental in how we view ourselves and how we view the world around us. Now, more than ever, authentic stories of vulnerability seem to be at the forefront of film, reminding viewers that even the most intimate of experiences and the seemingly mundane can be epic and cinematic. Independent films such as Lady Bird and The Florida Project have found unprecedented critical and commercial acclaim. In a time in which reboots and blockbuster superhero movies seem to monopolize theaters, how were these smaller films so widely embraced? One possible answer lies in A24, the production and film distribution company that these movies have in common.
The Oscar-winning A24 studio began in 2012 when Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges, all industry and finance veterans, started the company. Beginning simply as a distributor, they soon became known as the company with rights to acclaimed movies such as Room and Ex Machina. Additional fan favorites in these early years included Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, The Spectacular Now, and American Honey. Credited with some of the best independent films in recent years and garnering over $400 million in box office revenue, they were further launched into Hollywood fame after producing Moonlight, which won Best Picture in 2016. While the artistic endeavors at the company clearly speak for themselves, the question still begs: how did A24 reach a place of such power in the film industry as well as prevalence in mainstream media? It is, after all, the only independent film studio to sell stickers, umbrellas, socks, candles, and other assorted memorabilia. Many would say that its unique level of recognition has everything to do with its marketing.
While the founders and employees of A24 are notoriously elusive, often refusing interviews, it is rumored that they spend up to 95% of their budget on film marketing. The company also has an active and youthful presence on social media. Their interactive marketing schemes have frequently garnered attention from more diverse internet audiences than the usual “indie crowd.” For the premiere of Ex Machina, for example, the company made a fake dating profile for the character of Ava, a lifelike but heartless robot. Recently, they also put out an Instagram filter that answered the question, “Which A24 Film Are You?” On Twitter, A24 regularly reposts memes and pokes fun at its own brand and its perception. On Instagram, A24 frequently advertises its store, which sells everything from clothing to a board game promoting their upcoming film, Green Knight. In a mere eight years, the company has earned 721,000 and 1.6 million followers, respectively on their Instagram and Twitter accounts. A24 is also socially active in meaningful ways: this year, its auction raised $362,875 for families and workers in New York City affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 2018 saw the launch of the A24 podcast, which has included guests such as Jonah Hill, Alexa Demie, and Awkwafina. In a highly digital generation in which distractions such as social media can cloud true artistry, A24 has used this tool to its full advantage. In addition to its accessibility on the internet, however, one can argue that the true merit of A24 lies in its ambitious creative endeavors.
The same mystery that seems to shroud the business side of A24 can also be applied to its artistic side; it is difficult to find one unifying theme throughout its filmography. This mystique, however, has worked immensely in the studio’s favor. In fact, its sudden skyrocket into popularity is likely explained by its unique mission, described as the goal of “experiencing movies from a distinct point of view.” The artists involved with A24, although very different, have certainly taken this message to heart; many of the films produced through the studio are often deeply personal, intimate, and distinctive. In a letter entitled “My American Movie,” director and screenwriter Lulu Wang reflects on the role A24 played in the success of her film, The Farewell, writing:
When I first pitched my movie… nobody in Hollywood wanted to make it—at least not in the way I wanted to make it… In distributing the film, I had to say no to… a major streaming company, and have faith that a theatrical release with A24 would be a more meaningful way to introduce this film to audiences… I want more filmmakers to have faith in their own vision and fight to tell their stories without compromising on the specifics. I want The Farewell to be a case study in how it *pays* to tell specific stories from unique perspectives.
Wang’s critically acclaimed film would never have been such a truthful retelling of her own experiences nor nearly as representative of her culture had it not been for A24. Other directors and writers have also found solace in A24’s creative mission. Jonah Hill, largely regarded as a comedic actor for much of his career, broke free of prior expectations in his directorial debut Mid90s; Adam Sandler also broke from his norm with his starring role in the gritty Uncut Gems. The arthouse studio has additionally worked with talented filmmakers such as Greta Gerwig, Sean Baker, Ari Aster, The Safdie Brothers, Yorgo Lanthimos, and Sofia Coppola. While it is impossible to draw a common thread between all A24 films, as they span from emotional epics such as Waves, to dark psychological pieces such as Hereditary, it is clear that A24 film strives for a deep-rooted creative honesty and authenticity. A24 caters to no single genre, audience, nor industry; the films do not tell stories solely to make a profit but also in hopes that the stories will create a lasting impact. It will be interesting to see how the studio continues to grow in the future and continues to cultivate the stories the artists feel need to be told.