There always seems to be something negative to report on the business side of Hollywood. While Disney slowly becomes a conglomerate and original films fail repeatedly, rich white male executives continue to rule the game. As a result, many minorities in the field are limited in their ability to contribute to the film business. It’s unfair and unjust, to say the least. But, what if there was a distributor who helped produce films that strayed away from this norm? What if there was a film distributor that chose not to support the same rehashed stories and ideas, but instead produced films with a new voice/message from a variety of directors ranging in age, sex, and race?
A24 seems to fit that description relatively well. The company was created in 2012 by three men who had previous ties to the film industry. Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges had all been involved in areas of the field such as film finance and production. Their company’s motto is to make films that are “both unique and distinctive in style and story.” However vague that description may be, there is an argument to be made that the distributor has achieved that goal. Time and time again, A24 has found success due to the large ensemble of films created by a number of distinct directors.
The movie that put A24 in the spotlight and emphasized their uniqueness was 2016’s Moonlight. The first feature-length film written/directed by Barry Jenkins is a story that focuses on three vital parts of a young African-American boy’s life in Miami and how the love and support of his community helps him grow. The film was a massive hit, profiting over sixty million dollars off of a one-to-four million dollar budget. The film also garnered major critical recognition, scoring Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards.
Having a Best Picture win under A24’s belt was huge. That year it beat out eight other nominees including Hidden Figures, Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, Lion, and most famously La La Land, which was mistakenly awarded Best Picture before being corrected. The victory was even more impressive because Moonlight outlined the original business plan Katz, Fenkel, and Hodges had created. Jenkins’ film was far from a standard feature modern audiences had come to expect. Just from a narrative perspective, the story is broken into three sections, each one featuring a different set of actors to represent the same characters. Jenkins crafted a picture where the audience is still able to understand and empathize with the characters, even when the actors portraying them change every thirty minutes. In addition, the film was created by a relatively unknown African-American director (at the time) outlining that A24 doesn’t need big names to win awards. It is also about the evolution of an African-American gay youth, a demographic that has rarely been represented in cinema. Most distributors would pass on this film because it is niche and therefore won’t make a lot of money; but A24’s willingness to take on this project perfectly captures the values that the company represents.
While it is noble of A24 to reject the successful approach to modern filmmaking and instead rely on one voice to tell a unique story, one question comes to mind with this approach: how do they generate a profit? It is easy to point to an audience that the distributor can market to, but there isn’t a specific one, just general film buffs that vary demographically. In order to combat this obstacle, A24 relies on their inventive marketing strategies through their Twitter account and loads of social media advertising. Since a majority of their target audience is millennials, this makes sense. Some studios have tried the same, but often times it isn’t enough. Neon, a studio that relies on similar marketing techniques, only has four movies that have grossed over ten million dollars compared to A24’s seventeen. While the latter distributor has released more films than the former, they also have a much bigger social media presence with 1.5 million followers to Neon’s 9,000+. What makes A24 unique is the way they choose to sell their products. They use their distinctive branding to their advantage and market to those who are tired of seeing the same shlock repeatedly recycled. A24 knows their audience is small, but they also know how to market and appeal to them. This approach continues to drive success for the distributor and the directors they choose to fund.
A24’s second biggest hit financially (next to 2018’s horror flick Hereditary) is Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig. The female writer/director’s coming-of-age story scored 78.6 million dollars off of a ten million dollar budget and garnered five Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Saorise Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf), Best Director (Gerwig), Best Original Screenplay (Gerwig), and Best Picture. This was, yet again, the first feature-length film by a young director. Currently, she is only the fifth woman ever nominated for best director, showing a strong lack of representation for females in this field. She has garnered success and critical acclaim since, and has become a popular name amongst the film community because of Lady Bird’s strong appeal. Her highly anticipated follow-up film, Little Women, debuts in theaters this holiday season and is already garnering award buzz.
Another director A24 has worked with is Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek film director who uses inventive humor to portray weird scenarios. A24 distributed two of Lanthimos’ films: 2016’s The Lobster, nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, and 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was not nominated for an Academy Award but won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay. Lanthimos’ success with A24 led him to create The Favourite, a film that was distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The Favourite was nominated for a whopping ten Oscars at the 2019 Academy Awards and won for Best Actress (Olivia Colman). The diverse directors A24 chooses to work with have clear talent recognized by the Academy and critics alike, which is just another factor that adds to their uniqueness.
It’s hard to ignore the impact A24 has made on modern cinema. They continue to prove that there is a market for films that are created by directors that vary in age, sex, and race. The movies they choose to distribute challenge modern audiences instead of pandering to them. Films like Moonlight, Lady Bird, Hereditary, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and many more are still valuable experiences that audiences continue to enjoy and praise. There will always be concern about the industry when films like Avengers: Endgame continue to destroy the box office. However, as long as A24 continues to prove that there is an audience for cinematic disruptors, I believe that there will always be something positive to report on the business side of Hollywood.