In the summer of 2012, three friends, Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges at Guggenheim Partners, Oscilloscope, and Big Beach respectively, quit their jobs with the goal of starting a new indie film company that centred around films and filmmakers, rather than the company itself. What started off as a drive with friends on Rome’s highway A24, turned, nine years later, into a company that has over 80 films and more than 30 Academy Award nominations under its belt.
The indie scene was on a steady rise during the 90s when companies like Miramax (Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Reservoir Dogs) doubled down on alternate, unconventional films and ushered them into the limelight. This was mostly possible due to the fact that Miramax had been bought by Disney, and so the company’s pockets ran deep. A24, on the other hand, also had numerous offers from companies like NBC Universal, but instead opted to grow the company organically by following their own intuition.
Spring Breakers (2013) was one of A24’s early releases. Harmony Korine’s raunchy sex comedy perfectly set the ball rolling for the then small indie company. Upon its release, the film was received with mixed reviews but applauded for its bold outlook, which, at that time, seemed to be fresh and refreshing.
With a devil-may-care attitude, A24 continued its nose dive into the world of cinema. A world where studios would have rounds of meetings taking creative calls, dissecting the screenplay with all lenses except a creative one, and chipping in suggestions that would increase the commercial viability of the project at the cost of its vision. Trying to do the exact opposite of this, A24’s policy revolved around enabling the creators to create. Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), who was one of the few directors to make it into the second-film club with A24, explains, “the folks at the studio are happy to provide feedback, but they don’t mess with the DNA of the film”.
Another example of A24’s off-the-wall approach to filmmaking is Moonlight. Barry Jenkins‘s Moonlight was A24’s first home production. Having little to no hope of having this film made, Jenkins recalls, “If I told you I was opening a Hollywood studio and the first film I was going to put my money into was going to be a triptych film about a gay black boy whose mom was addicted to drugs, made by a filmmaker who’s only made one film for $15,000, would you say, ‘Yes, that sounds like an awesome idea?’ Probably not. But these people did.”
A24’s films focus more on the amalgamation of everything mundane and eccentric, with every film being a testament to the fact that a star-studded cast and a fancy crew aren’t a sure-shot way of getting a film its due recognition. While the major studios doubled down on budgets and crews, A24 diligently found and nurtured films that the team believed in and the stories they wanted to tell. This holistic approach paid off when Jenkins’s Moonlight, a surprise contender at the Academy Awards, went on to win Best Picture.
Apart from its no risk, no reward approach what really sets A24 apart is how it positions itself as a brand. A24’s approach to customer engagement relies on innovative and off-the-wall marketing strategies, customised for the specific film being talked about. For the film Good Time, they had Robert Pattinson’s face on pizza boxes; for Ex Machina, they created a virtual Tinder account for Alicia Vikander’s character that redirected users to her Instagram account, which had nothing but the film’s trailer. This approach to reaching directly to consumers has elevated the perception of A24 from being just a film company to the position of a brand that always pushes the boundaries of storytelling, and the world around it.
Betting on dark horses paid off again for A24, when Minari was nominated for 6 Academy Awards this year and won one; another glaring example that true stories win hearts and formulas only frivolously pacify the mind. A24 has now established itself as a purveyor of cinema that reflects the personality of an entire generation. It has also brought to Hollywood a much needed artistic renaissance.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.