The Rise of A24: How the Indie Studio Took Over Hollywood?


When you think of great films you might think of their directors like Spielberg, Hitchcock, Peele or actors like Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Morgan Freeman. But recently, there’s a new name in the mix and it’s not a person but a studio. A24. A24 movies have been nominated for over 50 Oscars and have won 16.

They’ve taken over Halloween and maybe your closet. And the reason why you know their name is part of their strategy. A strategy that’s helped take A24 from a tiny distribution company… to making some of the biggest and weirdest movies and TV shows of the past ten years.

I’ve maybe seen more A24 films than the people who work at A24. My name is Nate Jones. I’m a senior writer for Vulture in New York Magazine. Last August, 8/24, I ranked all of them from worst to best.

The company was founded on two sorts of basic creative principles. The first was that they were going to give directors almost unprecedented creative freedom and then to pay for that, because that is, you know, creatively risky. They basically decided they weren’t going to be spending money on traditional forms of marketing.

They were going to try and use viral marketing and word of mouth. These are cheaper ways of bringing attention to their movies. So the first half of their existence, they only bought.

They didn’t make any of the films. In other words, A24 was founded as a distribution company and as your resident film nerd, I have to give you a quick lesson on the moviemaking pipeline for this all to make sense.

So bear with me for a second. First, there’s production where the movie gets made. Then there’s distribution where a company buys the rights to a finished film and takes on the work of marketing it and making deals to connect it to companies that can show it to audiences.

That’s the third part known as the exhibition where companies like movie theaters and streaming services show movies for the general public. The studios you’re likely familiar with generally take on both production and distribution.

So something like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is produced by Disney. And then Disney also makes trailers, posters and deals with exhibitors like AMC and Regal to get that movie shown in theatres.

But smaller, independently produced films often go to film festivals like Sundance or Tribeca in hopes of getting the attention of a distributor who will buy the rights to the film and will help them make those connections.

In the beginning, A24’s sole focus was to find great indie movies and buy the distribution rights for them. It’s just easier that way. You don’t need as much money. You know, it takes a lot of cash to produce a film.

Doesn’t take as much to just buy a film that’s already made. Let’s use Spring Breakers, their first hit as a case study to show how all their strategies come together. Spring Breakers was the first A24 film I saw. It was the first A24 film most people saw. I think it was a very good introduction to the A24 style.

The film has an extremely strong artistic vision from director Harmony Korine… who A24 courted by making bespoke gun-shaped bongs. The movie had striking visual choices like this rain that almost looks like blood… and a neon colour palette that has become a staple of A24 films.

It had a clear hook. You have these sort of Disney starlets like Selena Gomez and they’re, you know, getting up to no good and doing drugs. And if you were a young person who’d grown up on the Disney Channel suddenly all these people you’d seen in this very squeaky clean entertainment were getting very rough and grimy.

And on top of that, it had supremely memorable sequences. James Franco has, you know, the first of many A24 scenes that would just become this sort of perfect little tidbit. —He has this speech. — Look at my shit. I. got short Every fucking colour. Scarface is on repeat.

It was just this weird sort of thing that really had just caught on. Their innovative online marketing strategy leveraged gifts and memes to make the movie buzzy.

Like this one that amassed over 20,000 thumbs up on Facebook which… you know, doesn’t sound like a lot now. But you got to remember, this was 2013 back when the LA Times was calling likes thumbs-ups. Anyways, the marketing worked.

The movie ended up setting per-screen attendance records for its opening weekend as well as clocking the biggest premiere of the movie in limited release that year. The second weekend… everybody talked a lot about how they hated the movie… but their first weekend was incredible. That movie was a huge word-of-mouth hit.

If you look at how much money it made compared to other films you know, it doesn’t really stand out. But if you look at how much money it makes compared to other… independent films from that era like it was a huge hit. And crucially, it proved that the A24 method worked.

If they could keep curating distinct, vibey movies marketing them online for less money and more virality and distributing them in a way where the box office can rival the budget… then they were in business.

And oh boy, were they in business. They were able to create such a strong brand. You knew in your head kind of what an A24 film was. And I think that’s down to their sense of taste.

I don’t know of any other studio that has such an almost personal style in that way. They helped launch careers for Ari Aster the Daniels and Robert Eggers. And afforded directorial debuts to Greta Gerwig, Jonah Hill, and Bo Burnham.

They would find these up-and-coming directors and be like we are going to sort of usher you to the next level. Ex-Machina showed their shrewdness in marketing as they created a Tinder account for Alicia Vikander’s lead character… inviting men to watch the movie.

And films like Room became big hits at the Oscars. They won their first Oscars in 2016. They won the best actress for Brie Larson and Room. They won best visual effects for Ex Machina. And they won Best Documentary for Amy.

So they were they had been on the scene, they had been respected. They had sort of known how to play the industry game. You know, they weren’t too cool for it. They weren’t holding their heads above it.

And four years in after curating a strong brand off of other people’s movies… they decided to produce one on their own. So Moonlight was the first film that they made themselves.

There was a bet on Barry Jenkins who had made only one other feature eight years before this point… and they basically said, like, we will let you do totally whatever you want and we will support you visually.

It does look a lot like other A24 films. You know, you have that neon you have that very subjective lighting. Moonlight — that was when they get the reputation, I think for like, oh, you know, it’s not just online hype.

They’re not just like Buzzy. They are going to release some great, great films. If you look at the films they have produced since Moonlight it’s a lot of the movies we think of as like very-A24: Uncut Gems.

It’s Everything Everywhere All At Once. You know, it’s these movies that are these big, bold brand statements. In 2017, they expanded to TV. When you talk to people who watch Euphoria a lot of them don’t know that it’s an A24 series… because Euphoria airs on HBO which is a powerful brand, a very big brand. And that kind of crowds out the A24 of it all.

But Beef airs on Netflix, which has a much smaller brand. And, you know, suddenly that allows the A24 of it all to kind of jump out. And as a cherry on top, they make merch for themselves not just for the films, you know, they will sell A24 T-shirts and A24 hoodies with that little logo on it.

And that sort of helps build that sort of cult around this, you know, editorial sensibility that they have. And they employ a lot of the techniques that the fashion industry has too.

You know they will do collaborations with, you know, online ceramics. They will do with limited edition drops where you’ve got to get your hands on something new. They build this sense of exclusivity around it where it becomes, you know, there are there are A24 merch heads you know, who are really hoping to get the latest stuff.

It’s something that no other indie studio has quite managed to pull off. When you look at their trajectory in retrospect it’s easy to be dazzled into thinking that they’ve got the Midas touch. And in some ways they do. —But… —We don’t need to build them up too much. Like any studio, they make bad films too.

You just might not notice it because A24 puts out a ton of movies every year as compared to other studios, both big and small. In 2022, the studio put out 20 films. That’s 2 more than Paramount a studio that’s way larger than they are.

But they have a unique way of hiding their bad films and making them go away. They had a deal with DirecTV. They now have a deal with Apple TV where you know, movies that maybe they don’t think are quite a pass muster.

They’ll just go straight there. You know, those ones won’t play at the metrograph. Those ones will be playing at you know, your cool indie theater. They will kind of be quietly shuffled off to, you know, DirectTV.

Maybe people will find them. But if people don’t find them, you know, maybe that’s okay, too. You look at the list of A24 films, there are dozens of them that you have never heard of that nobody has ever heard of.

The Adderall Diaries The Kill Team. Revenge of the Green Dragons. These are movies that truly do not exist. But their missteps don’t seem to matter much when they’re tried and true strategies create such big wins.

When I talk to the fans last year, some readily admitted, oh yeah, like I’m in the cult, I’m deep in it. And when I ask like, I asked them why the key thing was different.

There’s so much these days that feels sort of the same feels very corporate, very controlled that that was kind of the one thing that they all kind of agreed on is that like when they go see an A24 film you know, it might be good.

There’s a chance, it might be terrible, but, you know, they know it’s going to be just like a little weirder, a little more offbeat. Ideally, it’s going to be something they haven’t seen before. The name means nothing.

The name is there’s no symbolism. The name is an Italian highway that leads out of Rome… that I think Katz was driving on. And he was like, oh, that would be a good name for a company. But it sort of fits, right? Because it’s abstract.

It’s sort of mysterious, and you’re like, Oh, there must be a hidden meaning there. Do you know? I often like some of the films, you know, you’re like… you know, there must be something there. It sparks curiosity, in a way.

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