What do Hereditary, The Witch, Locke, Green Room and Free Fire all have in common? I’ve seen them all. But perhaps more importantly is the film distribution and production company A24. For a company who has only been around since 2013 they have a staggering success rate – they were involved in Room, Moonlight, Lady Bird, The Disaster Artist, Amy (the Amy Winehouse documentary), Ex Machina and more. Their shelves are already struggling with the weight of awards and their films are considered essential viewing for those interested in cinema.
The Odd Beginning
The first film the company produced was A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III back in 2013 and seems to be as odd as the title suggests. It’s not a film I’ve seen but it starred Charlie Sheen, who to put it mildly, is not the most reliable of actors. The film has an IMDb rating of 4.8 and an appallingly low score of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes and had a near-universal drubbing by film critics. The film did not lack for talent, directed and written by Roman Coppola, and aside from Sheen featured Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Patricia Arquette but seems to have not been a good film. I can’t help but feel it was a mistake to cast Sheen, who according to distribution executive, Nicolette Aizenberg, didn’t show up to the premiere. Sheen landed this role after his very public firing from Two and a Half Men. So an inauspicious beginning but it didn’t hold them back for long.
Co-founder Daniel Katz already had a lot of experiences in the film industry, being the head of the film-finance division of Guggenheim Partners (they have lots of money and invest in stuff). Katz was involved in Zombieland, The Social Network and the Twilight franchise, showing a grasp of everything from cult hits, critical smashes and hugely successful franchises.
David Fenkel’s background is a little odd, before A24 he was a co-founder of Oscilloscope Laboratories, a film production and distribution company. The other co-founder was Adam Yauch best known as a member of The Beastie Boys and as can be imagined it was an odd company. If you google Oscilloscope the little blurb beneath the website says that only work in the film industry to raise money for their time machine. Similarly interested in independent film, Oscilloscope Laboratories has not shared the runaway success of A24.
Three Important Films
I am going to look at three key films in A24’s story, Spring Breakers, Hereditary and Moonlight. Spring Breakers is often seen as the start of their success, a very unusual film that tested very badly with audiences and that no one thought would succeed. Not only was the film a huge success it helped make their name. A24 were the distributors of this film, rather than the production company, making the notorious “Consider This Sh*t” Oscar campaign for James Franco.
Second, we have Hereditary. a film considered one of the best horror movies of recent years and said by at least one critic to be this generation’s The Exorcist. It is A24’s second most financially successful film. And it is one of the most unnerving films I have ever seen and in the era of horror film franchises and endless jump scares it felt new and original.
Finally, Moonlight. This is not A24’s only Oscar success but winning the 2017 Best Picture award was incredible. For a company that makes – relatively – small films winning that Oscar is probably the clear sign that they’ve made it. Moonlight was adored by critics and because of its subject matter of huge cultural importance. It also won two other Oscars that year, for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and was nominated for five more. You could say Moonlight won the Oscars that year.
The Secret Of Their Success
An article in GQ interviewed many of the directors, writers and actors A24 had worked with and the founders received nothing but praise. Again and again, the message seems to be – these guys are not in it for the money. Now I personally don’t believe anyone who runs a company can completely shut out financial concerns, but it does seem like they think the best way to be successful is to let talented filmmakers do what they want to do. Their most financially successful film is the still the very niche Lady Bird which made around $50,000,000 and with IMDb estimating the budget at $10,000,000 that is a very successful film. While to many pretentious indie film fans – i.e. me – the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig was something very special it was hardly a sure-thing success. Another success story was The Witch (estimated budget of 3,500,000 box office of $25,000,000) and while it is a great film it must have been a hard film to pitch. It’s the story of one family, living alone in the 1630s while odd things, possibly magical/satanic things, happen around them but maybe nothing happened at all.
This strategy is by no means always going to be successful. A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swann III was directed by Roman Coppola, a long-time collaborator of Wes Anderson and clearly someone with a lot of talent but the film was a failure. And we can all think of pet projects of extremely talented people that go completely off the rails.
I think the surest sign of their success is that I would go to see a film purely based on it was made by them and I can think of no other studio where that is true. A24 is becoming synonymous with brilliant and original films.
Also Read: The Formula for a Successful Film