A24: A cyclical, yet important ascension

“There’s an A24 audience, and sometimes a movie connects with the A24 audience. We get credit for it even when we have nothing to do with it. Like Get Out, or Baby Driver”

Daniel Katz, A24 founder

 

A24 is only 5 years into the film production/distribution business, a short amount of time in which they have won a Best Picture Oscar (Moonlight), the Cannes Jury Prize (American Honey), Best Documentary (Amy), along with many other nominations They’re winning the battle for a neglected ground in the industry, a ground that does not require the huge budgets nor the glitz and glamour. Instead, they target an audience that is more mature and willing to be challenged by the films they watch. When a film starts with an A24 logo, the expectations are rightfully high. A24 is willing to take risks and it is as much about giving talented people a chance, as it is utilising well-respected talent. They have worked with directors such as  Harmony Korine, Sofia Coppola, Denis Villeneuve and Andrea Arnold to name a few. Since that crazy night in Los Angeles, their stock has only risen. This year we have had It Comes at Night, A Ghost Story, Good Time, The Florida Project, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lady Bird and the soon to be released, yet already an Oscar frontrunner: The Disaster Artist. They also had their fair share of awfulness come out this year as well, adding yet another Michael Fassbender misfire (Trespass Against Us) to his recent repertoire. I’m starting to question what I saw of him in Shame these days.

 

Within the industry companies such as A24 are quite cyclical, always having to look over their shoulder for the next up and comer. Fox Searchlight was once the gold standard for mid-level budget Oscar bait . Unlike A24 however, they are a sister company of the much larger Murdoch-owned Fox. Like A24 is experiencing now, they have also been through periods where the logo itself insinuated immediate quality. There is also Annapurna pictures, but even they are now in bed with MGM, having recently signed a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” distribution deal in the U.S. There is also Miramax, but the less attention  given to that company right now, the better, given the Weinstein black cloud.

 

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At least for now it seems A24 will remain independent (the slight caveat being their DirectTV deal). Founded in 2012, Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges remain at the helm, whilst the business builds both physically and in reputation. So why are A24 so successful? On the surface it would be easy to argue that the choices of films that they distribute or make are the sole cause of its success, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say so. More and more filmmakers seem to trust them with their projects; everybody wants a piece of A24.

However, what that does not take into account is how well A24 have executed their marketing campaigns and social media accounts to help drive interest up for their movies, and their own name. It would be easy to call them somewhat of a liberal film company, a brand whose very name immediately stamps a seal of approval regardless of their output. And as much as I hate that the liberal tag has come to be seen as a negative connotation by a large percentage of the population, I use it here in a more positive, finger-on-the-pulse term. They’re extremely self-aware, by proxy they’re a part of an industry soaked in pop culture, but they’re also not afraid to comment upon it. They have a Facebook page. They have an instagram account. A tumblr and even a Pinterest. You might think that this is standard practice these days, for the most part it is. But knowing how to use these tools to your benefit is a talent, one which A24 has perfected becoming the exemplare of the its industry.

 

What they have learnt that many of their peers around them have struggled with, is that your social media campaigns are as much about making money as they are about having a company voice, a colloquial and relatable one at that. Even Michael Haneke looked to try and adapt to this kind of thinking. For A24 memes are regularly used, they even utilised one to explain their feelings towards the fuck up that was the Oscars 2017. They use behind-the-scenes polaroids, too. They ask for hashtag interactions and sometimes they just post images of Ian McShane naked with a Daschund, just because. They utilised Alicia Vilkander in a mocked up version of Tinder to advertise Ex Machina. They went as far as recutting a Breitbart Sean Spicer interview and mockingly calling it a new horror film. It is a marketing push driven by a need to attract millennial customers, leaning on viral campaigns and word of mouth marketing.

 

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In 2017, there is almost as much money spent marketing a film, as film production. The reason is obvious: opening weekend. Films generate a large percent of their total sales from those first three days. Get them in early, and word of mouth will bring the others. This is why most film studios have stuck to the tried and tested method of a teaser trailer, a full trailer and then interviews. But this is where A24 has become the trailblazer of the industry. Their marketing campaigns are like no other, and as much as they want your bum on a seat opening weekend, how they get it there is not as direct as others in the industry. It is easy to see why other film companies would, and should, be jealous of their success.  

 

“We’re always cognizant of trying to sell the film by not selling it, by tapping into elements of it that are really evocative and compelling to people in a way that does not register as something they want to spend money on.”

Jesse Patrone-Werdiger, Marketing and partnerships A24

 

We’ve come a long way since Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield pioneered this way of marketing, but A24 is taking it to a whole new level. Take their recent approach to The Disaster Artist. Already a meta piece of art by nature, A24 have utilised their social channels to take advantage and play upon The Room’ cult status. The Room is not a universally watched film, far from it, it is the cinephiles back pocket film of ‘so bad it is good’ status. Yet, here we are talking awards, and not just any awards, we’re talking James Franco winning awards. It is easy to imagine that many studios probably passed or were tepid on the chance to distribute this project. After all, The Room is critically derided, even if it comes with a sense of irony. And James Franco is often seen to combine a faux-intellect with a sense of warranted arrogance, so much so, that this writer wrote 1,500 words on it. So how exactly do you market a film that is based upon what is known as one of the worst films ever made starring one of the most polarising actors of the last 10 years?

 

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They play on every inch of the source materials cult status, whilst also speaking directly to the audience it has garnered since its release. It has been through Twitter, Instagram and the like, speaking directly to them. Having bought the rights in May, A24 went to work in July, posting the above image on it’s instagram, for those in the know, it is one of, if not, the most iconic ‘bad’ scenes in movie history. Even the rose emoji to sign off the caption is referential. Tommy Wiseau the director/writer/actor of The Room paid in the region of $300,000 to have a billboard for the film loom over Hollywood, so A24 mimicked it, creating their own billboard in the exact same location with Franco instead of Wiseau blazoned on it. Even the phone number works.

 

 

But again, they went even further. They offered a free mugshot of Franco, in character, downloadable from their webstore. They have used millennial friendly memes. And most impressively have created the ‘Tommy Award’, an award gifted to those that recreate a scene from The Room (as badly as possible) and then upload it to Instagram or Twitter. The results have been pretty hilarious, and is yet another way to help generate word of mouth before the film even opens. And to top it all off, they lauded a 14 year old who recreated The Disaster Artist teaser trailer in lego. All of this generates content to ensure an audience, but it also gets the audience talking about the film months before release and the campaign is impressive to say the least.

 

So whilst other companies have craved and gone after this audience, some holding the crown for a short period of time, others longer, it is A24 that truly has them captivated. As I said earlier their logo has officially become a stamp of approval, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Next year they will produce streetwear legend and (mainly) actor Jonah Hill’s debut feature Mid ’90s. Knowing the cultural weight that Jonah Hill has, and our current penchant for all things 90s, the plot sounds like prime A24 material. It follows a young boy coming up in Los Angeles in the mid-90s learning life lessons with his skateboarding crew of friends. It won’t star Hill himself, but I’m sure the marketing will revolve around his writing and directing involvement. Then there is the untitled horror project produced in tandem with David S. Goyer. The man that is 15% responsible for how great the The Dark Knight Trilogy was, but most probably also 10% responsible for how bad it was.

 

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Then they have a film based around the creation of MTV: I want my MTV. Directed by James Ponsoldt, the amount of material that A24 has to play with here means we can expect an ingenious marketing campaign. They have the true life story of Brit Billy Moore who was once jailed in a Thai prison, where he honed his Muay Thai skills to escape in A Prayer Before Dawn. They are working with Cary Fukunaga on one of his next projects and the next film from It Follows director David Robert Mitchell, Under the Silver Lake. But most excitingly they will re-team with the Safdie Brothers on their next project, Uncut Gems. Produced by Martin Scorsese and starring Jonah Hill, it will follow their latest masterpiece Good Time and will be set in and around the diamond district in New York. Expect style and grit from the brothers who have set the New York film industry alight this year.

 

A24 is clearly not afraid to take risks and they can be provocative in their choices. They seem to have a significant amount of power in the industry right now, challenging the status quo with the confidence to execute each film’s release with versatile freshness. Their marketing model is unrivalled and their willingness to treat their films in this way means that the talent wants to collaborate with them, not the other way round.  They are a progressive company, one that knows how to tap into its demographic,. They create content for fun as much as they do for ticket sales. It’s an interesting ploy, but it comes across as genuine. They have a relationship with their audience, and the good thing is that due to their social media presence, it’s a relationship that grows stronger with every release. Zoe Beyer who has been in charge of their social media since 2010 has an anecdote which sums this up perfectly.

 

“…last night I was sleeping on my phone and tweeted out the letter R on accident. It got a lot of retweets though so I kept it. Basically I just want people to read our tweets think, “That sounds like something my friend would say.”

 

Maybe that’s what their strategy is all about: creating a loyal filmic friendship.

 

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