Rewind six years ago. The coming attractions for the quirky “Spring Breakers” were flashing across the country. The campy college party movie featured an alluring cast: Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine and James Franco. Who could resist the Disney alumni playing mischievous, bikini-clad college girls doting upon the ultimate bad boy figure? Apparently, no one. The movie with a minuscule $5 million budget exploded across theaters and raked in an impressive $31.7 million in box offices worldwide. This was only the beginning for small New York production company, A24.
Fast forward to present day. A24, the production company that brought you “Spring Breakers,” has gone on to make cinematic and artistic history.
Dubbed as “The Little Studio That Could” by The New York Times, A24 tells a groundbreaking narrative similar to other historical and impactful companies: the small garage, the brilliant idea, the birth of something innovative. The Silicon Valley-adjacent production company is focused on freshness, and they are using that as their ultimate vehicle to move themselves ahead of the curve.
Since A24’s emergence into the filmmaking industry, ignited by John Hodges, Daniel Katz and David Fenkle in a small office overlooking Jersey, their vibrant yet simple logo has been behind a number of box office hits. Notable game-changers include: “Ex Machina,” a chilling story about the beautiful Ava, a genius cyborg created by the CEO of a large computer software company; “Lady Bird,” a novel coming-of-age narrative that follows Lady Bird, a young girl from California who has a volatile relationship with her mother; and most recently, “Hereditary,” a harrowing horror movie that unveils the sinister prophecy that begets the downfall of a family after the death of their matriarch.
Their repertoire might seem a bit mismatched. Unlike some of the larger production conglomerates, A24 isn’t focused on maintaining a certain image. They are not interested in the typical blockbuster. They are not interested in the boom/bust potential those types of films have to offer.
Instead, A24 is thinking: there has got to be a better way.
A24 can ultimately credit their pursuit of art as the largest contributor to their success. They support the small but brilliant ideas that other production companies overlook. They take risks for the sake of the film and its creator. They champion filmmakers that have a unique vision and a desire to express and craft a story. They are attracted to ideas that display various levels of depth, stories that are cutting edge, culturally sound and socially significant. Perhaps they aren’t necessarily sexy. Perhaps they aren’t always action packed or romantic. A24 films aren’t meant for everyone, but art never is. Sometimes art up close can be ugly, and A24 is willing to accept that and sally forth boldly anyway.
It’s art for art’s sake, not art for money’s sake. There is no thematic connection between their films because there is no thematic connection that can dominate art.
So, then why aren’t big-name production companies operating like this? Film distribution companies must, first and foremost, feel comfortable with the likelihood of a project’s success before they invest in it. If a project lacks well-known actors, actresses or directors, then they are unlikely to consider further investment. Knowing that popularity or exposure could heighten the return on investment and contribute to marketing efforts is a huge driving factor for a number of production companies.
A24 is so unconventional because they are willing to break that cardinal rule by taking a chance and pour money into a film without the A-list celebrities or director endorsements. Many of the films they work on feature first-time actors or actresses who tend to make a major breakthrough in their films.
This, in turn, makes A24 much more liberal in their creative allocation. Their unwavering support for those trying to find an outlet for their voice is again evident in this aspect. A24 exerts a certain sense of excitement for the work being produced, not just for the foreseeable profit being made. Paramount, Warner Brothers, Universal and other massive distribution companies tend to be more suffocating to the creative directors and artists working on a film. Something mass produced must appeal to the masses and giving someone full rein on the creative content can be deemed as too risky.
This experimentation has allowed for nuanced projects, often resulting in audiences leaving theaters thinking, what the hell was that?
I remember sitting in my basement, the glare of the TV in striking contrast to the dark room. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” played across the screen. I stared in silent awe. It was one of the most riveting performances I had ever experienced. The acting was phenomenal, unparalleled almost. The visual components, the cinematography and the set dressing communicated perfectly the sterile and heartless theme of the film, which followed the undoing of a seemingly perfect suburban family after a troubled boy inserts himself into their lives.
The credits rolled, and I thought to myself: What the hell did I just watch? After careful contemplation and digesting of my thoughts, I found myself genuinely surprised. How come I never saw any advertisements for the film? No coming attractions, no posters, no weird ads that crept onto the margins of my Facebook wall.
In an article with Slate Magazine, the founders of A24 commented on their approach to marketing and distribution expressing the belief that a lot of their success in this department can be attributed to the fact that they “sell the film by not selling it,” believing wholeheartedly that the film should undoubtedly speak for itself.
This atypical approach to marketing, for a number of different projects they’ve taken on, is also emblematic of the idea that art doesn’t necessarily need to be marketed. The reason why these films are grossing upwards of $31 million albeit having little to no marketing efforts in place is because they are just good films, plain and simple. They elicit emotion; they start conversations; they inspire people; they comment on the present and on the endless possibilities of the future. These films appeal to a wide variety of people and create personal experiences that allow their viewers to leave changed and provoked.