From Moonlight to Zola – the rise and rise of independent film studio A24

How many more zeitgeists can you get than a movie adapted from a viral Twitter feed? Not least that begins, “You all wanna hear a story about why me and that bitch ran into it?”

Zola, a scary fairy tale / nightmare about two strippers on a bizarre weekend in Florida, is the genre of film that American independent cinema thrives on: distinctive, current, weird but sophisticated, comedic yet serious. His closest comparisons would be those of Harmony Korine spring breakers, Sean Baker’s The Florida project and that of Andrea Arnold American honey. Besides the fact that they reveal something new about modern American life, what connects all of these films, and many more, is the label that releases them.

In less than a decade, A24’s retro black-and-white logo has become a hallmark of smart, engaging and fresh American cinema – as it could be the industry’s last hope. As well as nation-state Indies such as Zola, A24 has released a succession of award-winning dramas: Oscar winner Moonlight, Lady Bird, Minari, Room, Eigth year, Uncut gems.

It has also cornered the market for literate and ambitious horror films such as Hereditary, The witch, It comes at night and A ghost story. The next version of A24 will continue this line: The green knight, an earthy and mystical Arthurian fantasy with Dev Patel.

Toni Collette in ‘Hereditary’ (2018), A24’s highest grossing film to date © Alamy

In the process, A24 nurtured an exciting new generation of American filmmakers, many of whom have remained loyal to the brand. Ari Aster, director of Environment and Hereditary (the company’s biggest hit: $ 80 million worldwide on a budget of $ 10 million), has two more films in the A24 pipeline, while The green knight is the third from director David Lowery.

These filmmakers know and support each other, and they know their cinema. In conversation on A24 podcast in 2019, Aster and Robert Eggers (The witch, Lighthouse) discussed their mutual love for Ingmar Bergman and their preferred proportions. As such, A24 could be seen as a bastion against the pincer movement of big-budget franchise movies and well-equipped streaming platforms that is quickly gobbling up the industry’s middle ground. It’s a strangely contradictory position: cool and avant-garde but also traditional.

“I think their whole thing is a little punk rock,” said Zola director Janicza Bravo. “And I hope it stays that way. My favorite time in film is what came out of the United States in the seventies. I have a romantic idea of ​​what was going on then.. point of view, it looks and smells freedom.A24 feels synonymous with this kind of spirit.

The company is often compared to Miramax, the dominant label of the 1990s, which had a similar talent for acquiring landmark independent films. But there are some key differences. For starters, the A24 is not run by Harvey Weinstein.

Director Janicza Bravo with Riley Keough and Taylour Paige on the set of ‘Zola’ © Anna Kooris / A24 Films

A24 founders David Fenkel and Daniel Katz © John Sciulli / Getty Images

The company was founded in 2012 by Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges (who left in 2018), three New York friends from film production. Katz headed the film’s finance arm at Guggenheim Partners, which provided a few million dollars in seed capital. Named after an Italian highway, A24 today has more than 100 employees in offices in New York and Los Angeles.

“They’re passionate about movies, but they’re also incredibly good business people,” says one insider, who suggests their non-Hollywood perspective is a plus. “They saw a way to do things differently and decided it was easier to build something from scratch than to try to change what was already there.”

Miramax was known for its aggressive awards campaign, which generated Oscar hits such as Shakespeare in love and The English patient; A24 has taken a whole smarter approach to marketing.

Promote The green knight, for example, the company created a Dungeons & Dragons– board game style, complete with parody television advertising. For Zola, it produced a bound tissue hardcover book from A’Ziah King’s original Twitter feed, with a foreword by Bad feminist the writer Roxane Gay. To promote the science fiction of 2014 Ex Machina he created a fake Tinder profile for the story’s android star, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. Those who slipped on her were redirected to the film’s Instagram page.

Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite in Sean Baker’s ‘The Florida Project’ (2017) © Freestyle Picture Company / Alamy

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in Robert Eggers’ ‘The Lighthouse’ (2019) © A24 / Alamy

“A lot of people are pretty jealous of them,” one movie publicist tells me. “These gadgets get their movies talked about and are shared on social media, so they don’t have to spend that much money on advertising.”

Having established itself as an important player, the question now is how long A24 will be able to maintain it. The pandemic has only exacerbated the precarious situation of the cinema. The green knightThe release of has been delayed for over a year and its UK release was recently canceled. Some analysts say box office revenue will take several years to return to pre-Covid levels, if ever.

Meanwhile, streaming platforms are well resourced and hungry for content. Earlier this month, Variety reported that A24 had explored a sale, for a price of $ 2.5 billion to $ 3 billion. The company itself declined to comment, but someone close insists A24 is not selling. Either way, an anonymous executive asks a relevant question about a possible sale: “What is the asset?” “

Until recently, A24 was first and foremost a distributor, meaning that it did not make its own films; he has released films produced by others, usually through pre-sale deals or festival acquisitions. In the United States, he also distributed overseas-made titles that match his brand, such as British Horror. Holy maud, documentary Amy and that of Claire Denis High life. As such, he does not fully “own” most of the films associated with him. Some suggest that the real “asset” of the company is its marketing acumen.

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ (2016) © Alamy

In recent years, the company To transition to production. His first step was a success: that of Barry Jenkins Moonlight. Others followed (Hereditary, Eigth year, Uncut gems), although not everything he touches turned to gold: an ambitious adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel Native son received poor reviews and was released in the US only on HBO.

Today, A24 produces almost all of his own content, although there are signs that he realizes that he cannot survive standing alone or standing up for cinema on his own. In addition to Aster, the company has new films in the pipeline from Kelly Reichardt, Darren Aronofsky and Joel Coen – mostly co-productions.

She has also turned to television, producing or co-producing successful series including Euphoria (with HBO) and Ramy. And in November 2018, it signed a multi-year agreement with Apple to produce content for its streaming platform (the exact terms are unknown). Apple is one of the companies that would be interested in acquiring A24 outright.

Even if the company is not swallowed up in its entirety, its stable of directors may well be taken over by larger players. The green knight director Lowery has already done Pete’s dragon for Disney and is currently working on a reboot of Peter Pan for them.

Whether or not A24 can ‘save the cinema’, the company has shown that there is still an appetite for the clever, forward-thinking films of the genre that Hollywood was making before. It launched a new generation of filmmakers and connected them to a new generation of viewers. But it’s probably wise not to get too hung up on the medium in an entertainment landscape where a movie can be consumed on a mobile phone and a Twitter feed can become a movie. The pitch is changing and relatively small players like A24 will have to grow with it.

‘The Green Knight’ is in US theaters from July 30, ‘Zola’ is in UK theaters from August 6

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