Nobody used to watch a film at the cinema and wonder how it got there. Apart from Miramax and Fox Spotlight, film distribution and production was always a bit of a lost art, especially in a world of digital streaming which threatens to kill any motivation to leave your sofa and go to the theatre. However, a certain movie-watching audience has experienced a change of heart in recent years. The phrase, “This is the kind of movie you want to see in a cinema,” has come back into the conversation, and we have A24 to thank for that.
A24 is a film distribution company based in New York. Two strikes. A “film distribution company”? Yawn. Who dedicates an entire article to a “film distribution company”? Also, “New York”? Isn’t Hollywood in, you know, Hollywood? L.A.? Mulholland Drive? The big Hollywood sign? The red carpet?
“People make movies in New York?” asked my friend, in shocked disbelief, after I told her that I had just seen A24’s latest production, Eighth Grade (2018), in the cinema.
“Yeah,” I replied. “They’re also really fucking good.”
Film distribution companies buy finished films, edit trailers, make posters, and put movies into movie theatres. In other words, they are in charge of the marketing of a film. Why should we care? Because they do it well.
What A24 does that makes it stand out is that they look at a film and go, “Can this film be marketed by FOX or Warner Brothers? If not, if we can do it differently,—if we can do it better— then let’s fight for it.” How else can one explain their wide repertoire ranging from bleak supernatural dramas about grief (A Ghost Story (2017)) to satirical crime films, like Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (2013)? What ties these films together is not genre, or star-studded actors, or even what they’re generally about, but some undeniable essence. A24 picks films that hone in on our Zeitgeist, that encourage us to not simply watch but to feel. They are not all good films, nor do they always do well. Life After Beth (2014) was made on a budget of $2.4 million and had a box office total of $254,881. But yet, they also distributed Moonlight (2016)—the coming-of-age epic drama which snatched Best Picture at the Oscars.
John Heavey, the man in charge of distribution at A24, told GQ that the film company falls “in love with every movie.” A24 believes in their movies. You can see this from their mind-blowing Tinder campaign for Ex-Machina (2014), a film about an intelligent humanoid robot. Tinder users at the SXSW festival encountered a pretty 25-year old named ‘Ava’ on the app, and once text messaging moved past questions of “What makes you human?” and “Have you ever been in love?”, she would link them to her Instagram. However, her page would only feature two things: one photo and one video, both promoting the movie.
A24 thus capitalizes on our social media and word-of-mouth habits, in order to strategise playful, targeted modern marketing techniques to promote movies that nobody would otherwise take a look at it if it was produced by a big-shot distribution company. Their online campaigns vary from being as sophisticated and philosophical as the one for Ex Machina, to their rush to create gun-shaped glass bongs to give to the producer of Spring Breakers (2012) to acquire the rights for the film. It’s not simply about blowing cash, but pushing the boundaries. They care about their movies that much.
The company has also received praise for sharing the values of the films’ directors. A24’s political and aesthetic values stand out in a commercialized industry. Indie films are now back in the market thanks to A24’s desire to keep a film as it is. The star of A24’s American Honey (2016) Sasha Lane said to GQ, “No one had to be perfected for anything.” A24 works with heart AND brains. Their vision is limitless. From acquiring small films, like Ginger and Rosa in 2013, to huge box-office hits like the terrifying and critically acclaimed Hereditary (2018) to The Florida Project (2017) with Willem Dafoe—the company is undermining the foundations of what everyone believed Hollywood to be.
The films themselves are full of bold, colourful strokes, and delicate details. Timothée Chalamet and Maika Monroe’s kiss in Hot Summer Nights (2018) unfolds like a flower on screen. Annette Bening and Lucade Jade Zumann gape at a burning car in 20th Century Women (2016). Elsie Fisher flashes a ‘gucci’ sign at the screen in Eighth Grade. The films reflect where we are right now—a time full of confusing politics, the Internet, love in all its different varied forms, and a yearning for something greater. They are the kind of films that, as Heavey states, are “needed by people.”
A24 dares to be different, and it is this ambition that allows it to lead us into a renaissance of filmmaking. Thank God for A24, or else we’d end up entirely consumed by the Hulu and Netflix void and quite unable to leave it.