I’ve become late-to-the party obsessed with independent film company A24.
I first became aware of A24 after seeing ‘American Honey’ and being surprised at how long that movie stuck with me, even though it was far from perfect.
I told my friend Amanda about it and she said, “that’s A24 — they’re the only people doing great cinema right now”.
Five months after ‘American Honey’ was released, A24 put out ‘Moonlight’, it’s first original production. And five months after that, ‘Moonlight’ won the Oscar for Best Picture.
It took just four years for A24 to reach the apex.
“There’s music labels I can think of as well. Where it’s like: I’m in. I just trust, you know, Drag City or Merge or SST or Dischord. There’s aesthetic and political values to the people behind the company. It’s super inspiring.”
— James Ponsoldt, Director, ‘The End of the Tour’
So far, A24 has managed the balance between commercial success and critical adoration. But beyond that, A24 has so far maintained what Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine describes as ‘heart’.
“I want to do the most radical work, but put it out in the most commercial way.”
— Harmony Korine
The inspiring part of the A24 story is the faith in the films themselves.
Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins recalls the early days of ‘Moonlight’s’ release:
At that point, none of us were thinking, “Hey, we’re gonna win Best Picture!” But we wanted to give the movie the chance to have as much of a life as we possibly could. And with the opening weekend, with the numbers that we did, it became very clear that, yes, this is a viable strategy, to keep this very small, gay, art-house hood-ass film — like, yeah, we’re just gonna keep it in theaters. They had faith that people would continue to show up. And they did.
That faith in a “very small, gay, art-house hood-ass film” like ‘Moonlight, in the genuine weirdness of ‘Spring Breakers’ and ‘The Lobster’, and in the acrylic neon tragedy of America outside the safety net captured so vividly in ‘American Honey’ and ‘The Florida Project’ is inspiring.
This is one of the things they’re great at: taking something small and delicate and giving it the kind of support that other people can’t.
— James Franco
A24’s the kind of company where they say, “Yeah, they don’t need to know what it’s about. They just need to know how it feels.”
— Barry Jenkins, Director, ‘Moonlight’
On a smaller scale, A24 is having its moment in 2017 like CAA did in the late 1970s.
“Among critics and cinephiles I know, the A24 label is starting to mean something in the way that a 4AD record meant something in 1988, or a Grove Press book meant something in 1955.”
— David Ehrlich, Slate
That moment propelled CAA through two decades, but as documented in ‘Powerhouse’, a poison set in at CAA, the hunger was lost, greed flourished and the great art suddenly disappeared.
The fascinating question for those who combine commerce and art into a moment of transcendence is how to maintain that moment.
How do you make sure the assumptions that made you successful don’t doom you as you propel forward?
How do you avoid being a 1987–1997 Miramax (who put out Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, Clerks, Trainspotting, The Crying Game, Sex Lies & Videotape, Swingers, Life is Beautiful, The English Patient, Jackie Brown, Reservoir Dogs, The Piano, and Chasing Amy in a ten-year span) and ending up a 2017 Harvey Weinstein?
“I hope they don’t get too big that they forget what got them started.”
— James Franco
I was reminded watching A24 documentary ‘De Palma’ of the inevitability of failure in creative endeavours.
You see it in the music industy too. Dr. Dre’s early days at Aftermath with Jimmy Iovine come to mind as an example.
A24 has put out roughly 50 movies, not all of them were as good as ‘Moonlight’. Not close. Barely Lethal, Bling Ring and Ballad of Lefty Brown all fell flat for good reason.
But like Brian De Palma, and Dr. Dre, and anyone who has created through multiple decades, the key isn’t the fall, it’s the rise again, and the belief in moving in a singular direction, whatever the tide.
A belief strong enough that it doesn’t waver through the inevitable rise and fall.
It will be fascinating to watch where A24 goes to from here.