A24 is spearheading the unanticipated new wave of indie films. A24 is a film distribution and production company founded in 2012 by seasoned film veterans Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges. Since its inception, this up-and-coming indie film distributor has accumulated 25 Academy Award nominations and has received high acclaim for their impressively broad repertoire of films: Moonlight (2017), Ex Machina (2014), The VVitch (2016), etc. Encompassing diverse genres, settings, and narratives, A24 films are united by their fundamental loyalty to filmmakers’ originality, vision, and most of all, by their rejuvenation of millennial audiences’ feelings.
Today, audiences are under siege by the next live-action Disney remake, superhero spin-off, or “the final installment” of a series that will realistically never end. There’s still a demand for these movies and there’s no debate that they’re guaranteed to make an enormous profit. But how does creativity fit into the formulaic concept of moviemaking? And how do filmmakers get younger generations off their phones and subscription streaming services, and into the movie theater? In an industry plagued by unoriginality and oversaturation, audiences gravitate toward something more rewarding than a thrill, something risky and provocative that creates conversation long after the credits roll. This is where the new wave of independent cinema comes in.
Independent films are characterized by a recognizably rebellious spirit. When small film production companies struggled to exist in the shadows of Hollywood’s glamorous “studio system” in the 1920s, indie films were low-budget, poorly marketed, and unpalatable to the mainstream audience. However, once the film industry attempted to break down the studio monopoly, allowing a space for small directors, indie films became less defined by their characteristic financial lack, but more by their refusal to abide by conventions. This could mean dynamic, round protagonists that we simultaneously hate and root for, settings that are grimy and unglamorous, or simply taking a piece of the “slice of life” genre where the ordinary and mundane are given a space on the silver screen. Another crucial aspect of independent cinema is aesthetics and stylization. There is something about the atmosphere that is enhanced by the filmmaker’s choice of filters, lighting, or camera movement to make it beautiful. The filmmaker inscribes their signatures throughout their work, making it independently their own.
However, given the narrow market for indie films, it is not accessible to everyone. Most of A24’s loyal fans are well-educated. Given the complexity of the stories and individualized artistic vision, they are attractive films of study in higher education. A24 films are inquisitive, exploring and challenging social expectations and unrecognized populations. They are provocative but not entertaining in the traditional sense. The climax is less defined than a Marvel superhero movie, the endings are never conclusive, and the social message is elusive or uncomfortably confrontational. There is a risk in the payout of watching an A24 film. You may come out of a two-hour film disappointed with ten precious dollars gone to waste. Moreover, not all theaters show smaller scale films, denying rural, isolated populations the chance to be exposed to the world beyond the surely profitable mainstream. This is where film distribution becomes pivotal in changing the landscape of accessible movie-going.
A24, addressing these concerns, pushes to bring their films into a public space, not limiting their audience to the liberal intellectuals in big cities. In more current films, A24 has come out with projects focused on topophilia, a love of place. Most notably, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird (2018), a coming-of-age girly film centered on a quirky protagonist who hates her hometown is, at its core, a love letter to Sacramento. Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) is a nostalgic remark on the beautifully understated, but tragically gentrified San Francisco landscape. Finding beauty in the ordinary, directors place setting central to the narrative in order to bring pride to natives who are misrepresented or underrepresented in mainstream American film. Places like Manhattan or Downtown Los Angeles are not the only places worthy of storytelling. Other times, they transform a location seemingly fixed in societal stereotypes into something new. The Florida Project (2017) confronts the glossiness of Disneyworld by telling a child’s story in a cheap motel in the theme park’s shadow. A directly tangible effort to illuminate place as the driving inspiration for their films, during summer 2019, A24 pioneered free public access screenings of their films on billboards in locations that were extensively tied to a place—Moonlight (2017) in Miami, The Bling Ring (2013) in Los Angeles, The Spectacular Now (2013) in Athens, etc. A24 was the first film distribution company to make a statement that moviegoing pleasures are not exclusive to the commodifying theater but open and act as homage to the public space that inspired them.
Speaking of the ways in which A24 uniquely brands itself, A24 is not here to advertise; they’re here to break the internet. Just before the degenerate crime thriller Spring Breakers (2013) release date, A24 posted a rather unfaithful adaptation of da Vinci’s The Last Supper on their Facebook page. James Franco, surrounded by his following of beautiful, bikini-clad disciples, lifts his hands to salvation while the words “On Fridays, be good. We’re saving you a seat” prompt viewers to click on the link to buy tickets. This outrageous image quickly went viral. Pushing the younger generations to the edge of their seats, A24 established itself as a film studio that doesn’t take itself too seriously, a film company that finally represents and addresses millennial self-deprecation. A24 even pushed out an online Oscars campaign for James Franco’s performance with the motto: “Consider this sh*t.” A24 gave millennial audiences what they’ve been missing: unapologetic campaigns that force them to go to theaters again with something to talk about.
During the 2015 SXSW festival, A24 used the dating app Tinder to promote their new thriller Ex Machina (2014). Catfishing hopeful hook-ups, A24 created a fake profile of the female robot protagonist named Ava using actress Alicia Vikander’s photos. Using AI generated responses to communicate with matches, A24 made their film premise a daunting reality, and curious Tinder victims were eventually guided to the film’s Instagram page after a hilariously misleading conversation. Using Tinder, an app heavily populated with 18-30-year-olds, A24 understands and addresses the trends of their target audience. A24 balances the best of both worlds: the prestige that comes from distributing critically acclaimed and thematically deep films and having stupid fun while doing so.
A24 pours out support to underrepresented film directors. Giving a platform for female directors, in a time where 8% of film directors are women, A24 sets itself up as a model for other film companies to measure up against. A24’s female directors prove that women are not lacking in any creative vision or possibility for commercial success, and as such they go above and beyond in changing the course of feminist film history. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird (2017) was the highest earning A24 film yet in 2017, raking in over $28 million in less than two months. While profit isn’t what A24 cares about, this shows that when a production studio like A24 stands behind female directors, they can achieve beyond what they are expected on their own. Asian American filmmaker Lulu Wang, director of autobiographical film The Farewell (2019) portrays a story about learning of her grandmother’s terminal illness spoken in nearly all Chinese, in China. Met with alluring financial offers, Lulu Wang chose to accept A24 to distribute a film, explaining her decision with “They can create community and a brand around that filmmaker.” This care around an individual’s vision is what distinguishes A24’s credibility.
Not only does A24 support a diverse creative crew, but the films depict underrepresented populations in their subjects in ways they are not accepted in mainstream society. Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age film Eight Grade (2018) is an uncensored story about real eighth graders today: kids experimenting with sexuality, social awkwardness, and self-centered feelings of despair. This would be an incredibly relatable viewing, if eighth graders could actually watch it legally. Rated R, Eighth Grade created controversy by making its content inaccessible to the population it was meant to portray. Nonetheless, A24 creates opportunities for people to see authentic representations of themselves on screen. While A24 has its share of ordinary but shockingly authentic and relatable representations, it also sheds light on what we are unfamiliar with and closed-minded to. For example, Israeli director Guy Nattiv’s film Skin (2019) depicts a story inspired by an ex-member of a white supremacist group. Synthesizing present-day anxieties about the re-emergence of radical groups, the humanization with which these directors’ film narratives endow these despicable characters stretches the limits of what audiences expect to see on screen.
A24 is a studio to watch out for. Time and time again, it has impressed audiences by its inexhaustive breadth in productions; anyone can reap the feeling of reward after watching an A24 film. Recently experimenting with television including Euphoria (2019), A24 never fails to break the internet in their collaborations with pop culture icons (Drake, Zendaya) in order to build a legacy for the younger generations who often get left out in cultural history. Outdated definitions of “good taste” in film leave out the hidden gems that appeal to millennial audiences, ones that are entertaining, caustic, and humorous, with unapologetic efforts to bring meaning and cultural saliency into a proudly degenerate culture. A24 tells the old, white men of the Academy Awards to move over; we have good taste too.