Day 6

From Moonlight to Midsommar: How film distributor A24 succeeds in the age of superheroes and sequels

In the age of reboots and expanded universes, film distributor A24 is finding success by backing original stories, trusting new directors and using its promotional strategy to build an unlikely cult following.

Instead of comic book properties and franchises, A24 focuses on original work. The weird thing? It's working.

A still from A24's 2019 horror movie Midsommar. Washington Post reporter Sonia Rao says that the film distributor's new line of books are just one way they're leveraging the internet's 'obsession with their movies.'
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The same week that Joker premiered — one of what are reportedly five other movies in various stages of development that focus on the character — film distributor A24 was working on a different strategy. 

They published a line of books.

Though that may seem like a strange choice for a company dedicated to making movies, Washington Post pop culture reporter Sonia Rao says its perfectly in line with their business strategy.

It's a strategy that seems to be working: the books sold out almost immediately.

Founded only seven years ago, A24 has quickly become a tastemaker in an industry saturated with superhero movies, sequels and remakes.

With a repertoire of films that includes MoonlightHereditaryEighth GradeThe Farewell and The Witch, they've created an almost untouchable reputation among film buffs, while peddling some seemingly bizarre merchandise to connect with young people like no movie company has before.

Rao spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the A24 phenomenon, what makes the distributor so relentlessly successful, and what creators who worked with the distributor themselves said about how A24 shaped their films.

Here is part of that conversation.

This line of books is not the first piece of merch that A24 has released. They have pins, candles, and even a bear figurine that ties in with Midsommar, Ari Aster's horror film ... What does all this stuff have to do with their movies? 

It's a really good way of tapping into the internet, and its obsession with their movies.

You brought up the candles, which I think is the weirdest thing that they sell. They have one tied to the movie High Life for example, which takes place in space.

It's like a High Life scented candle: what does that mean, what does it mean to have a space candle? It doesn't really mean anything. It's just a cool, pretty candle.

When the A24 logo comes up at the beginning of the film, what makes film buffs sit up and pay attention?

What makes people pay attention is the fact that you never really know what to expect. I think even though they are all so different: Barry Jenkins's vision for Moonlight is not at all similar to what Ari Aster is doing in Hereditary, but you can tell watching both movies that these are the exact projects those directors wanted to make.

You can really feel their stamp on the movies, whether it's aesthetically, or if it's in what actually happens in the movie, or the risks they're willing to take.

Sometimes with Hereditary those risks are very obvious, and sometimes with movies like Moonlight, they're more subtle. That movie did something that a lot of other studios might have been hesitant to do, given that it was Barry's second film ever.

For Barry Jenkins, Moonlight obviously has launched a career that I think is probably going to be spectacular for many years to come. What did he tell you about working with A24 that made it different for him?

Moonlight was the first movie that A24 ever produced on their own, and so he was like, "You're going to come to me, this guy who's only made one movie for $15,000?"

What Moonlight is about is a black boy in Miami coming to terms with his sexuality throughout the film as he grows older.

That's a beautiful subject, but it's not necessarily a story that you would see coming from other companies ... When movies are centering on minorities, on multiple kinds especially, sometimes studios say: "Hey, who's this for?"  

A24 saw it from the flip side, they said, "Well this is a story that we haven't seen and so we should tell it." That was present throughout all of Barry's responses to my interviewing, which was that, "This is a story I knew I wanted to tell and I'm just glad I found the right people to help me tell it."

Barry Jenkins had only directed one movie, Medicine for Melancholy, before beginning work on the award winning film Moonlight. (Al Powers/Invision/Associated Press)

When you look at the box office success movies of this year, 19 out of 20 of them are comic book properties, or sequels, or based on intellectual property that's already out there.

How sustainable is A24's model when they're telling stories they're not sure have an audience out there for them?

Those movies obviously have a built in audience, which is why 19 of them are that successful. But I also sense, maybe, a little fatigue of sorts with movies that are based off IP, or are reboots or remakes.

I think people are craving new things. They want new stories, they want things that came from someone's brain recently and aren't just rehashing what we've done before.

I think that A24 really taps into that, and they're not just telling any old new story, they're telling stories that are really personal that you can tell the writer [and] directors have really, really wanted to make for a while. 

A good example of this would be Lady Bird ... If you're familiar with Greta Gerwig's work, you can really sense herself in that movie. She based it kind of off her life. And I think movies like that, that center on a teenage girl but so honestly, are things that we're going to see more of, and we haven't really seen a lot of until recently.

Director and writer Greta Gerwig based the film Lady Bird partially on her own life. (Merie Wallace/A24)

Do you think that A24 has another Moonlight coming down the pipe?

It's hard to tell.

When Moonlight came out, they were established as a company ... which they did very quickly by the way; they became a pretty successful company pretty fast.

Now, people's expectations of them are so high that it's hard to say, "This will be their Moonlight." But I've heard a lot of buzz about the movie Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler, and he already is getting Oscar buzz which I think is surprising to hear.  

They're playing that award season game that everyone else is playing nowadays, and they just seem to have more contenders as the years go on.


This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Sonia Rao, download our podcast or click Listen above.

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