Posted by Larry Gleeson
by Zach Baron
The story behind the studio that produced “Moonlight” and “It Comes At Night”, as told by Barry Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, James Franco, Robert Pattinson, and the founders of A24 themselves.
There are more glamorous things to be, in Hollywood, than an independent distribution company. For instance, an actress. Or a director. Or a screenwriter. Key grip. Maybe even that guy with a two-way radio who keeps you from walking through a movie set. Film-distribution companies tend to be important but invisible: They buy finished films, cut trailers, make posters, and put movies into movie theaters—or, more often these days, dump them onto VOD, never to be heard from again. There are exceptions to this rule, such as Miramax, the company that upended indie cinema in the ’90s, backing then unknown filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino. And there are studio subdivisions, like Fox Searchlight, that have consistently guided films like 12 Years a Slave and Birdman to Academy Awards and box office success over the past twenty years. But in general distribution is like plumbing: unseen, unnoticed, and notable only when it malfunctions.
So it was strange, if you were a moviegoer in 2013, to see the A24 logo pop up again and again before movies as varied and weird as Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now and Roman Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. It wasn’t just that, for a new distribution company, it seemed to have a level of taste and an instinct for cool that is atypical in Hollywood. It was also that A24 was releasing these films not with a sigh and a shrug, but with panache, style, and humor: bright neon colors, guerrilla marketing tactics, and in the case of James Franco’s Britney Spears-loving gangster character from Spring Breakers, an actual Oscar campaign. The company, improbably, was based in New York, not Los Angeles. Its trio of founders—Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges, who’d known each other through years of work in New York’s indie movie circuit—rarely granted interviews. If you were paying attention, you had to wonder: Who were these strange upstart New Yorkers who were making Hollywood a little bit great again?
That was 2013. Four short years later, the company’s first original production, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In between, A24 went from being a tiny, disorganized room of eight or so people to being the place where big stars like Robert Pattinson and Scarlett Johansson go to make small, strange movies, and auteurs like Jonathan Glazer and Denis Villeneuve go to make deeply personal films unmolested by studio notes or clueless executives. We spoke with the company’s friends, collaborators, and employees to make sense of how A24 became the most interesting, creative, and reliable film company of the 21st century.