A24 Becoming More Commercial Is Concerning

This week, The Wrap came out with a report citing a “top agent with knowledge of the company” who said that an executive from A24 had been making rounds across talent agencies looking for “action and big IP projects.” The agent noted that the move was due to A24’s current ongoing strategy of “deemphasizing the traditional character/auteur-driven dramas.

A24 was founded in 2012 by Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges with the focus on film distribution. Their first notable success came by the way of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, starring Selena Gomez and James Franco, in 2013. The company would later get the U.S rights to critical hits, Ex Machina and Room, and would spend the near decade following distributing art-house critical hit after critical hit; from the wider known films like The Banshees of Inisherin and Moonlight, to lesser-known but critically beloved titles like After Yang and First Cow.

While A24 quickly became lionized by cinephile’s globally for their unique taste in idiosyncratic films that all told their narratives through a unique lens, by lesser-known directors who all had a thorough understanding of the language of film to boot, the company wouldn’t become a household name until their first foray into the world of blockbusters. Everything Everywhere All At Once would take the Academy Awards and global box office by storm. For better or for worse, however, with such success comes money, and with it the inevitable structures of our world come in to play; by which I mean mergers, acquisitions, and the constant need to grow and aquiesce to the miasmic desires of commercialization and capital. 

After Yang
In the sea of blockbusters, where audiences are drowning with Marvel properties, it’s films like After Yang that need more of the spotlight. Because movies like these are what keep cinema alive. Photo: A24

Last spring, a private equity firm from New York City paid $225 million for less than 10% of A24, putting the studio’s overall valuation at a whopping $2.5 billion — not the number you’d expect from a supposed “indie” studio. As such, this alleged pivot to more commercially viable projects as noted by the aforementioned agent is due to the studio’s need to keep up with this considerable valuation. Because once you’re a billion dollar company, you need to stay a billion dollar company; and art-house, slow-burn films that may not sit well with wider audiences simply isn’t going to cut it — and that’s concerning, though an unsurprising (if not outright trite) next step for a company under the economic structures of the U.S.

To be fair, yes, art-house auteur films are always going be a gamble as far as box-office numbers go. Not all of A24’s films have done well when it comes to the dollars and cents of it all. The “top agent” who spoke to The Wrap said as much by stating, “The bottom line is that auteur films don’t make any money and are super risky.” Yet, it’s these very films that have put A24 in the position they are in today. Their exquisite taste in projects that push narrative boundaries, separating them from the likes of a Marvel and Disney and allowing moviegoers to see at least some semblance of storytelling nuance have paved their identity. So to now risk losing that identity by submitting to the whims of shareholders who only want more $100 million box-office hits, is a recipe that has historically proven to be a disaster.

It should be noted, however, that The Wrap cited another source “close to A24” that refuted the claims made by this “top agent,” saying that their words were mischaracterizing A24’s plans and that the company will still focus on art-house films, but would simply be “widening the aperture” going forward. Whether that is going to be the case is yet to be seen, but my hope is that it does and that A24 don’t lose sight of their identity as possibly the last bastion in independent film distribution fighting against the colossus that is Disney and the Hollywood Blockbuster.

Shaz Mohsin

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