Published on April 19, 2023, at 5:49 p.m.
by Hailey Castillo.
“Parents need to know that even though former Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens are in “Spring Breakers,” it’s absolutely not appropriate for teens,” Common Sense Media wrote about one of A24’s first films.
Directed by Harmony Korine, who has been described as “a confrontational master of everyday beauty and repulsion” and is known for exploring taboo themes, “Spring Breakers” paved the way for A24’s successors through its emotional and honest storytelling.
Since the independent film distribution company’s launch in 2012, A24 has released over 100 films across several genres, including Oscar winners “Moonlight” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” However, despite garnering critical acclaim for its movies, according to Collider, A24 “opts to make films that are interesting, engaging, entertaining and, most of all, an experience,” — all of which are factors that contribute to its atypical narratives compared to traditional Hollywood ones on screen.
According to Dr. Landon Palmer, an assistant professor of journalism and creative media at The University of Alabama, “Everyday life and character-based storytelling has always been a part of independent filmmaking.” While these components are present in A24 films, traditional Hollywood motion pictures are more oriented around a hero trying to solve a problem, Palmer explained.
Palmer’s input begs the question: What is so special about A24’s films if the plots they follow are ordinary? Simply put, it’s not about the movies; it’s all about the brand.
A24 in itself has a connotation of being sincere and authentic as its content resonates with its primarily Generation Z and millennial audience. Vulture senior writer Nate Jones wrote, “The magic of the brand was that over time it has been able to sell the idea of A24 as synonymous with originality, idiosyncrasy, and prestige.”
Over the last decade, A24 has been dedicated to producing films that are personal, strange and introspective. “The Spectacular Now,” “Lady Bird” and “Eighth Grade,” all of which are realistic coming-of-age stories, follow relatable protagonists.
“A lot of [Generation Z] are seeking a connection and understanding,” said Boston University Associate Public Relations Professor Amy Shanler. “That’s one of the cool things that A24 can give you with its realistic lens — you can authentically connect with these characters in a way you can’t when they’re too polished, too perfect and too ‘Hollywood.’”
A24 films take a realistic approach with their characters, and the emotions the characters evoke are far more important than the plot itself; it’s all about the feeling. “[A24] is connecting with audiences, and that connection stays with you. It kind of worms its way into your heart and into your psyche,” said Shanler. She emphasized that A24 consistently produces movies that connect powerfully with their audience and become classics over time.
“I’m a [Gen Xer], and I still hold a strong emotional connection to some of those movies that were formative for me growing up,” she added. “Audiences won’t remember who made the movies, but they remember how the movies made them feel. That’s one of the reasons A24 has been so successful.”
Apart from connecting to Gen Z emotionally, A24 also connects with its values. Kian Bakhtiari, a contributor to Forbes, wrote, “Gen-Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history,” and that “most young people demand equal access to opportunities and social justice.”
A24 not only highlights Gen Z’s voice through its characters, but also brings attention to minority groups and is not afraid to engage with risky topics through its plots. The company works with diverse creators, actors and crew and resonates with audiences through uplifting stories centered around people of color.
The company is willing to promote stories that are not “narratively conventional,” according to Palmer. “There is this self-perpetuating logic that movies about nonwhite characters are somehow niche, and white audiences are not going to relate to them, which is absolutely not true.” Thus, A24 has been an important leader in changing the scene in Hollywood.
A24 has also given child stars like Emma Watson and Jenna Ortega a transitional platform into more mature roles, which presents the opportunity for audiences to grow alongside the company. “With ‘Spring Breakers,’ for example, you have a film that is casting child stars well-known to a certain generation in a film that is far more dark, cutting-edge and controversial,” said Palmer. “It’s using their images in ways that are meant to be kind of disruptive and creates a bridge from youth-centric media to more grown-up media.”
Part of A24’s success can also be attributed to its ability to attract audiences to theaters, Palmer added. It’s one thing to connect with the audience through films, but it’s another to appeal to them through advertising, marketing and promotion.
“Given the company’s reputation, people who produce and direct films independently know that if they get their work picked up by A24, it will be treated and advertised in a certain way,” said Palmer. “It can be beneficial for them to have their film incorporated into that branding, and A24 is going to find a way to reach their audience in a quicker way [than other distributors].”
In previous marketing campaigns, A24 has made Twitter accounts for its characters, used a Tinder bot to catfish men at SXSW and sent creepy dolls to celebrities and influencers. According to Shanler, traditional types of advertising wouldn’t work for the company because “A24 is an experience.” However, it is able to use its brand personality to promote its films in unique ways on social media and in real life.
In April 2023, fans went to a director’s cut showing of “Midsommar,” and instead were greeted by director Ari Aster and Joaquin Phoenix and treated to a surprise screening of their new film, “Beau Is Afraid.” In 2019, A24 created a pop-up shop in New York to promote Adam Sandler’s “Uncut Gems”.
“If you’re lucky enough to be in the vicinity of what’s happening, it’s like you’re in a cool kids club,” said Shanler. “A24 is not trying to be flashy; they’re just being real and that value resonates with people.”
Unlike most film distributors, A24 has its own merchandise store. While large franchises like “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” have sold merchandise for their movies, a person is more likely to be seen sporting a branded A24 shirt than that of other distributors like Lionsgate or Paramount.
A24 also offers a subscription model, AAA24, an “all-access pass” to everything A24. Simran Hans of Art Review argued that AAA24 works with A24’s audience because “millennials and Gen Z have been taught that the things we consume are a reflection of who we are.” By the same token, Shanler believes that the use of exclusive merchandise is smart. “The notion of exclusivity makes it desirable as well as the brand personality [attached to the merchandise] that Gen-Z fans have helped cultivate,” she said.
When it comes to PR, A24’s fans have done most of the work for it. “The best PR is when you don’t have to do your PR, but when your stakeholders do it for you, and A24 has mastered that,” said Shanler. While the company’s efforts do not go unnoticed, fans have helped catapult A24’s relevance over the last decade and keep the conversation alive by talking about them across social media and being loyal to the brand as a whole.
“Because A24 is authentic with itself and its brand values, it’s very successful at building longer term and deeper, more meaningful relationships with the audience members, as exhibited by the merchandise, social media, and support and engagement with these additional properties,” said Shanler. “As their current audience grows and ages, [A24] will stick with [what they do] and their audience will grow up into it.”