Today, indie film house A24 announced a selection of scented candles inspired by different movie genres. Created in collaboration with Joya Studio, the genre candles forgo theater smells like popcorn and worn velour seats in favor of aromatic alternatives named horror, western, thriller, noir, adventure, and musical after the movie genres.
Of course, candles aren’t products one would traditionally associate with an indie distribution studio, but then playing with traditional associations is something A24 excels at. While the distribution and production of intelligent, aesthetically beautiful films lie at the heart of the brand, the reason A24 has grown into one of the most influential studios in Hollywood can be boiled down to three key factors: intuition, authenticity, and — perhaps most importantly — mystery.
A24’s 55-person New York team, including founders David Fenkel, Daniel Katz, and John Hodges, has an innate intuition for what’s cool and builds a community around that.
Knowing that the all-pervasive ’90s trend isn’t disappearing anytime soon, the studio has worked retro aesthetics not only into its logo but its merch lines, too. A24’s first major apparel drop earlier this year was stacked with pieces reminiscent of archival film swag, delivering vibes you’d normally only get after spending afternoons knee-deep in vintage stores. It sold out pretty much instantly.
The studio also makes zines — a classic symbol of counterculture and community — and hosts podcasts. Both are curated by industry clout-carriers such as Jonah Hill, Bo Burnham, Jason Schwartzman, and Alia Shawkat. Scroll through the “Notes” section of A24’s website and you’ll find a myriad of treats: a Simpsons meme-based Twitter account sits with guides on how to paint movie scenes and love letters to iconic Bill Pullman performances.
This content doesn’t always relate to A24 projects, but it feeds the general interest of its followers and aligns the brand with a certain film and pop-culture vibe. When the content is related to A24 movies, it’s not some “X reasons to watch [insert movie here]” spiel, but rather digs up interesting, relatable, often off-kilter ways to connect A24’s art with its audience. For example, an essay on how Lady Bird inspired someone to apologize to her mother, an interview with the on-set horse whisperer from Lean on Pete, or a guide on how to recreate Hereditary in The Sims.
The authenticity of this connection and the relatability of both the company and its movies are central contributing factors when understanding how A24 reached this level of influence in the first place. Unlike studios such as Miramax, the Weinstein production company that dominated the indie movie scene in the ’90s, A24 has grown without the backing of industry giants.
While Miramax certainly put out some of the best movies of the ’90s (Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Clerks, and Reservoir Dogs, to name a few), it was able to do so largely thanks to Disney’s purchase of the company in 1993. A24, on the other hand, rejected an approach from NBCUniversal, instead (up until recently, at least) choosing to remain independent and grow organically. With independence and organic growth comes a clearer, more authentic identity, and audiences recognize that.
With its string of box office successes, A24’s status as a plucky outsider is perhaps becoming a misnomer, but its decision to embrace autonomy is nonetheless refreshing. That’s especially the case in a cinematic landscape dominated by billion-dollar DC and Marvel franchises. That it can consistently fill theater seats in the age of Netflix and chill proves that an alternative to the blockbusting behemoths is sorely needed.
Of course, this idea of authenticity isn’t solely down to the studio’s finances — it’s evident in the narratives its products champion, too. More often than not, its movies tell stories that are cemented in the mundane and everyday (The Florida Project, Lady Bird, Eighth Grade). Through this, A24 has galvanized a new era of cinema-goers and would-be auteurs, showing that you don’t need a huge budget to make something captivating or, in Moonlight’s case, Oscar-winning.
One final and underrated part of A24’s appeal is the mystery that surrounds the studio. As Lady Bird and Eighth Grade producer Scott Rudin told The New York Times, “Frankly, nobody outside the tent has the slightest understanding of what they do, which is very, very smart.” A24 declined to be interviewed for this piece and didn’t speak to the NYT either. By not speaking through the media, a layer of intrigue envelops everything A24 does — from its acquisition of scripts right up to how the movies are marketed.
The NYT piece does offer a little insight into the studio’s marketing tactics, however. It would seem that rather than investing millions in print and multi-trailer marketing campaigns, the studio cuts costs by targeting audiences directly via social media, with 95 percent of its marketing money spent online.
A24 uses data and analytics to subtly weave its brand into people’s social feeds. It could arrive in the shape of a Philip the Goat Twitter account and news of an endorsement by the Satanic Temple (Witch), putting Robert Pattinson’s face on pizza boxes (Good Time), or putting messages in bottles (Swiss Army Man). These brilliant, off-the-wall ideas filter through to movie fans in such a subtle way it makes them feel they’ve made a discovery. And what do people want to do when they make a discovery? They share it.
In a 21st-century way, A24 relies heavily on word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer promotion, and it works because so many of us want to be affiliated with the A24 brand. Like Rudin said, it’s very, very smart.
Do you have a favorite A24 movie? Share yours in the comments.
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