Young studio with Oscar talents

Studio A24's films up for the Oscars include Lady Bird (far left, starring Saoirse Ronan); The Disaster Artist (left, starring James Franco); and The Florida Project (starring Willem Dafoe, left below).
Studio A24's films up for the Oscars include Lady Bird (above, starring Saoirse Ronan); The Disaster Artist (starring James Franco); and The Florida Project (starring Willem Dafoe).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC, UIP
Studio A24's films up for the Oscars include Lady Bird (far left, starring Saoirse Ronan); The Disaster Artist (left, starring James Franco); and The Florida Project (starring Willem Dafoe, left below).
Studio A24's films up for the Oscars include Lady Bird (starring Saoirse Ronan); The Disaster Artist (above, starring James Franco); and The Florida Project (starring Willem Dafoe).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC, UIP
Studio A24's films up for the Oscars include Lady Bird (far left, starring Saoirse Ronan); The Disaster Artist (left, starring James Franco); and The Florida Project (starring Willem Dafoe, left below).
Studio A24's films up for the Oscars include Lady Bird (starring Saoirse Ronan); The Disaster Artist (starring James Franco); and The Florida Project (starring Willem Dafoe, above).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC, UIP

LOS ANGELES • Things to marvel at are not just the superheroes flying about on the silver screen.

Take the case of studio A24.

Since starting only five years ago, it has delivered one cultural thunderclap after another, peaking with Moonlight, last year's surprise winner of the Oscar for best picture.

Other A24 hits over the past few years include Ex Machina (2014), which introduced future Oscar winner Alicia Vikander to most viewers, and the Oscar-winning Room (2015, Brie Larson for best actress).

Among the A24 films up for Oscars (this morning, Singapore time) are The Disaster Artist (adapted screenplay) and The Florida Project (Willem Dafoe, supporting actor).

But its biggest hit so far is the film nominated for five Oscars this year, including best picture: Lady Bird.

How has a 55-person company, named after an Italian highway, created such a strong identity, with analysts saying fans are starting to buy tickets simply because they see A24's retro logo on a trailer?

Its founders - Mr David Fenkel, Mr Daniel Katz and Mr John Hodges - have extensive art film experience.

Founded with a few million dollars in seed money from Guggenheim Partners, where Mr Katz once led the film finance group, A24 has been constructed around one notion: There has to be a better way.

The A24 founders made a deal with Amazon Prime for exclusive post-theatrical streaming rights.

DirecTV agreed to spend tens of millions to jointly acquire films with A24 for offer on its video-on-demand system, giving the fledgling studio a digital laboratory of a sort (and a place to dump titles not ready for theatrical scrutiny).

For most theatrical releases, A24 would spend roughly 95 per cent of its marketing money online, using data analytics to stitch films into the social media firmament in ways that prompt movie lovers to feel a sense of discovery.

Insiders said the A24 culture bears more similarities to Silicon Valley than Hollywood. It is run like a collective. Nobody has a formal title. When NBCUniversal wanted to invest in A24, the studio decided it would rather remain independent.

"I felt like there was a huge opportunity to create something where the talented people could be talented," Mr Katz previously told GQ magazine.

A24's founders have tapped a deep unhappiness among young film-makers about the state of the business.

Across Hollywood, all most executives talk about are franchises. Even most art-house companies, struggling to fill seats in the age of Netflix, have become more dependent on stars.

At A24, the talk is about artistic impulses. "They seem like they're relying only on their taste and instinct, and that confidence makes everyone want to work with them," said Scott Neustadter, nominated with Michael Weber for an adapted screenplay Oscar this year.

Even so, the sustainability of A24 remains a question. Amazon and Netflix have driven up prices for talent. With many viewers content to watch stylised film on living room televisions, art-house theatres have been going out of business.

But even those in Hollywood who believe A24 is overhyped concede that it has done an astounding job at building a brand. And it appears to be just getting started.

In an unusual move by Hollywood standards, the studio introduced its own podcast last week.

It publishes an A24 magazine that is distributed free in trendy hotels. It sells limited-edition merchandise on its website and is planning musical events.

"What's so interesting is that they're tapping a new type of entertainment enthusiast," said brand strategist DeeDee Gordon, who has consulted for A24.

"It's similar, I think, to what happened in foodie culture. It used to be a rarefied niche. Then it became democratised. Every income level. Every life stage. Global.

"That is the opportunity that A24 now has at its fingertips."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2018, with the headline 'Young studio with Oscar talents'. Print Edition | Subscribe