How to Turn Three Teen Movies Into $26 Million and Counting
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 3, 2014, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
By the time of the Sundance Film Festival in January, the 5-month-old finance and distribution company A24 had acquired three films for a combined mid-seven figures: Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring and James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now. "Everyone told us, 'Very cool films, but they're not going to work,' " says A24 co-founder Daniel Katz, 36. Too art house.
But the New York-based company made them work -- in a big way. The three films, which all tell colorful stories about teens, in total earned more than $26 million domestically, making the leap from niche to broader audience fare.
Founded in 2012 by marketing and distribution vets Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges (and launched with backing from Guggenheim Partners, which also owns THR), A24 resembles an Internet startup more than a traditional film distributor. There are no titles for its 20 employees. "When we started, we wanted it to be about the films and filmmakers, not us," says Katz. "By eliminating some of the hierarchy, it emphasizes that."
The company (with distribution exec Nicolette Aizenberg, 34) created innovative campaigns for the films, including viral images like James Franco's Spring Breakers character Alien (an eccentric gangster) surrounded by bikini-clad starlets in a remake of the Last Supper. It exploded as a trending topic on Twitter and, when it opened in March, broke records for per-screen attendance, grossing $14 million in the U.S.
While some eyebrows might have been raised when the company launched an awards-consideration campaign titled "Consider This Shit" for Franco's performance, the gamble paid off when he won the L.A. Film Critics Association's best supporting actor award Dec. 8.
The Spectacular Now, a Sundance-winning coming-of-age romance starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, also is receiving awards love, earning two Independent Spirit Award nominations and a Gotham Awards nom. "I don't look at it as risky," says Fenkel, 38, of his company's out-of-the-box tactics. "Our filmmakers make amazing movies, so we have to do bold things to make them happen."