The Little Studio That Is: A24

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Pay attention to more than the directors and the writers of the movies you love, for they are just a small piece in a much larger creative endeavor. Wildly inventive, and bizarrely unique, A24 hand picks the most unique scripts that come their way and turns them into something entirely their own.

The Bar Has Been Set

Of course since Moonlight won the Academy Award for best picture this year, the production company that helped bring Barry Jenkins vision to life has gained a little well-earned renown. The previous barrage of Academy Award nominations help, I guess. Before the success of Moonlight there was Swiss Army Man, before that there was Room, and before that there was Spring Breakers. All unique, all brought to you by the newer, younger, A24.

I’m not equating any of the preceding films to the quality of Moonlight, or vice versa. The standout traits of A24 is the studios ability to hand pick scripts, and take their chances on the weird, and oddly original stories that larger studios would not risk. Or if those studios did take the risk, the message would be horribly lost in translation due to studio interference.

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Not many studios or producers in 2014 would have taken a chance on Tom Hardy driving in a car, talking to himself for an hour an a half. But A24 did, and Locke was a success and then in 2015 Tom Hardy landed himself a double role in Legend, a role that only a few talented actors can pull off successfully.

Did A24 reignite Tom Hardy’s career? No. He seems to always make the right moves, steadily progressing. But the little studio took a chance on an almost entirely single scene script. In 2013, A24 let James Franco really weird out in Spring Breakers. No particular comment on that, they just really let him do his thing.

A24 takes chances, and there is always a pay off. It could be an Academy Award nod, or the ability to provide an intricate acting career choice in a post Harry Potter world. The pay off could even be a reinvention of a tired film genre, but the reward is always there. Below you will find a sequence of movies from the production company A24. They will not be the “best,” or the most “beautiful” to look at, but they will showcase the versatility of the A24 catalogue.

Green Room

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A struggling punk band plays a gig in front of a bunch of methed-out neo-Nazis. After the show, one of the members of the band witnesses a murder in the green room, and the entire band is held hostage, then the fun begins. Green Room is the first movie in a really long time that I’ll very actively urge people to watch. It’s one of the more tense movies I’ve seen in recent years, and it’s entirely original.

Tusk

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Tusk is one of those movies that you kind of wish you weren’t watching, but then when you’re too far in, you’ve accepted that you’re watching it, and you accept what’s happening to you. But you never accept why you watched it in its entirety. It’s the weirdest movie in the A24 arsenal. Simply put, a man is captured by an eccentric weirdo, then said weirdo turns man into human-walrus hybrid. If you’ve seen it you know how truly strange it is. The first half of the film plays out like an intense thriller, then after the reveal, the movie turns into super campy, 1980’s body horror. It’s hard to tell even after a few years after the movies release if the walrus-human hybrid, or an adult Haley Joel Osment was the hardest thing to look at.

The Witch

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I’m going to try and ignore my personal bias here, but it may be hard and you might see right through me. The Witch, or The VVitch, apparently redefined the horror genre, like It Follows did a few years prior. The Witch bleeds atmosphere, which is supposed to replace actual fear, and you know, stuff actually happening. But whatever, Stephen King praised it, and it’s an excellent timepiece with well researched, of the time dialogue. It redefined horror, or at least the horror conversation for the few months it was in theaters. It shares two similarities with The Blair Witch Project, they both rejuvenated the audiences discussion about what makes good horror atmosphere, and in both movies nothing happens until the last 30 seconds.

Free Fire

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Imagine if Reservoir Dogs had taken place in just a warehouse. Wait, no, imagine if Reservoir Dogs took place in the 1970’s and somehow there was more shooting involved. If you can picture that, you have Free Fire. Free Fire is based around an arms deal that goes about as wrong as it possibly can. It’s a hilarious, action packed romp where bullets serve as punch lines and the jokes are bountiful. The money Free Fire saved on location scouting must have been re-routed to casting, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Sharlto Copley lend their talent to this shoot em’ up, crime comedy.

In Response

To go the extra mile, and to really drive this point home take a look at the A24 website and look at the list of their movies. A) You can look at the variety of each film’s color pallet. (Spoiler: Green Room is almost entirely David Fincher-green.) And, B) you can hover over each still image that represents it’s movie and it will tell you who wrote it, who directed it, and who the lead actors and actresses are.

What makes A24 singular is the astronomical amount of movies in their repertoire that are directed by the person who wrote the script. Not all of their movies, of course, but almost all of them. This means there are less cogs at work, which means there is less creativity to be lost in film making translation. The writer had an idea, and that writer directed his or her own vision. It’s the reason movies like Green Room and, Ex Machina worked so well.

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I implore you to read the script for Ex Machina. It’s far different than the final edit of the movie in terms of information reveals, and expository dialogue. Alex Garland had a story, and made tweaks that strengthened the story as he went along as the film’s director. When a screenwriter sells a script, most of the time their story is out of their control, left to be bastardized by the studios and the director. So much can be lost on the journey from script to to editing room.

When a director is handed a script that is not his, he is handed black and white building blocks. When a writer directs his own script, he dominates a rainbow-patterned Rubik’s Cube that he designed, shifting and re-cutting until it’s ready for market.

Of course that’s not to say that a director can’t improve upon a script he is handed, but in the age when the single-package writer/director/producer are commanding the market and maintaining jobs, the director only job is left to the old breed, the Scott’s and Fincher’s of the world. Things are changing in Hollywood, and they are changing rapidly. The heads of the big name studios have to change, just like those looking for jobs in the entertainment industry. It’s an adapt or find no work world out there, more so then it was before.

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During the preposterously scarce research phase of this essay, I sent an email to A24 productions in Los Angeles. I told them that I was a young screenwriter new to Los Angeles. I inquired to whether or not they accepted unsolicited scripts from writers, and if they were hiring production assistants. A kind response came in a day later, and I was told they did not accept unsolicited scripts, (meaning a script sent from someone without a talent agent, or backing of a talent agency), and that they were not hiring at the moment, but they would gladly accept my resume.

(I really meant for this to all sound less pretentious and braggy.)

The big studios just can’t take chances like the slightly smaller ones can. That’s why we have superheroes and that’s why we have extended monster universes we didn’t ask for. We have them because they’re safe. In a safe cinematic world it’s nice to know that there’s a studio out there that would take a chance on a movie about washing up on an island and finding a multi-utility super corpse to help you get home. And I’m sure there are a few creative people exceedingly happy that their vision came to life.

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A warm response from that risk-taking studio was enough to inspire a young screenwriter to keep writing. Write anything, no matter how weird, no matter how out there, no matter how disturbing, because with A24 sitting in the valleys of Los Angeles, any project is possible.