A24 and the Digital Democratization of Independent Films During COVID

Hollywood may be changed forever due to COVID-19's impact on the movie industry. As independent films seem most threatened, will A24 be able to continue to deliver their impactful and esteemed films.

A24 and Independent Films Pre-COVID

The movie industry has been hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and there is conflicting analysis over how Hollywood will change after COVID-19. Concerns over how major theatre chains like AMC will survive this pandemic are valid, however the player that is most threatened by the pandemic are independent production companies, like A24 and their films.

A24 was voted by Fast Company as “#1 Most Innovative in Film and TV” in 2019 over Netflix which came in at #5. [1] This production company has been behind some of the most esteemed independent films over the past few years including, Lady Bird, The Farewell, and Best Picture winner, Moonlight (examples below). With smaller budgets for advertising than large production companies, A24 has succeeded in creating buzz for their films. [2] Their marketing typically comes at independent film festivals, like Sundance, Cannes, and SXSW.

Exhibit 1 - Examples of some of the top grossing and award winning films from A24.

Impact of COVID on Independent Film Production

  1. Most 2020 Film Festivals are Cancelled – Prestigious film festivals are the primary way that A24 markets its movies and stirs up word of mouth. With the COVID-19 pandemic, festivals like SXSW and Cannes have been cancelled for 2020. Marketing and promoting its movies for awards and sales will now have to been reimagined. As an innovative company, A24 may use digital advertising and social media as a new way to promote its movies.
  2. Limited Success Streaming – Without direct access to major streaming platforms, like Disney has with Disney+, there are questions about how these films could be distributed to a wide audience. Additionally, without the buzz from critics and audiences at film festivals, it may be difficult to draw audiences to see these films. [3] The success of indie movies like Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire are primarily due to buzz, critical acclaim, and a slow build in theatres. This is different than the typical streaming model which released a movie suddenly typically with little marketing which may not suit the indie film market.
  3. Local Independent Theatres May be Hit the Hardest – In March, all movies theaters in the US were closed until further notice. As the country, slowly reopens crowded and non-essential spaces like movie theatres are last on the list for returning to business as usual. Predictions say that theatres are likely to be closed until as late as August. The theaters where these films would be played are the most in jeopardy post-COVID.
  4. Unsettling Precedents from Spanish Flu – Many people have looked to the parallels with the Spanish flu while dealing with the current COVID pandemic. For the movie industry in 1918, this resulted in Paramount Pictures buying out struggling movie theaters and exclusively showing their own content. [4] Should something similar happen in 2020, independent films would be financially locked out from making such acquisitions while bigger production studios could afford to do so. AMC theaters recently announced that it will no longer be showing Universal content due to comments that Universal management made about releasing content directly online.

Digital Changes During COVID

  1. Indie Digital Streaming Platforms – Digital solutions are currently being developed to support both indie movies and the theaters that show them. Two platforms, Kino Marquee and Theatrical-at-Home have recently been developed to support indie films and the theaters. [5] Using this digital solutions, indie film lovers can support their local favorite theater and have a place to go to get access to new theatrical releases.
  2. Digitally Democratizing Film Festivals – With the cancelation of all major film festivals in person, new digital solutions are being developed. Recently, it was announced that due to the cancellation of film festivals a curated list of indie films would be released on YouTube. This release is called “We Are One” global film Festival and all donations will go to supporting COVID-19 relief [6]. This democratized version of some of the top and most exclusive film festivals will give all participants free-to-watch access with no advertisements. Specific films for this festival have not been announced, but if A24 wants to see its films succeed then they should push some of their content through this new and exciting digital channel. We Are One set to run from May 29 through June 7.

Opportunities for the Future

Recently, indie movies have been increasing with importance, not only with several Best Picture nods and wins, but also due to the importance of social commentary in movies like Parasite. Should the changes that are being worked on now like digital film festivals and indie streaming platforms work to create buzz about indie films, then these may have a long-lasting change on the way the movie industry approaches indie productions.

As A24 is known for being innovative, it is possible that they can lead the way to democratizing film festivals and having a larger market. A24 should take advantage of both solutions presented in order to continue to grow during the COVID epidemic and beyond. While the options are there, the monetization may be limited for independent films. Partnerships with digital companies that have access and reach will be critical for A24 to succeed.

Even before COVID-19, the movie industry was not a category of growth. It is also possible that through these digitized solutions A24 can break away or revitalizing what seems to be a dying industry to compete with digital giants like Netflix and Disney. Though film aficionados may be disheartened by the changed from COVID-19, there are real benefits that A24 can continue even once the pandemic subsides. By utilizing more digital platforms like YouTube, A24 can continue to be innovative and lead the way for a future of indie movies for all.

[1] Fast Company. “Most Innovative Companies”. Retrieved from: https://www.fastcompany.com/company/a24

[2] Rao, Sonia. “How the Studio Behind ‘Moonlight’, ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Hereditary’ flourished while breaking Hollywood rules”. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/how-the-indie-studio-behind-moonlight-lady-bird-and-hereditary-flourished-while-breaking-hollywood-rules/2019/08/01/47094878-a4dc-11e9-bd56-eac6bb02d01d_story.html

[3] Zacharek, Stephanie. “Of Course People Are Streaming Movies Right Now – That Doesn’t Mean It’s the New Normal” Retrieved from: https://time.com/5829356/coronavirus-movie-theaters-amc-universal/

[4] Dockterman, Eliana. “Streaming Was Already up 13% Last Weekend. Can Movie Theatres Survive COVID-19?”? Retrieved from: https://time.com/5806060/coronavirus-movie-theaters-streaming/

[5] Alm, David. “Platforms Aim to Help Cinemas Survive COVID-19” Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidalm/2020/03/21/new-online-platforms-aim-to-help-cinemas-survive-covid-19/#737e18784dd0

[6] Spangler, Todd. “YouTube to Host Free Virtual Film Festival with 20 Partners Including Cannes, Tribeca, and Sundance” Retrieved from: https://variety.com/2020/digital/news/youtube-free-film-festival-cannes-tribeca-sundance-1234590501/


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Student comments on A24 and the Digital Democratization of Independent Films During COVID

  1. Thank you for the interesting article on A24! I did not realise how significant an impact Covid-19 was having on the film industry and interesting to hear how independent film is responding. I wonder if Independent film makers can leverage the disruption to the film industry to position itself in a more competitive position? If film festivals are being cancelled, are there other mediums, especially digital, that Independent film can promote, which will give them a better footing against the big studios?

  2. Interesting post! I am curious how the studios are even able to shoot the movies in the current environment so there probably could be disruption on the supply side as well. If it is the case, I wonder if streaming platforms unaffiliated with particular studios like Hulu or AppleTV would be actually more interested in indie movies as supply of high-quality movies from the larger studios will likely be scarce for another year or two.

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