By Dawn Chmielewski
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Independent studio A24 was the big winner at Sunday’s Academy Awards, taking nine awards out of its 18 nominations, including best picture and all four acting prizes.
The studio’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won seven Oscars, the most of the evening, including best picture.
The science-fiction film also took three of the four acting awards. Michelle Yeoh was named best actress, while Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis took the supporting awards.
It was only the third film in Oscar history to win three of the four acting awards, following 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and 1976’s “Network.” No film has ever won all four acting prizes.
However, Brendan Fraser took the best actor prize for A24’s “The Whale,” which also won for best makeup and hairstyling.
Not since the heyday of Miramax in the 1990s has anindependent studio garnered such attention, talent and boxoffice success, entertainment industry insiders say.
At a time when major Hollywood studios have taken refuge inthe familiar, releasing sequels and rehashing old ideas, A24 iscementing a reputation for taking risks on original projectsthat other studios pass on — including the frenetic, chaotic“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which is itshighest-grossing movie at $107.4 million globally.
“In this moment, they are not only the leading indiecompany, but they also have created a brand that probablyresonates more with its customers than any other independentever – more than Miramax,” said Picturehouse CEO Bob Berney, awell-regarded executive in the world of independent film. “Theirbiggest achievement is that they’ve created a super-cool brandthat has a following.”
This year, A24 will build on that momentum and lift its film, television and documentary production by 30%, according toa source familiar with the matter, riding the wave of industryacclaim and its 2022 box office success.
Forthcoming releases this year include the love story “PastLives,” which screened to a rapturous critical reception at theBerlin film festival; the dark comedy series “Beef” for Netflix, in which Ali Wong and Steven Yeun portray twostrangers whose lives collide in a road-rage episode; and theSteph Curry documentary “Underrated” for Apple TV+.
“It’s very much a dream studio, because they make moviesthat feel so auteur-focused,” said playwright and “Past Lives”director Celine Song, who said that the studio enablesfirst-time directors like herself to “speak in their own voice.”
The New York-based company founded by three film executives– Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges, who has sincedeparted — got its start in 2012 distributing such films as“Spring Breakers.” Some of its box office success has come fromthe horror genre, with such critically acclaimed films as“Hereditary” and “Midsommar.” It earned a reputation as aHollywood tastemaker with such director-driven projects as “LadyBird,” “Moonlight” and “Uncut Gems.”
This year, A24’s 18 Academy Award nominations were acrosssix films, ranking second only to the giant Walt Disney Co.. It collected its first nods for best animated feature,“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On;” best foreign film, “Close;”and outstanding makeup and hairstyling, “The Whale.” Eightperformers in A24 films received first-time acting nominations including Yeoh, Quan, Curtis and Fraser.
The first film A24 produced and financed, together with BradPitt’s Plan B Entertainment, was “Moonlight,” which won theOscar for best picture in 2017. The studio has garnered 53 Oscarnominations in less than a decade, including best picture nodsfor “Lady Bird, “Minari” and “Room.”
A24’s film slate has grown at the pace of its cash flow -starting with three movies in 2016 to 15 in 2022. Midway throughthe global lockdown, it resumed movie making using its in-houseproduction capabilities. This year, it’s on track to produceabout 15 films for theatrical release, eight documentaries and10 television shows.
The studio’s frugal use of capital — A24’s film budgetsrange from $5 million to $50 million — give it the flexibilityto take more creative swings, according to the source close tothe studio.
“They are willing to take risks and take chances onfilmmakers and on stories that other people might not be,” saidClaudette Godfrey, vice president of film and television for theSXSW festival. “I think that is what makes it interesting and Ithink that’s why we ended up kind of aligning with them.”
The studio, which now employs 200 people working in NewYork, Los Angeles and London, eschews traditional moviemarketing campaigns in favor of digital promotions, like therubber “hot dog fingers” and googly eyes from “EverythingEverywhere All at Once” that took TikTok by storm.
A24’s financial success at the box office has allowed it toexpand its creative portfolio.
About nine years ago, it began producing television shows inaddition to films, winning critical praise for Hulu’s “Ramy,” acomedy series centered around a first-generation AmericanMuslim, and HBO’s Emmy-winning drama series “Euphoria.”
The studio is developing shows for several streamingservices and television networks, including a pair of HBOseries: “The Sympathizer,” a $100 million television adaptationof Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel starringRobert Downey Jr., and “The Idol” from the creators of“Euphoria” and The Weeknd.
It’s also developing “Sunny,” a thriller for Apple TV+starring Rashida Jones and Hidetoshi Nishijima.
The global reach of the streaming platforms, together withan infusion of $225 million from investors including Stripes andNeuberger Berman, on behalf of client funds, serve to fan A24’sambitions, as it ramps up production and expands into newgenres.
“A24 has over time developed a well-earned reputation as apowerful force in the world of independent cinema,” saidComscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, “whose namehas come to represent quality awards-caliber filmedentertainment and now ranks among the most influential andrespected purveyors of quality cinema with both filmmakers and audiences.”
(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski and Mark Porter; Editing by Kenneth Li and Mark Porter)