A24 and the end of movies simply being movies
Uncut Gems, an instant classic that feels like it’s been around for years, is having a bit of a victory lap. This weekend, it’s returning to theaters nationwide with a new hidden camera Q&A featuring the Safdie brothers and Adam Sandler in a California diner. Although it won’t be up for any Oscars on Sunday, this will likely push it past Lady Bird to become A24’s highest grossing film as a consolation prize.
The studio is also releasing a new line of Uncut Gems t-shirts available today on the A24 webstore. One features Sandler’s Howard Ratner, with a character logline detailing his knack for getting into jams, while the other features all six principal cast members — both styled like grimy ‘80s crime thriller posters. Given how quickly the studio’s custom Furby pendant sold out (and then promptly hit eBay at a $1,000 markup,) the shirts won’t be on sale for long.
This is far from A24’s first foray into merchandising their most popular films. Take a look through their online store, and you’ll find a number of streetwear designs for movies ranging from First Reformed to Hereditary to an “A-Twenty-Four” hoodie. There are pins of both Florence Pugh and Toni Collette’s characters screaming. Coffee table screenplay books for Moonlight, Ex Machina, and The Witch. A Mid90s fingerboard. A fairly indistinct “Rom-Com Genre Candle” that costs $48.00.
Film studios functioning as Instagram-able lifestyle brands is certainly a modern condition, and while A24 has led in the trend, other indies are following suit. Neon, fresh off of stealing A24’s Oscar thunder with key nominations for Parasite and Honeyland, was giving away BTS Army-themed Bong Joon Ho t-shirt, along with selling a Parasite family tee on its webstore. It’s at least a little surprising that Netflix hasn't co-opted these boutique strategies with its most successful releases, but they too have gestured toward this through a magazine and pop-ups for some original series.
Any studio looking to exist in the streaming ecosystem must adapt and package its films to be more than what's simply on the screen. In this case, it means borrowing tactics from the fashion industry or pop star merch rollouts, to frustrating effect.
Unreserved brand-worshipping feels objectively bad, but also misunderstands the function of an indie film studio. An “A24 movie” is something that exists in the literal sense, a concept you can theme a party around, apparently, but it implies that studios have a level of quality control or consistency that doesn't exist. Other than broadly making left-of-center independent films, starring some of the same actors and made by some of the same directors, there's little that unites these under the tent of A24 other than its logo. It's a place responsible for both Moonlight and Lady Bird, but also debuted in 2013 with the commercial and critical bomb A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, starring Charles Sheen.
The conflation of film marketing with fandom and personal taste can be exhausting to watch, especially when some lesser known studio efforts don't receive the same level of support. Kelly Reichardt's First Cow, due out in early March, didn't have a trailer until less than two months before release. After David Robert Mitchell's It Follows follow-up, Under the Silver Lake, debuted to mixed festival reception, A24 delayed its release numerous times, before premiering it on-demand last year.
No matter how many great films a studio releases, it's the people who make them — not the brand that distributes and canonizes them after the fact — who deserve the credit.