While that title speaks more to the executive’s filmmaker history, the rest of the emerging slate makes it clear Neon may provide A24 a lot of company in theaters very soon. One distinguishing characteristic of A24’s releases is its ability to apply the playful mentality of a millennial audience in its marketing strategies, from the “Consider This Shit” campaign for James Franco in “Spring Breakers” to the viral campaign on Tinder for the release of “Ex Machina.” These approaches allowed the company to circumnavigate some of the traditional P&A costs associated with wide theatrical releases.
“It’s pretty obvious,” said Cinetic Media sales veteran John Sloss when asked about Neon’s strategy. “They’re going to target millennials and focus on genre. Their goal is to find a way to reach a specific audience through social media without breaking the bank on traditional media.”
It doesn’t hurt that League owns a major indie theater chain. While the company has yet to guarantee any acquisitions will play on Drafthouse screens, much of its existing slate gels with the brand. “Tim’s a smart utility player to have on your team,” Sloss said. “He hasn’t really stepped up historically in terms of distribution, but there’s no indication he can’t.”
For agents like Sloss, the success of A24 and promise of Neon speak to a far-reaching agenda. “They’re finding ways to do broader releases without having to spend the kind of money that it usually takes to get to 2,000 screens,” he said. “That’s the holy grail of the moment.”
They’re not the only ones chasing it. The same night that “Moonlight” triumphed at the Oscars, the $4 million racially charged horror-satire “Get Out” made a startling $30 million on its opening weekend, offering further proof that the lo-fi efforts from genre factory Blumhouse were paying off. The company, founded by Jason Blum, has been churning out cheap genre installments of “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge” for the better part of a decade. But it has also managed a versatile approach that fits the fragmented marketplace.
Blum handpicks films in production for its distribution deal with Universal — including “Get Out,” which was a natural fit for a wide release, and M. Night Shymalan’s secret franchise launch “Split,” one of 2017’s first big box office hits. The company also launched more idiosyncratic effort, like the found-footage horror-comedy “Creep,” which went straight to Netflix, wasting no time on challenging theatrical odds. He also acquires other films for limited release through the Blumhouse Tilt label, such as the 2016 Sundance sleeper hit “Sleight.”
For Blum, being nimble is key. “The audience right now is very fractured,” he said. “The ancillary value of these movies has gone up a lot. Now there are so many outlets. It’s a bunch of tangled wires.” In his case, “we watch a movie with an audience and our marketing team, then decide the way to sell it to a broad audience. We try to figure out if it’ll make people leave their sofa for a few hours or not.”
That challenge has only increased for longtime distributors in the indie space, most of whom target older moviegoers. That’s not changing anytime soon. Many established players like Bleecker Street, Sony Pictures Classics, and Roadside Attractions target older audiences with festival hits that have national appeal. “We remain committed to cultivating our aging boomer demo,” said Kino Lorber CEO Richard Lorber. “We love expanding our base, but chasing the elusive millennial may be ill-conceived.”
Needless to say, the emerging field of newer buyers don’t see it that way.
While League continues to manage the Drafthouse brand, his Drafthouse Films label is no longer acquiring titles and the existing team has set its sights on the newer venture. The New York-based Quinn has already started building a cadre of familiar faces, including several former RADiUS staffers and Los Angeles-based distribution perennial Jeff Deutchman, best known for his work at IFC Films, Paramount, and Alchemy, a company that was beset by bankruptcy woes. After a brief stint consulting the programming team at the Tribeca Film Festival, Deutchman is back in action, and will be scouting for titles at the upcoming SXSW Film Festival.
“If Neon loves a film and makes a respectable offer that’s a good fit for the filmmakers, then they could get it,” said Braun, who represented Morris’ film in the Neon sale. “It’s great that there’s a legitimate distributor in the mix. We feel confident it’s a good fit.”
At a time when viewer habits shift on a daily basis, these companies may be one step ahead of Hollywood studios in an effort to get younger audiences excited about new releases. “The audience is there,” said Sloss. “Whether they consume movies in theaters is becoming less and less critical. But there are people from the millennial generation interested in audiovisual storytelling. The one genre that always has an audience is something new.”