Apple May Not Buy A24, But Don’t Be Surprised If It Did: Silicon Valley Increasingly Defines Hollywood

The tech titan is reportedly in the midst of dropping $1 billion on original content, but has yet to make a major film market move.
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After a brief flurry of acquisitions gossip, and Monday’s announcement that A24 co-founder John Hodges will exit the company, A24 and/or Apple “insiders” let it be known that Apple wasn’t going to buy the hot young indie studio. Per Deadline, talks between A24 and Apple “so far appear to only be for partnerships on projects.”

While this deal appears to be a nonstarter, it speaks to the presence of Silicon Valley in Hollywood, and with the independents as well. It’s very likely that Apple will consider film acquisitions, just as A24 will continue to see overtures. But more than ever, it’s the techies who will call the shots.

For decades, six major studios ruled film and television. As studios’ output continues to shrink, with their parent companies increasingly disenchanted with the movie business, it’s likely that the new six will be Amazon, Apple, Disney/Fox/ABC, Facebook, Google, and Netflix, with Hulu seeking a piece of the action. Viacom/Paramount/CBS, Time Warner/AT&T, Comcast/Universal/NBC, MGM/Annapurna, Sony, and Lionsgate were not part of the direct-to-consumer digital revolution, and face deprecation.

For Apple, the question is where its film ambitions will go. Some thought it might flex its ambitions at Sundance, but Apple has announced no moves in film beyond committing to spend $1 billion in television and films this year. (Netflix committed to $8 billion.)

On the TV side, Oscar-winner Damien Chazelle will write and direct an Apple series, working again with “La La Land” producers Jordan Horowitz and Fred Berger. Steven Spielberg’s late-’80s anthology series “Amazing Stories” will return, with a reported $5 million budgeted for each of 10 episodes. A drama about daytime talkshow hosts — executive produced by stars Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston — received a two-season order. Documentary director Matt Tyrnauer (“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City”) will executive produce “Home,” a 10-part series on awe-inspiring abodes. Additional partnerships are underway with Kristen Wiig, Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”), and Ronald D. Moore (“Battlestar Galactica”).

For Amazon Studios, films mean branding. It chases theatrical and Oscars so people will subscribe to and watch titles on Amazon Prime. Amazon Studios has just begun handling its own film distribution, but it’s unclear how that will evolve. New Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke is still sorting out TV, but it’s expected that the film side could see its own overhaul. In the meantime, it’s made inroads with studios; Amazon and Warner Bros. are currently partnered on “The Goldfinch,” which Amazon is cofinancing in exchange for streaming rights.

A24 is an attractive acquisitions target. Founded by David Fenkel, Daniel Katz, and Hodges in 2012 with financing from Guggenheim Partners, it’s regarded as a millennial Fox Searchlight with an eclectic, critically acclaimed slate from filmmaking veterans (Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women”) and emerging talent (Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird”).

A24 has received 24 Oscar nominations so far, including 2017’s best-picture winner “Moonlight;” its biggest box-office hit was the Oscar-Nominated “Lady Bird,” which has made $49 million to date. The company’s latest release is Andrew Haigh’s acclaimed “Lean on Pete,” the story of a teen who rescues his horse from a slaughterhouse fate. A24’s indie inclinations contrast with those of a corporate powerhouse, especially one eyeing content production for the sake of selling more of its electronic devices to watch it on. However, its diehard fans may not always realize that it is a company started by an investment firm with an eye towards profit; sources tell IndieWire that, from the outset, A24 founders considered it likely that they would flip the company within a matter of years after it was founded.

Still, A24 seems unlikely to jump into the tentpole business; the company specializes in finding creative ways to turn intimate portraits into gorgeous spectacles on tiny budgets. Yes, Apple is heralded for constant innovation, but it’s not exactly known for its surprising streak — every year brings another CEO keynote unveiling a new iPhone.

Representatives from both A24 and Apple said they had no comment.

Anne Thompson and Eric Kohn contributed to this report. 

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