The Millennial Appeal of A24

Over the last seven years, a small New York studio’s films crept into the film distribution scene. I only started recognizing the studio’s logo lede after about the third time. Its intertwining lines shaping ‘A24’ was an entirely different, stylistically clean animation from the excessively ornate nonsense of its peers. It probably helped that each film I saw attached to it was exceptionally memorable. The time it finally clicked was watching the 2016 film, The Witch (inside the then-new Arclight theater in one of Chicago’s most yuppie neighbhorhood). Since then, I’ve been following A24’s activities and fervently anticipating just about every one of their imminent titles. Only two other film studios come to mind that equal such enthusiasm, and both have far longer stretches between film releases: Lucasfilm and Pixar.

Thinking back, Harmony Korine’s absurdist, anti-summer vacation flick Spring Breakers was probably my first A24 film. I recall going into that one thinking one thing, and a quarter of the way through thinking the exact opposite — undermining your expectations so astutely way was a wonderful thing.

Every year now, A24 has a few films that hit a fervor of mainstream discussion. This year it’s French director Claire Denis’s High Life, which I have unfortunately not seen yet, but have read the NYT interview and listened to A24’s podcast between her and Rian Johnson — it sounds fabulous. Three years ago it was the Academy Award-winning Moonlight, a freshman effort by the young Barry Jenkins. I was disappointed that in 2017 The Florida Project didn’t receive the award accolades it deserved, but what a phenomenally-acted film that was. A24 cranks out consistently good fare, ruminating and thoroughly exploring scripts and completed films to distribute. And since Moonlight, they have begun funding and distributing some their own films (albeit most disappointingly with the recent David Robert Mitchel film, Under the Silver Lake, which was just recently distributed straight to streaming instead of a more formal theatrical release).

In addition to the consistency in quality, A24 successfully accomplishes unique contributions to its work to bolstering marketing efforts, notably standing out to a new generation of audiences, and addressing the changing technological formats of distribution.

  1. A24 does a stellar job with film posters. They are oftentimes off kilter, using colors and typefaces in direct opposition to adjective thumbnail images of films when scrolling through lists in whatever app you’re using to pick a film. They usually don’t follow traditional patterns, compositions, or styles, oftentimes reminding me of enthusiastic graphic designers’ riffs on classic film poster designs as fanfare.
  2. The trailers are wholly untraditional, operating more as teaser previews for the films whilst avoiding detailing out the entire narrative like so many other distributors. A24 is getting (or have already gotten?) to the point of relying entirely on brand. What a millennial convenience.

Founded by Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges back in August of 2012, A24 has had and continues to pave an independent legacy of great film production and distribution. As the technology/streaming services become more complicated, and production of film and prestige television become more competitive, it’s good to see a company carve out a sort of niche in storytelling and film aesthetic, which they dial directly into their desired audiences. Like so many of the “millennial” direct-to-consumer brands such as Quip, Flamingo, Harry’s, Burrow, YES PLZ Coffee, Casper, Parachute, and Away, A24 is synonymous with consistent expectations (or the thrill of undermining expectations in traditional film structure). I wouldn’t be surprised if they charged a subscription fee to help fund their more experimental films in the future, uplifting the film production paradigm further. They’ve become such a prized product that recently they’ve partnered with HBO (for the show Euphoria), Hulu (for the show Ramy), and a partnership with Apple for their upcoming Apple TV+ service.

It’s great to see a scrappy, well-directed company succeed on so many fronts while staying true to its nature in the modern era of convoluted entertainment production and distribution. Fingers crossed they keep it up.

The Delightful Escapism of 'The Good Place'

Trucking through modern television series is usually an exercise in exuberance or exhaustion, no matter how good or demanding a show turns out. Of all the substantial dramas, quick-witted comedies, and metaphysical laments, one show — a network show, of all things — captured my attention in a way that many shows haven’t: it was a joy to watch.

I’m talking about Michael Schur’s NBC show, The Good Place, a drama-comedy that came seemingly out of the blue, and since its first episode has been one of the easiest and most delightful shows on television. The writing is quick-witted enough, the material substantial enough, and the concept entirely metaphysical. How does a show capture so many things at once without being burdened by its own complexity?

Looking at Shur’s backlog of work is telling, I suppose. He wrote, produced, and directed a number of previously successful shows, contributing to many cultural milestones such as The Office (US version), Park & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-nine, Master of None, and Saturday Night Live. He also dabbled in the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” as its writer, one of the more ludicrous but pitch-dark comedy episodes of the future-shock Netflix series. But for The Good Place, a certain kind of nonchalance permeates its very soul. No one character dominates (though I would argue Kristen Bell’s Eleanor and Ted Danson’s Michael steal the spotlight), and the story is smoothly unwound over a sprint of 25 minutes per episode, each one ending in a credits sequence cliffhanger. The entire format begs you to binge watch without feeling bogged down in a mountain of episodes (each season squares off at just ten episodes a piece).

The Good Place is at its core a show about relationships among four key characters, and whose narrative tackles karma in a constructive and deconstructive way — all in an afterlife setting. The premise is keen on exploring absurdist situational humor, and is at its strongest with character interactions that take full advantage of the quickly-developed dispositions of each of the show’s stars. Michael operates as a kind of foil for everyone’s delights (and toils), sound-boarding off everyone's reality check of the afterlife's meandering eternity.

What perhaps helps set this show apart from many others competing for your attention is the colorful sets and nearly cartoonish narrative brokered through bubbly music, jovial cinematography, and dialogue bantering that exudes a PG-style appropriateness while nodding gracefully to a cleverer audience’s intellectualism. The Good Place sits in stark contrast to HBO’s dreary, somber The Leftovers, but intriguingly both share similar stretches of exploratory existentialism. Of the two, I certainly feel better after finishing an episode of the former.

In a cluttered world of show choices — many of which are exceedingly excellent — The Good Place stands out for its unusual territory and easy format, and has something almost everyone can find delight in.

I'm sure people are going to fall into two camps with Google's Duplex: you're for it, or you're against it. Ethan Marcotte has a nice write-up about the latter, specifically with regards to how Duplex was designed to deceive.

...the demos above are impressive because Duplex specifically withholds the fact that it’s not human. The net effect is, for better and for worse, a form of deception. Duplex was elegantly, intentionally designed to deceive.