‘Moonlight’ Oscar Casts Ex-Guggenheim Execs as Movie Moguls

  • A24 said to plan to produce half of 20-film annual slate
  • Best-picture winner’s script championed by Brad Pitt’s Plan B

In the aftermath of the botched Oscars finale Sunday night, the producers of “Moonlight” made sure to recognize a small film company, A24, that’s betting on the kind of movies major studios often ignore.

“We didn’t get a chance to thank our courageous distributor,” producer Jeremy Kleiner said backstage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood after the envelope mix-up at the close of the Academy Awards. The sixth -- and by far most important -- Oscar in A24’s young history cemented the taste-making status of the company, which has its roots in the Guggenheim Partners private equity group.

“They’ve consistently put out the most interesting films,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. “They take chances with artists and their films are very thought-provoking, more so than any other independent distributor right now.”

Until now, the indie distributor has been known as a savvy acquirer of movies at festivals, but “Moonlight” was the first film A24 fully financed, ushering the coming-of-age drama to the screen based on a script championed by actor Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B. The success of the movie is bolstering the confidence of A24 executives, who now distribute almost 20 films a year. In the future, the company aims to make half of those itself, according to people familiar with the matter. A24 declined to comment.

Founded in 2012 by Daniel Katz, former head of film finance at Guggenheim, along with film executives David Fenkel and John Hodges, A24 started off with seed funding from the private-equity group. That controlling stake was eventually spun off to Eldridge Industries, which also owns Dick Clark Productions and the Hollywood Reporter, along with other media assets, real estate and financial services. Eldridge is run by former Guggenheim executive Todd Boehly. The rest of A24 is owned by management, according to people with knowledge of the matter. (Eldridge has been in talks to sell Dick Clark Productions to Chinese acquirer Dalian Wanda Group Co. for about $1 billion.)

Box-Office Tally

Since its founding, A24 has generated $177.5 million in North American theatrical revenue, a tiny sum in an industry that generates about $11 billion in domestic ticket sales annually. But its impact in creative circles has been much bigger. “Moonlight” cost just $1.5 million to produce -- possibly the smallest budget of a best-picture winner -- and has so far generated $31 million globally, according to ComScore Inc. With no A-list stars and an all-black cast, the tale of a young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality defied the odds to win the top prize.

“For filmmakers, especially for independent filmmakers, this is an amazing thing that just happened,” Bock said.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said Monday they’re reviewing the chain of events that led presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to mistakenly name “La La Land” the best-picture winner Sunday before “Moonlight” was given the honor.

On Sunday night, A24 had two other films vying for the Oscar for best original screenplay: “20th Century Women,” about a mother who enlists other women to help guide her adolescent son in his formative years, and “The Lobster,” about a man looking for love before he turns into a crustacean.

Three Oscars

In 2016, A24 garnered three wins at the Academy Awards. “Ex Machina” won for its visual effects and was nominated for writing; “Amy,” about the British jazz singer, won for best documentary; and “Room,” about a woman and her child held captive, won best actress for its star Brie Larson and was nominated for best picture.

Like any risk-takers, A24’s team has had its share of duds, too, including zombie comedy “Life After Beth” and sci-fi romance “Equals,” which failed to score with critics and audiences despite appealing casts.

To take advantage of the win, A24 will expand “Moonlight” to 1,500 screens, the company said Tuesday, the most since its Oct 21 opening. The peak was 1,104 in late January, according to Box Office Mojo. The film has yet to open in some international territories, including Germany and Japan and the ticketing website Fandango reported a doubling in ticket sales on Monday from a week earlier. DVDs go on sale Tuesday, which may temper box-office results.

A24 co-produced two other films to be released this year, including horror feature “It Comes At Night,” which has generated some buzz in Hollywood. According to Deadline, the movie is part of a multipicture deal with director Trey Edward Shults, once an intern for Terrence Malick, who made “The Thin Red Line” and other art-house classics. Shults’s “Krisha” won the 2015 SXSW Film Festival grand jury and audience prizes.

“That is what A24 does best -- mining film festivals for not just the best but the kind of talent that thinks outside the box,” said Erik Davis, managing editor at Fandango.com. “They have a real great knack for forecasting future talent.”

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