(Full Disclosure: This is partially inspired by wallflower‘s suggestion that I write about A24’s gif selection. This isn’t quite that, but it’s close enough.)
Yesterday, A24 posted on its social media pages about a contest asking its followers to record themselves drinking a cocktail of Pepto-Bismol and whiskey, a concoction inspired by a scene in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. By the end of the day, all posts about it were scrubbed, leaving only a sorry few who were stupid enough to give themselves stomach ulcers for the grand prize of a free hoodie. But more than just a simple misjudged tweet, this marked a rare overt misstep in A24’s brand as the hip, happening independent studio.
Since their debut on the scene in 2013, and definitely since their third release, Spring Breakers, A24 has created an image for itself as a “cool” studio. Their actual output varies wildly in tone and quality (like any studio’s does), but their social-media presence is always one of irreverence and brashness. They pull off stunts like sending a dummy of Daniel Radcliffe across America or having fans impersonate Tommy Wiseau, happily encourage memes surrounding their films (namely the lasting popularity of Black Phillip), and yes, cultivate vast collections of gifs for their films, directly encouraging a fan culture to pop up around even their most serious films (but not Sea of Trees, because fuck that movie).
Their millennial-friendly internet presence has given them a big following even when the movies themselves flop (R.I.P. 20th Century Women, you were too pure for this world), but it has also gotten a small backlash from those who are generally uncomfortable with brands trying to look “cool” (and it feels like much bigger brands are currently copying from A24’s playbook, including Wendy’s letting an intern tweet from the company account about how good Lady Bird was). I myself don’t have much of a problem with it, but this First Reformed stunt feels like the first sign of obvious desperation from them. By all accounts, First Reformed is a sober-minded riff on Bresson, not an approach that should really lend itself to memes, let alone “ice-bucket challenge” take-offs. A24 had previously at least been good about not forcing memes where they clearly don’t belong (can you imagine them doing a Goofballs McGillicuddy approach to marketing Moonlight?), but this really does feel forced, somewhere in the league of “How do you do, fellow kids?”. The fact that they realized their mistake hopefully bodes well for them not repeating it (or they just realized they didn’t want to get sued by people who downed Pepto-Bismol and whiskey because the funny movie studio told them to), but what do you think? Is this just a simple one-time error or indicative of a larger problem with their approach? You don’t have to answer exclusively in A24 gifs, but I would enjoy that.