Do you know the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? It’s an oft-sidelined tale that lives in the realm of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and tells the tale of a green, youthful Knight and his desire to prove himself in the face of a gigantic, green almost-invincible Knight.
This morning, über Indie studio A24 released the teaser trailer from David Lowry (The Old Man and the Gun, Ghost Story) and you can watch it here:
But while everyone is talking about the teaser trailer, and Dev Patel’s flowing locks of black hair and how we are seriously hungry for more medieval films because barring that Danny McBride monstrosity, we really haven’t visited this land for some time…
We’d like to talk about how the narrative of The Green Knight isn’t too far off from the A24 origin story, of which we’d like to tell you now.
So get comfortable. And sit back on your Midsommar bear-skin rug.
It was prior to 2012, which is already a long long time ago in a World that was much different than it is today. Back then, we had leaders with credibility, we had an environment that was on the mend, we hadn’t yet delved into the world of streaming and people were going to the movies. Daniel Katz was leading the film finance group at Guggenheim Partners, David Fenkel was the president, co-founder and partner at Oscilloscope and John Hodges was Head of Production and Development at Big Beach. The three of them were finding success in their own way across the industry, but they were simply all Gawaining their way through the film industry. I.e., they weren’t King Arthur, or even Lancelot or Galahad. They were Gawain. They were looking up from their chairs in the film industry’s own round table and wishing for a challenge that would put them in the limelight and give them a shot at proving themselves.
The opportunity (i.e. money, i.e. greenbacks) were there for the taking. The challenge was already presenting itself to the three of them. If they could only band together, lift their figurative sword and strike a blow to the established film industry, they could define their own path and become known for their courage, instinct and creativity.
It was on August 20th, 2012 that the three film veterans founded A24; named after the Italian motorway that Katz had been driving on when he decided to take the Green Knight up on the challenge to start a film company to establish them as a valid player with strength and determination.
Thanks to the ties at Guggenheim, the trio secured a line of credit and financing in the rumored-range of around $50 million. This was the money that would allow them to startup the company and begin by acquiring small films that could potentially give them an opportunity to make a splash. In 2013 they released their first theatrical release with Roman Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III and then followed it up with Ginger & Rosa, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and the spectacular The Spectacular Now.
What a year, right?
Spring Breakers was, for all intents and purposes, the real first break out for the fledgling distributor, and aligned with their ability to establish deals throughout the industry so their movies could find their way into the home entertainment sphere. The film became their first big money maker on a $5 million dollar budget, generating over $30 million in total. It was a number that dwarfed many indie releases, and when followed up with the critical acclaim of The Spectacular Now (a smaller budget and box office, nonetheless), it cemented the trio and their taste as a brand that was up and coming, and finding success.
Gawain (A24) took the challenge presented by The Green Knight (the indie film distribution landscape) and took their sword to its head, slicing down, decapitating the norm and in its place presenting a new way of marketing indie film to the discerning movie-goer.
But A24 was quickly eating away at that original funding amount, and necessitated ways to keep the company in business and in the black. The nimble trio were as nimble as Gawain in his battle against The Green Knight, setting up output deals that would bring revenue to the table and mitigate some of their up front costs & losses. They’d align with another knight of the round table, Sir DirecTV, who would go in with them on film acquisitions in return for getting early DirecTV windows for their consumers. They’d align with Sir Bezos for outputs of their titles in the Pay TV windows, making sure that after people rented and purchased their movies on platforms like iTunes, the streaming premieres would land there. A24 was building their own Knights of the Filmic Round Table, and their ranks were growing.
Sir Fenkel, Sir Hodges, Sir Katz. Sir Rudin, Sir Bezos, Sir DirecTV. They broke the glass ceiling of the Round Table, bringing in Madam Coppola. They broke the Oscar’s glass ceiling for an indie by bringing in Sir Jenkins and Sir Burnham. They ensured that their Round Table was fortified with additional deals in the realm of Television, plus securing additional output deals with the likes of Sir Cook after Sir Jobs was slayed in a horrific and sad turn of mythic events.
But A24’s own Round Table did what any King Arthur would have done to protect the lands and their superiority — they aligned themselves with nearby lords and ladies, fortified their institution with the kinds of weapons (i.e. films) that could protect them from potential destruction, and with a conscious effort to only battle with the right weapons, they found a path to longevity in the face of constant destruction that befell those in their wake.
So it’s no surprise that The Green Knight was greenlit by Sir Fenkel and Sir Katz. It’s no surprise that Sir Lowry returned to the fold to bring yet another weapon to the sword fight that is indie film. No one should be flummoxed or confused at the success that has come to A24 since 2012 as it was a methodical and smart pathway that few have journeyed back from without some major flesh wounds.
Since the days when A24’s own Round Table was erected, there have been rumors. Rumors of them wanting to sell. Rumors of them being bought. Rumors of the money train stopping altogether. But with each rumor of their potential downfall and defeat, A24 has come back stronger and more popular than before.
Much like King Arthur and his Round Table, eventually they disappeared. Eventually, the need for King Arthur and his warrior Knights were supplanted by other forces. And despite a long, storied history, there came a point in time when that Round Table became nothing but the fodder of stories and mythic tales.
We are faced, today, in a similar place. Where the film industry is facing its own potential downfall, standing up against the Red Knight and Sir Sarandos. But can A24’s Gawain stand strong and defeat what the Red Knight is bringing?
Based on the History? Based on the trends? Based on the filmgoers? We think there’s a chance.
At least we can hope.