A24

The employees of A24 have no titles and pride themselves on operating like an internet start-up. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times / June 12, 2013)

A24's "Last Supper" post on Facebook worked for "Spring Breakers" because it easily stood alone as a comic homage for sharing among friends on the Web. But it also carried the caption "On Friday, be good. We're saving you a seat" — a wink to the Good Friday holiday — and linked to a website selling tickets to the movie. The post wasn't an ad, per se, but it engaged its potential audience.

"For studios, the digital campaign is an offshoot of the main campaign," says John Hodges, head of acquisitions for A24. "For us on 'Spring Breakers,' it was the spine of the campaign. It's different when it's the leading narrative as opposed to additional material."

Korine, the shock indie auteur behind such disquieting cult films as "Trash Humpers" and "Julien Donkey-Boy," had never heard of A24 before it acquired the domestic distribution rights to "Spring Breakers" last fall. But the director quickly warmed to A24's efforts to virally distribute on-set photos of the film's stars preening in fluorescent bikinis and a series of lurid trailers that created "stickiness," or awareness for the small film.

"They saw that marketing was a creative act that could be entertaining in and of itself," Korine says."They were thinking in a different way, trying something newer and maybe more radical with their approach. That broke the film out. It became something more like a cultural event."

Since getting its start with an infusion of capital from Guggenheim Partners, the behemoth Wall Street investment firm, last August, the company has encouraged its 18 employees — more than half of them younger than 30 — to pitch ideas across departmental lines and help define corporate culture from the bottom up.

"That plays all the way down to our interns," Patrone-Werdiger says. "They're in touch with pop culture in ways that we aren't necessarily. In trying to keep all these materials relevant — being in touch on a day-to-day basis — we open up to the whole office. It's not something that [any] one person could ever do well."

PHOTOS: Hollywood backlot moments

This goes against the usual practice of many companies in Hollywood, where flop sweat trumps inspiration and entrepreneurial brio takes a back seat to trend chasing. A24's open seating plan fosters open communication and a creative environment that defies its Wall Street backing.

"The practical use of that space is a flow of ideas I've never found anywhere else," says Noah Sacco, who worked at the Einstein Co., Focus Features and Cinetic Media before landing in production and acquisitions at A24. "It has manifestations at a micro and a macro level. Everyone knows what's going on in every other department, to a degree."

The big decisions, however, still fall to A24 principals. Fenkel, 38, is a veteran of the prestigious indie distributor ThinkFilm and co-founded another scrappy indie start-up, Oscilloscope Laboratories, with the late Beastie Boys rapper Adam Yauch. Hodges, 35, previously headed production and development for New York-based Big Beach Films ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Away We Go"). Katz, 36, began his career at Lionsgate Films before going on to lead the film finance group at Guggenheim Partners for five years, where he helped back "The Social Network" and "Twilight."

Katz's history with the global financial services firm — which supervises assets totaling more than $180 billion and famously acquired the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for $2.15 billion in cash as part of a consortium led by Magic Johnson — is a key part of A24's DNA. Guggenheim invested several million dollars to set up the company on behalf of its investors and manages A24 through its board of directors.

"The stars were aligning for an interesting investment opportunity," says Michael Damaso, Guggenheim Partners' senior managing director and co-head of corporate credit. "Our investors had made money in the entertainment space. Now we also had a manager. We didn't have to bet on someone we didn't know."

Neither A24 nor Guggenheim would discuss dollar amounts, but the firm's backing allows A24 to acquire and distribute up to 10 movies a year.

According to Damaso, the endgame is to create value for both the films and the firm's investors. "By applying the fiscal discipline we put into other industries, we've done a good job of mitigating risk for our clients. We want to marry the arts with something fiscally responsible."

For Coppola, A24's plucky start-up spirit provides certain upsides for "The Bling Ring." "The whole company's really behind it. It's not going to get lost in the shuffle of a bunch of other films. It's always exciting when someone's starting something new."

chris.lee@latimes.com