Venturing Into the Low-Budget World

Is Paramount’s Insurge Pictures experiment going to be a successful enterprise? The indie film explosion of the 1990s must seem like ages ago for today young filmmakers. In recent years high profile indie studios like Warner Independent Pictures have shuttered, and smaller films struggle mightily against their deep-pocketed peers. So why is Paramount creating a new division with the sole purpose of making movies for amounts deemed small even by indie film standards?

The upcoming Insurge Pictures will dedicated $1 million to creating 10 theatrical releases for the bargain basement cost of $100,000 each.

Did the wild success of Paranormal Activity (budgeted at roughly $11,000) make them see the economic wisdom of such modestly budgeted films? And can any studio, large or small, capture lightning in a bottle over and again?

Josh Welsh, Director of Talent Development with Film Independent, sees Insurge as a new chance for up and coming filmmakers to get projects off the ground in an inhospitable economic climate

Paramount announcement also revealed an aggressive, forward-thinking media plan, Welsh says.

‘The fact that Paramount is including social networking and community building as a prominent part of their new venture is smart on their part, and also obviously a sign of the times,’ he says. ‘Whether you’re an indie filmmaker working on your own, or making films at a studio-based company, the major challenge facing all filmmakers today is how to find your audience and how to connect with that audience in a meaningful way.’

Welsh can’st predict what kinds of films Insurge will eventually produce, or if other major studios will follow in their footsteps. But he can’st wait to find out.

‘I’m definitely interested to see how this evolves,’ Welsh says.

Filmmaker Grant Kretchik, professor of acting at Pace University and head of its BFA acting program, wonders whether Paramount can reproduce the success of films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project on demand.

Such hits typically come about thanks to truly guerilla filmmaking roots.

‘It independent for a reason ?‚àö√묨‚àÇ it doesn’st have the studio driving it,’ Kretchik says. ‘I don’st know if a studio can produce that lucky success.’

Kretchik, who recently a shot a film of his own titled When Harry Tries to Marry, also wonders just how independent the finished product will be.

What if Paramount smells a breakout hit on its low-budget hands? Will the $100,000 film become an expensive trailer for a rebooted $50 million project, he asks.

Kretchik recently shot an independent movie with a budget over the $100,000 mark?Äîbut still far below most features.

‘They did extraordinary stuff. They flew the cast to India and the production value is exceptional,’ he says of his film. So a $100,000 film doesn’st have to wear its budget in every film frame.

‘In some cases you can bamboozle people with production values,’ he says.

Kretchik says the studio could focus on ‘small, intimate dramas’ or mockumentaries in the Christopher Guest vein. Both could be shot for relatively small amounts. If the studio creates ‘some honest to goodness storytelling’ it could be a hit.

He does wonder about the commitment level Paramount will have to its new studio offshoot.

‘Will it be the first thing that folds if Paramount is in financial distress?’ he asks.
by Christian Toto
17 March 2010

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