Hollywood has risen the bar in the last 30 to 40 years, creating value in high budgets, big names, and even bigger special effects. But every once in a while, an indie film will remind those of us in the film program here at IC that we have a chance at greatness!
In the past decade, some of the most popular and influential films have been made with minuscule budgets and have grossed millions. Yes, James Cameron, it can be done.
With the Halloween season upon us, I find that many low budget films that do very well in theaters happen to be of the horror/thriller genre.
Paranormal Activity has been generating the most buzz recently, bringing in about $22 million on its opening weekend of October, 16. Paranormal was produced with a budget of $15,000, which is less than half of my college tuition. A friend of mine has scraped together about $12,000 for his senior thesis film ( a high end budget for IC, yes), putting Paranormal all the way in the student film bracket.
Paranormal uses the same home movie style of filming made popular by 1999’s Blair Witch Project. One of the most influential films of the decade, Blair Witch had a budget of about $35,000 and grossed almost $250 million, which is the average budget of a large studio film in Hollywood. That film has been imitated, parodied, and discussed ad nauseam for years. I don’t think it possible to find a person under the age of 40 who doesn’t know about it. And to think, I could have by-passed college and used that money to fund an independent film and made millions off of it. Who needs an education anyway.
And let us not forget 2003’s iconic Saw. Produced on a budget of $1.2 million and generating about $793 million, this franchise is now on it’s sixth installment with no end in sight. Dan Heffner, a producer of the Saw‘s, said during one of his many visits to IC that they will continue making Saw films for as long as people continue to watch them. Each film is still produced with a budget close to $10 million, despite its massive popularity and opportunity to suck up more funds.
Evil Dead (1981), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Halloween (1978), and Friday the 13th (1980) all had lower end budgets. They all made a substantial amount of money and succeeded in becoming extremely well known. All of them spawn sequals which had their own amount of success as well.
Perhaps it is easiest for horror films to have a lower budget and still compete with higher end studio productions is that being scared shitless is a thrill that never gets old, and doesn’t take much to achieve that goal. The rush of adrenaline is just as good as a drug to some, which keeps them coming back for more. This gives horror an interesting advantage. It’s they psychology, not the expensive special effects or big stars that deliver the viewing satisfaction.
Not to mention…horror has it’s own holiday. When it’s Halloween, you watch scary movies. Of course attendance will be higher around the spooksday season!
Other recent films that follow in this pattern, while not being necessarily spooky, have been My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), with a budget of $5 million yielding around $368 million, Open Water (2004), costing $500,000 and generating around $52 million, and Supersize Me (2004) was made with $65,000 and earning about $30 million. Ok, actually all of those are scary in there own way.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is one of the most interesting of these phenomena. A film with an anti-mainstream look, plot, and dialogue with a budget of $400,000 grossed $46 million and became a cult classic for younger generations.
While the American mentality is bigger equals better, this is a clear cut example (within the most American of industries) that that is just not true. It also gives me an incredible feeling, as a film student in Park, that I will one day have a job, and it will make me money.