Anyone who’s been following cinema over the last few years can’t help but to have heard of a certain few films. The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and (to a lesser extent perhaps) Colin are all examples of films that have taken a huge amount in box office receipts, but have been produced on a shoestring budget. In Colin’s case that’s more or less a literal as well as figurative expression, as the budget was a mere £45.
Studios are starting to take notice of the popularity that such films can have, even when screening in between such films as Star Trek, Transformers, and a little-known effort called Avatar. These films, collectively, have cost the equivalent of a small country’s GDP, yet if we work in percentages rather than figures, most could be classed as less successful than some of the cinema verite efforts that have been produced recently.
To that effect, Paramount has formed a new division, the dubiously named Insurge Pictures. Given a budget of $1 million, Insurge will be expected to develop, produce and market ten films on lower budgets. The project is being overseen by Amy Powell, Paramount’s senior vice president of interactive marketing, and it’s clear that a heavy focus will be on effectively pushing the films in different ways than is usually the norm.
It’s actually fairly appropriate that Paramount is leading the charge with this. The studio previously set up Paramount Vantage, a division solely dedicated to producing films classed as ‘speciality’, or, those that the main filmmaking divisions would be too reticent about to touch. This department yielded There Will Be Blood through a partnership with Miramax, and No Country For Old Men, but due to a lack of profitability, the studio consolidated most of its infrastructural backline such as marketing, distribution and production into its main engines, mostly just retaining the brand.
This launch could be a very good thing for filmmaking. How often are lower budget films praised for pulling off feats of creativity that you might expect from higher-cached production, merely by virtue of having to be creative with the resources to hand? How many exciting, fresh new talents are waiting for an opportunity at breaking through into ‘big’ film, only to come up against the brick wall of name directors and studio reluctance to entrust them with the vast reserves they seem to think films need? It’s interesting to see that even after a few years of (quite frankly) gross overexpenditure on many tentpole releases, studios are beginning to look at more basic levels as opposed to simply funnelling more and more cash into films that could use more creative relationships, rather than fiduciary ones.
If Paramount’s Insurge sticks true to its stated goals, we wish it all the best.