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Business – $15K film earns $60 mn, spooks movie moguls

Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: The storyline may be scary, but it is the bottom line that has Hollywood moguls shrieking. In a rare departure from the familiar
Hollywood script that equates big bucks with reaping a box-office bonanza, a home-made horror flick has become a monster hit in the US at a time when filmdom is spooked by the economy.

‘Paranormal Activity’ was shot by a novice director at his home in one week with two unknown actors and a handheld camera. It cost so little ($ 15,000) that it has been dubbed a “no-budget’’ production. It has grossed over $60 million and is on its way to crossing $ 100 million during Halloween weekend, when horror sells well.

Here’s the terrifying, and sad, counterpoint to this filmdom fairy tale: ‘Amelia’, the Mira Nair-directed film about the all-American aviatrix heroine that cost $40 million to make and was released big the same weekend, ended up with a lame $4 million.

Horror spooks Hollywood’s splurge-to-earn formula

Hollywood’s latest low-budget scare-fare ‘Paranormal’ competed last weekend against two other “blockbusters’’: The $50 million ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ and the $65 million ‘Astro Boy’. It busted both. Horror trumped honor by a country mile.

The coup has horrified Hollywood bigwigs, whose mantra generally has been to spend mega bucks at extravaganzas aimed at blowing the box-office down. Movie moguls are now wondering about the fate of James Cameron’s $250 million ‘Avatar’ and about the prospects of big budget movies in general. Just this past summer Paramount’s ‘GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra,’ costing $175 million, was laid low at the box-office.

Low-budget movies becoming box-office bonanzas is not unknown. In the horror genre itself, the 1999 shriek-flick ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ like ‘Paranormal’ a hand-cam, first-person, faux-documentary, cost only $22,000 to make, and grossed $248 million worldwide. Film analysts are wondering what is in these horror flicks that turns them into monster hits at the box office.

In ‘Paranormal Activity’, debutant director Oren Peli, who is now being wooed by the big studios with multi-million dollar deals, trains the camera on a young couple, Katie and Micah, who are haunted by a supernatural presence in their house.

There was no camera crew and no real script; the hero himself wielded the camera in some shots and dialogue was improvised. The film was made in 2007 and originally premiered the same year. It had no takers even though Peli gave out free DVDs. One stray copy reached Dreamworks where an impressed junior executive persuaded Steven Spielberg to see it.

A slow, viral marketing campaign over several weeks on the internet prepared a campy audience for a major release last weekend, when it finally blew the house, and Mira Nair’s ‘Amelia’, down.


October 28, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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