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Small budget movies make a killing

October 29th, 2009

What do the films “Napoleon Dynamite,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and this month’s thriller “Paranormal Activity” have in common? Though the average theatergoer may find no commonalities between these three films, their one significant and similar feature is that all three are low-budget films that have surpassed box-office expectations.

The shooting of “Paranormal Activity” took seven days and cost a mere $15,000 to $20,000 less than the $35,000 used to create “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999.

Since its opening date of Sept. 25, the film has made over $33 million. According to the Los Angeles Times, its per-theater average take of $26,530 is the second-highest ever for a movie playing at fewer than 800 venues, behind only the 3-D concert movie “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds.”

“I can appreciate the low budget films that make it big because they’re these fresh, creative ideas that no one has really seen before,” said senior Bill Myers, creator of John Carroll University’s documentary association.

While higher budget films have more visual effects and a larger budget to work with, low budget films depend on unique ways to make the film visually appealing, according to Myers.

“There’s a lot more room for creativity and that creativity draws people in, especially for people who can appreciate film,” he said. “They sit there not to be entertained, but to take something away from the experience.”

“Napoleon Dynamite,” released in 2004 was produced on a budget of $400,000 and ended up grossing over $46 million.

“The style of the way that [Napoleon Dynamite] was shot along with its characters were key to its success,” Myers said.  “The characters weren’t exactly relatable, and that’s what made the movie so ridiculous and lovable, and to this day people still quote the movie.”

According to Karen Gygli, chair of the Tim Russert Department of Communications and Theatre Arts, when films’ directors don’t have enough money, they’re forced to think outside of the box.

“Sometimes with having little amounts of money directors are forced to get really creative, allowing it to be less likely for them to lose sight of just telling the story effectively,” she said.

“Paranormal Activity” relies on an invisible, supernatural being to induce fear, Adding a unique feature to the film.

JCU freshman Melanie Rodriguez, who recently saw the film, said the audience seemed perplexed as to what the film’s ghoul really was.

“Throughout the whole movie the audience is confused at what the ghost actually is until the very end when it all comes together,” she said.

Rodriguez said “Paranormal Activity” isn’t similar to recent horror films such as the “Saw” series or “The Grudge” because it’s a suspenseful thriller made to seem as real as possible.

Still, “Paranormal Activity” is most likely to continue down a path of low-budget success stories like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Blair Witch Project,” and hopefully be an incentive to filmmakers of the future.

“I’m always for new filmmakers having a low budget and figuring out how to work with that and do things that are really original, and I would hope that film always has room for that,” said Gygli.