The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Budget: $60,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $240,500,000

As the writer/producer/director of one low-budget feature who’s now working on getting his next movie project off the ground, I am constantly contending with the Myth of the Star-Driven Big Budget Movie.

In a nutshell, I’m repeatedly told that unless the movie I make has a budget high enough to pay for lots of elaborate stunts, pyrotechnics, and CGI — plus several “A List” stars to put on the movie poster — nobody’s going to buy tickets for it.

Oh, really?

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Budget: $400,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $44,540,956

I know why this myth persists, despite repeated demonstrations that it’s just provably false.

If I can make a movie for a half million bucks that can compete at your local cineplex with a movie made for a hundred million bucks — well, that’s the game ender for a bloated parasite-infested industry which prefers remakes, sequels, and movies based on old TV shows, toys, video games, and comic books — the entertainment values of which is mostly dick and fart jokes, tits, torture, fuck, fuck, fucks, explosions, crashes, and cute animated robots — instead of original storytelling, nuanced acting, heroes without superpowers or elaborate gadgets, and an appeal to the audience’s minds and hearts rather than to their groins and adrenal glands that — oh, for lack of a better term — grown-ups might like to see.

Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Budget: $11,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $182,917,283

Every once in a while an independent filmmaker manages to disprove one or more of these premises — not necessarily all of them — by making an inexpensive movie without stars that sells a lot of movie tickets. This makes agents whose income is a percentage of the millions of bucks the stars they represent are paid — and movie execs whose lavish lifestyle is based on skimming off the movies made for megabucks — work overtime coming up with reasons why such movies are freaks rather than marketplace proofs that huge audiences can be found no matter how cheaply the entertainment is made.

Fireproof (2008)
Budget: $500,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $33,451,479

Some of these agent/exec explanations:

  • It’s a one-time stunt.
  • Hey, it won Sundance.
  • Sure, if you can get every religious nut to go out and buy a ticket.
  • You get Steven Spielberg to rave about your eleven-thousand-dollar movie, then we’ll talk.

YouTube has to be more frightening to movie agents and execs than a horse’s head showing up in their beds. You put up a video of a baby biting his brother’s finger and tons more people watch it than bought a ticket for their summer blockbuster or tuned in to the network’s latest season premiere. And here are the scariest words they’ll ever hear: for free.

Charlie Bit My Finger – Again! (2007)
Budget: $0.0
Views to Date: 232,839,391
Notice the streaming Google ads in this
YouTube video? There is cash flow from this
zero-budgeted production!

I have to admit, YouTube is as scary to an indie filmmaker like me as it has to be for the head of a major studio. How is a cheap whore like me expected to make back even the half million bucks I spend on making a feature film if all these amateurs keep giving it away?

It does prove my point, though. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make entertainment that lots of people will like.

You just have to make entertainment that lots of people will like. And somehow get their attention in a way that doesn’t involve prison time.

This article is Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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