There are thousands of Oren Pelis out there and Oren struck gold! All it takes is a really good idea that is executed well and hits with an extremely wide audience. Sound easy? Sure! Is it? Hell no -- which is why the indie world is in the crapper at the moment.
No one knows what is going to hit like PA has. So unfortunately it is a gamble that every filmmaker must make each time he or she starts a new project. And those gambles have been taken a lot by filmmakers, which has led to billions of dollars of investment dollars going down the tubes.
Oren Peli, whatever you were thinking when you came up with the idea for PA obviously was smart thinking! It's the perfect indie film business model. Make something for dirt cheap that can go on and make high profits.
As a rule, micro-budget films don't tend to do big business. Paranormal and Blair Witch were anomalies that many filmmakers have continued to try to emulate. Each year, Sundance is loaded with dark or quirky features that were made for less than $100k that tend to get good critical acclaim but they don't seem to do huge business at the box office.
Smaller films that have a chance of bursting out of the indie distro hell seem to be those that tap into primal fear and laughter or are super charming/quirky/unique that a wide audience is drawn to its uniqueness yet relatability (being relatable is key). And many of these that achieve some success are not micro-budget (in the six figures or less). They are low budgets (seven figures).
But how awful to think that terrific dramas could be forsaken because they are bad business. The question should be: how can we make them good business. What key ingredient is missing? Or do all the micro-budget films need to be only horror in order to do well?
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