Microbudget” is one of those buzzwords in the filmmaking world that means different things to different groups, but generally it’s used to refer to films made for less than a quarter-of-a-million bucks. This isn’t stopping Lionsgate from applying it to their new low-budget filmmaking endeavor, which will incubate projects with budgets of 2 million dollars or less in an attempt to recreate some of that Saw magic. They’ve already got 3 projects lined up, one of which has a name-actor attached along with a production team.

The first of the three films is called Rapturepalooza, will star Craig Robinson, and will be directed by Paul Middleditch. Robinson will play the Antichrist in a post-apocalyptic world who has his eye on a woman who runs a sandwich cart with her husband. The couple maintains their business in spite of a number of post-apocalyptic logistical problems, but their lives get more difficult when Robinson’s character gets involved. Following that will be either Gay Dude or 6 Miranda Drive, the former being a virginity-loss comedy following two guys (one of which is gay, duh) and the latter being a supernatural horror film from the Wolf Creek guy.

That $2m cap is an almost negligible amount of money to a studio like Lionsgate, but it’s still much beefier than what you would typically call “microbudget” and it’s definitely more robust than the budgets of Paramount’s similar program. You may recall news back in 2009 news of Paramount starting a production slate that would pursue up to 10 $100k project (CHUD MB thread about it here). That program became Insurge Pictures, and despite our starry-eyed dreams of new Primers and El Mariachis in a variety of genres, so far the shingle is only responsible for the release of the Justin Bieber Never Say Never doc. Granted, the digital distribution and theatrical-refreshing of that film was actually kind of a progressive, interesting approach, but it’s far from the homegrown filmmaking initiative many pictured. We’ll see what they do next.

As for Lionsgate’s effort, their plan is obviously more developed and specifically tracked than Paramount’s still-amorphous new company, along with a significant budget difference. The contrast between a $100k and $2m movie can often be pretty huge, and it definitely affects your relationship with the craftsmen and their unions. For example, SAGindie dispenses with this “microbudget” shit completely, and has various levels of “low budget” including “ultra low budget” (<$200k) and “modified low budget” (<$625k). To make a film for less $100k, but still maintain studio involvement, means a lot of hungry filmmakers work for scale or less to make the film happen, and while these days there is no reason a sub-$100k film won’t look good, there’s only so far you can stretch a budget like that in post-sound and other very specific craft divisions. Usually the truly microbudget films that break out into the mainstream are ones that involve some kind of conceptual gimmick that covers up budget constraints (found footage being the most oft-used of these gimmicks).

If Lionsgate is truly following the Paranormal Activity paradigm, then that would mean they expect to roll the dice on these small productions and hopefully come out with sharp, relatively polished films that they can then put through the usual big-budget promotional machine. Ultimately that means these would end up being much larger investments than 2 million dollars, but only if they decide to go mainstream wide-release. It’s a surprise more studios aren’t pursuing this idea, which resembles an in-house indie acquisition model with better odds- they spend minimal overhead, make films they’d be much more likely to put their full force behind, and profit. At least they profit occasionally and enough to make it worthwhile, with better chances of backing films they’re interested in than if they’re just shopping the festival markets.

From principle photography to distribution, the future of every stage of production is hazy right now, and until some of these programs actually start routinely putting out movies and producing results (good or bad) it’s hard to say what larger effect they’ll have. Nothing changes if no one experiments though, so best of luck to all of them. Virtually anything is better than defaulting to the creatively bankrupt, bloated blockbuster track every time.

Sources | Deadline & Variety (via BadassDigest)

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