Low-budget flicks lead changes to film industry

Movie | Changing technology shrinks the middle ground between handcrafted movies and blockbusters
by Angela Lu Fulton
Posted 10/08/14, 08:00 am

Hollywood may no longer be the movie-making capital of the country, but the issues troubling the city are greater than tax incentives and regulations. The entire structure of the film industry is changing, as well.

Joth Riggs, an assistant director who has worked on TV shows such as CSI and Angel, remembers a time when films came in three tiers: lower budget films, which typically cost under $10 million; big-budget films, which fell in the $100 million to $200 million range; and mid-level movies in between. He left the industry in 2002, convicted the content of his work didn’t match up with his Christian faith. When he returned in 2010 to work solely on faith-based films, he found a completely different world. Studios put all their energy and money into giant blockbusters like The Avengers and Transformers that promised big returns. The mid-level films were almost completely gone, and many of his peers couldn’t find work.

On the other end, low-budget films are booming, as new technologies make it easier for talented newcomers to create quality content and distribute it to a mass audience without going through traditional studios. “With new technology, the barrier to entry is lower, and more people are making cheap, low-budget projects…but it’s really killed the middle ground between blockbuster and YouTube,” Riggs said.

The YouTube revolution has traditional Hollywood stalwarts scrambling to catch up with how young people consume their entertainment these days. Fewer and fewer people are sitting in front of TV sets, and more are watching videos online or on their tablets and smartphones. Some studios find their source material from YouTube sensations, looking at their massive followings as ready-made consumers. Digital media also excels at pinpointing specific demographics and narrowing its target audience, a dream come true for advertisers.

Jordan Duke moved to Los Angeles in 2012 thinking he was starting his career in film and TV. Instead, he followed his boss at MTV to start a new digital-media network geared toward the military community called We Are The Mighty, which launches in November. Rather than creating a TVnetwork with shows and documentaries about the military, the YouTube platform allows servicemen and veterans to tell their own stories, contribute their own short videos, and connect with others in the community. Duke hopes to reveal a more authentic picture of military life outside of the war zone by showcasing human interest pieces like that of a World War II veteran in her 90s who boxes at the local gym. It’s a format that just makes more sense for members of the generation that grew up with iPads in their hands.

“It allows the community to participate rather than be a viewer and pay the $12 to $16 …to just sit there and have somebody talk at you and tell a story,” Duke said. “This really engages an entire community to give their input…[and] share their own stories.”

For Riggs, it was the perfect time to work on independent, faith-based films, most of which range in budget from $100,000 to $2 million. And the industry is growing, especially with the recent success of movies such as God’s Not Dead. The Pure Flix film was shot in Baton Rouge, La., for $2 million and raked in a whopping $62 million, making it the 33rd highest grossing movie of 2014.

Angela Lu Fulton

Angela is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine and a part-time editor for WORLD Digital. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Angela resides in Taipei, Taiwan. Follow her on Twitter @angela818.


Read more from this writer