News Column

'Paranormal Activity' Movies Are Scary Successful

Oct. 19, 2012

Scott Bowles, USA TODAY

What's scarier than a ghost in your attic? One that's out of focus. "Found footage," the jouncy, documentary-like style of filmmaking, returns Friday in Paranormal Activity 4, the latest in a franchise that has become the king of fright films.

Analysts expect a debut of at least $35 million for the new entry of the series, which they say has changed the way Hollywood views horror. While Paramount has not released the budget for Paranormal 4, no film in the series has cost more than $5 million.

"It's true guerrilla filmmaking," says Jeff Bock, analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "Paranormal Activity has made it hard for a studio to rationalize spending more than $20 million."

Because found-footage movies rely on consumer-grade cameras and no-star casts, "there's a creepiness to it that audiences are loving," Bock says. "I don't think we're even near the saturation point yet."

Indeed, the genre is hotter than ever: Last week, the $3 million Ethan Hawke horror film Sinister opened to $18 million, and Nov. 2 sees the debut of the Barry Levinson-directed The Bay, a found-footage thriller about an ecological disaster.

Paranormal 4 co-director Henry Joost (with Ariel Schulman) says that "there are still a lot of avenues to be explored (in found footage), especially in non-horror. And it's cheap enough to be accessible for just about anyone."

This is how you do it

Good found-footage horror, 'Paranormal 4' co-director Henry Joost says, follows simple principles:

Forget cinematography.

Cameras can jump and story lines can jumble. "The genre coincides nicely with the popularity of YouTube."

Keep it cheap.

"Don't spend more on video equipment than your character would. It needs to look homemade."

Cut your makeup budget.

"Make sure the boy's hair is a mess and the actress doesn't have on makeup. Nothing takes you out of a movie like seeing a character get out of bed who doesn't look bad."

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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