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Paramount Insurge’s niche: Cheap films that promote themselves

LOS ANGELES ― The weekend before last, Paramount Insurge released the No. 1 movie in America. This past weekend it was shooting test footage of a talking dog.

Formed in the wake of 2009’s ultra-low-budget surprise hit “Paranormal Activity,” Insurge is an experimental label within movie giant Paramount Pictures that aims to make youth-oriented films developed outside the traditional Hollywood system on a fast schedule and at low cost.

Paramount is hardly the first studio to try to turn a surprise moneymaker into a regular business, but Insurge has had a particularly impressive run out of the gate. Its first movie, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” a concert-documentary that went from concept to big screen in just six months, grossed almost $100 million worldwide. And “The Devil Inside,” a documentary-style horror film the studio paid $1 million to acquire, earned $34 million in its first weekend.
Suzan Crowley (left) as Maria and Fernanda Andrade as Isabella Rossi in “The Devil Inside,” from Insurge Pictures. (MCT)
Suzan Crowley (left) as Maria and Fernanda Andrade as Isabella Rossi in “The Devil Inside,” from Insurge Pictures. (MCT)

Among its projects in development is a big-screen adaptation of “Ultimate Dog Tease,” a YouTube hit ― featuring a talking dog named Clark ― with more than 86 million views. Demonstrating just how far outside the mainstream Insurge looks for material, the label made a deal with the producer of “Dog Tease” and over the weekend conducted a short test to see whether the minute-long viral video can be turned into a feature film.

“The plan for Insurge is never to have a business plan because it’s an incubator and is always evolving,” said Paramount Film Group President Adam Goodman, who oversees the unit run by Insurge President Amy Powell. “Hopefully we’ll be so nimble that we can stay ahead of whatever trends are out there as opposed to being reactive.”

Powell, who also serves as Paramount’s president of interactive marketing, says her goal is to pick movies that take advantage of social networks to become must-see phenomena ― especially for moviegoers who rush out on opening weekend.

“You want movies that are going to be able to find an audience who are so excited they’ll be sharing it with each other online and then lining up to see it at 1 a.m.,” she explained.

Although Insurge has yet to experience failure, many cheaply made films come and go from theaters without drawing much of an audience, even if they’re backed by a big studio. Sony Pictures in 2010 put out the micro-budgeted comedy “The Virginity Hit,” produced by Will Ferrell, and took in just $637,000 at the box office.

Powell has only two employees officially working for Insurge: a “creative executive” who searches for material and develops projects, and an assistant. But Goodman says he and Powell are trying to create a “little think tank” rather than a self-contained unit. “We open Insurge meetings up to assistants or whoever has the free time to come,” he said.

By Ben Fritz

(Los Angeles Times)

(MCT Information Services)