The little film studios that are making a big impact

Emily Taylor discusses the increasing profits of smaller film studios

Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s neither a bold nor surprising statement to say that the film industry is changing. With the rise in streaming services, Netflix and Amazon are becoming titans of the industry. Not content with slowly monopolising home entertainment distribution, they are starting to produce their own huge feature films, but this isn’t the first or last major change. Though the big film studios still control most of the industry’s output, some companies have proven that there is still room for smaller production houses in this new era of Hollywood. Blumhouse Productions and A24 are two relatively young film production studios that have managed to carve out their own unique niche and have become successful against the odds, though through vastly different methods.

Blumhouse Productions’ bread and butter are small-budget horror films that can then be released through the major studios. This low-cost approach allows for risk-taking and creative freedom for their directors. Horror has always been a popular genre for filmmakers working with a very low budget and used to often be released straight onto home entertainment, leading to the wave of video nasties in the 80s. Blumhouse seems to be taking this approach to the big screen, and though many of their films will just fly under the radar, those that succeed often give incredible returns, exemplified by Blumhouse Production’s first major success, Paranormal Activity. A film that cost a paltry $15,000 and which grossed over $193 million worldwide, making it the most profitable film ever made when based on its return of investment. Though for every Paranormal Activity or Purge film there is some horror film you’ve never heard of like 13 Sins or Area 51, the latter costing $5 million and only making a return of $7,556. Blumhouse production’s strategy is one of go big or go home. They don’t aim to make their money back but they either win big or lose a lot. So far the wins far outweigh the losses and it seems to be a strategy that is working and allowing them to venture into producing some more prestigious productions such as the award-winning Whiplash and Get Out.

A24 is an even younger company than Blumhouse but it has quickly carved out its own niche in a highly competitive industry. Its distinctive branding and focus on producing high quality content, produced films such as Moonlight, Lady Bird and Room. A24 perfectly tapped into audiences’ apathy towards the huge franchise releases that dominate theatres, focusing rather on auteur-driven projects that proved ripe for awards seasons. Though not every film produced by A24 is good, they at least remain interesting in their own right and are attempting to do something new; a change that is refreshing in an industry that some fear to be stagnating. Part of their success was due to their deal with Amazon for streaming rights post theatrical-release as well as investing in online marketing and social media over more traditional methods. They are a production company that isn’t adapting to the new land- scape of lm distribution but is one designed for it.

Though the box office results may be cause for concern for A24 – their biggest cultural hit, Moonlight, that  took home Best Picture, was one of the lowest-grossing pictures to ever take home the award. Perhaps they have learnt something from Blumhouse Productions and the company’s biggest box office success so far was a low-budget horror film, Hereditary, which made $79 million dollars from its budget of $9 million. Though box office wins aren’t the only measure of success, what makes them so valuable as a company is their distinctive brand. Through their careful curation of films and their heralding of independent cinema, they have created a brand that audiences are receptive to, one that will draw audiences on the merit of the production company alone – the only other studio with this kind of draw is Disney. People do go to see A24 films because of A24, as they promise a mark of quality and the continued support of independent film and this brand recognition is valuable in itself and is an attractive opportunity for filmmakers and investors alike. Though the box-office figures aren’t quite reflecting the love of the company from film fans, there must be some confidence in the company as they recently refused NBC Universal’s investment in order to remain independent. 

Hopefully as more and more critical and commercial hits come from these studios, they will be able to survive against much larger foes. Blumhouse Productions seems to be moving mrom success to success commercially with fewer flops in between. Though A24 has been producing constant critical successes,  hopefully the box office will catch up, as many film fans will miss this company that has now helped to create some of the best, most important and engaging films made in the last seven years.

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