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Eric D. Snider

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Eric has been a film critic since 1999, and a beard wearer since 2008. He holds a degree in journalism and used to work in "the newspaper industry," back when that was a thing.

How to Make Your Own Paranormal Activity

Now that Paranormal Activity has made $100 million at the box office after being produced for just $11,000, people are starting to think small. Forget about James Cameron and his half-billion-dollar Avatar budgets. You can’t make a profit with those kinds of costs! Any economist will tell you that, if he corners you at a party and you can’t find an excuse to get away from him. Tiny budgets and huge returns are the smart way to go.

But how can you make a movie for $11,000? Well, first you need to scrape up $11,000. We can’t help you with that. But once that’s done, follow these guidelines. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never made a movie before — neither had the guy who made Paranormal Activity! Apparently it’s not that hard!

How to Make Your Own Low-Budget Horror Movie

- The concept. Whatever your premise is, it must be cheap. Anything that would require special effects is out of the question. That means no zombies, unless we never get to see them really eat anybody, which would be lame. Aliens are OK, but they’ll have to look exactly like humans. Think ghosts (invisible!), vampires (plastic fangs!), and psycho killers (they’re just like you and me!).

- The setting. You can’t afford to build any sets. Not on $11,000. Don’t make me laugh. You can’t afford to alter your house to make it look like a set, either, at least not convincingly. Eleven thousand dollars won’t get you enough props and decor to make your garage look like an abandoned warehouse. It will turn out looking like a garage that someone wasted $11,000 on. So your movie needs to take place in a house that looks just like your house. What kind of movie that is depends on what kind of house you have, which in turn depends on how good a person you are.

- The actors. You might be tempted to spend money hiring actors. Do not give in. Performers accredited by the Screen Actors Guild must be paid a certain minimum per day, and you can’t afford it. You need non-SAG actors, ideally ones who are desperate for legitimate work. Stake out your local community theaters. Talk to your friends who are always gabbing about how they’d like to act. (Everyone has friends like that.) Remember to avoid people who are unpleasant to look at, unless it’s called for by the script. Which brings us to the next point….

- Use what’s around you. If you happen to have a friend who is seven feet tall and wouldn’t mind being in a movie, you’d be wise to write a story with a seven-foot-tall character. Perhaps he’s an alien, or a basketball player cursed by gypsies. (If you also know a gypsy, even better.) If you live in Minnesota, you could make a film about people trapped inside a house by a snowstorm. If you live in Seattle, maybe your characters are infected by a virus carried by the rain. If you live in Delaware, make your film about … um … whatever is in Delaware. (Sorry, Wikipedia is down!)

- Darkness is your friend. Regular household lighting usually makes people look awful on film. Obviously, you don’t want to rent lighting equipment and pay a gaffer (so that’s what a gaffer is!); instead, you’ll just want to dim the lights. For a horror film, that helps with the ambience anyway, and it means maybe you can go ahead and cast some of your ugly friends in leading roles. I’m available!


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