Found Footage Fever: Reality TV Hits the Big Screen

No stars, no budget, no problem.

The shock success of “The Devil Inside,” a “found footage” thriller which hauled in nearly $34 million over the weekend, should finally pave the way for the most cost-effective film genre possible. The only question remaining is, why did it take so long to happen?

Blair Witch Project, The (4)The first found footage blockbuster came with 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project.” Since then, modest hits like “Cloverfield,” “The Last Exorcism” and “Quarantine” showed the genre could be both profitable and appealing.

“The Devil Inside’s” success – does anyone care that both critics and audiences found it distasteful? – means we’ll be finding plenty more footage in 2012 and beyond.

This year already offers several found footage movies, including “Chronicle,” about a group of super-powered twenty-somethings and “Project x,” the tale of a wild teen party gone awry. “Devil” director William Brent Bell will be back in the genre thanks to his next assignment, a found footage thriller called “The Vatican.”

Yes, last year’s “Apollo 18” proved a dud, but the story of a doomed space mission still grossed $17 million on a $5 million budget. If that’s the worst case scenario movie studios have little to fear.

It’s easy to pin the rise of these micro-features on the death of the modern movie star. But the sad truth is these films are ridiculously cheap to make and demand unknowns in the leading roles for faux authenticity’s sake. They would come of age with or without the decline of bankable celebrities.

The clumsy aesthetics associated with these films clearly are of little concern to movie audiences. In our YouTube age, audiences are more than comfortable watching shaky camera work and amateur camera angles. That’s the reality of our modern lives. It’s also why reality television went mainstream so quickly.

Film studio executives are looking at the box office returns for “Devil” and asking themselves, “why pony up for Jennifer Aniston’s salary when we can shoot a bunch of unknowns for the rent on Aniston’s trailer?”