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The rise of low-budget: Paramount spends $25m on 2008 tentpole

Prospective blockbusters are not usually built this way. From the NY Times

cloverfield_poster.jpgRob Moore, the executive who oversees Paramount Pictures' marketing and distribution operations, had an open date in his movie schedule. He had just watched a little step-dancing film called "Stomp the Yard" clean up over last year's Martin Luther King's Birthday weekend, and he figured his company could do the same if it had some cheap popcorn fare ready for the holiday in 2008.

J. J. Abrams, meanwhile, had a theory. Best known as one of the creators of the television series "Lost," Mr. Abrams figured he could make the modern-day equivalent of "Godzilla" for $25 million or less, if he hired a bunch of no-name actors, shot much of the movie with a single $1,500 hand-held camera and threw the rest of his cash into special effects.

And Brad Grey, chairman of the Paramount Motion Picture Group, had an itch. Imagining himself following in the footsteps of the movie moguls Lew Wasserman and Sidney Sheinberg in the days when they took a budding Steven Spielberg and his fledgling company under their wing at Universal, Mr. Grey remembers telling Mr. Abrams: "I'm going to be Sid and Lew, and you're going to be Steven."

And so “Cloverfield,” a monster movie for the YouTube generation that is set for release on Friday, was born.

Three years into Mr. Grey’s turbulent tenure, this seemingly seat-of-the-pants enterprise is emblematic of the creative imprimatur he is stamping on Paramount, the storied studio of “The Ten Commandments” and the “Godfather” saga, which had calcified in recent years into a conservative operation that focused more on splitting risk with partners than swinging for the fences.

Mr. Grey, a former talent manager whose producer credits include “The Sopranos,” brought with him an outsider’s creative impulsiveness, a slightly goofy grandeur more reminiscent of the classic movie mogul than today’s buttoned-down studio executive. And if “Cloverfield” turns into Paramount’s first full-blown home-grown crowd-pleaser from the Grey regime, it may also mean things are finally beginning to work the way they’re supposed to at the lot on Melrose Avenue.

This year’s movie slate is packed with assertively commercial prospects and at least a couple of potentially interesting films, even factoring out contributions from DreamWorks, which was acquired under Mr. Grey and whose principals, Mr. Spielberg and David Geffen, are now making noises about leaving. The slate includes a summertime comedy from Mike Myers called “The Love Guru,” a long-awaited “Indiana Jones” sequel from Mr. Spielberg and a Marvel Enterprises contribution called “Iron Man.” Later in the year comes a “Star Trek” film from Mr. Abrams and big-star Oscar fodder in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which features an effects-doctored Brad Pitt in the director David Fincher’s version of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a man who ages backward.


“With a little good fortune we’ll probably have the biggest summer in the history of Paramount Pictures,” Mr. Grey said in a recent interview over the glass-topped table in his private conference room.

Continues at the NY Times