This month’s release of IFC Midnight’s found-footage horror movie “Inner Demons” (pictured above) marked Robin Schorr‘s maiden voyage into the potentially lucrative world of microbudget filmmaking.
As her equity finance and production company Schorr Pictures continues to develop studio-sized projects as well as several TV series, Schorr is taking her destiny into her own hands by moving into the microbudget space, which has yielded lucrative returns for a handful of producers including Jason Blum of “Paranormal Activity” fame.
“We have a development fund that allows us to autonomously invest in IP. We’ve found great material for studio features and series, and now it has enabled us to invest in and finance this microbudget horror film ‘Inner Demons,'” said Schorr, who defines microbudget as $650,000 or less. While Schorr declined to reveal the budget for “Inner Demons,” she acknowledged it was under that figure.
Seth Grossman directed “Inner Demons,” which stars Lara Vosburgh as a teen who’s fighting addiction but may be suffering from something even more destructive — demonic possession.
The idea for “Inner Demons” was hatched internally at Schorr Pictures. “The symptoms for addiction, mental illness and true demonic possession all look the same,” said Schorr. “I was fascinated by this idea — what if a teenage girl finds herself consumed by really dark thoughts that she can’t control, so she self-medicates? She starts taking drugs to deal with that problem, because what else would you do? At that point, is she just a drug addict, is she mentally ill, or could she actually be possessed by a demon? Most people don’t believe in demons, but who’s to say what’s ailing her? I felt that this premise explored a very interesting intersection between those three problems — addiction, mental illness and possession, which all have the same symptoms.”
“I’m obsessed with the reality show ‘Intervention’ and [realized] that if we dramatized a fictitious show of that kind, there would be logic in a crew documenting this girl as she goes through this particular nightmare. I felt that this was a really cool idea for a grounded possession story. And then we added a love story between a young member of the crew who begins to have feelings for the addict.”
The timing also worked out for Schorr Pictures, according to its principal. “My company had a window of time with no other production, so I decided to greenlight the movie myself and we went straight into production,” said Schorr.
Landing Grossman, a former “Intervention” producer who previously directed “The Butterfly Effect 3” and a suspenseful short that won a prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, proved to be a key piece of the puzzle.
“We were looking for someone talented who’d be good with both scares and performance. When Seth came along, he literally said to us when we met for the first time, ‘There’s no one more uniquely qualified to direct this movie than me.’ I think ‘Intervention’ episodes are fascinating and painfully intimate portrayals of human difficulty, so we just fell in love with his resume and with him. He’s a really talented guy, so it was a great match,” said Schorr.
The next key decision was the casting of the female lead, which ended up going to Israeli actress Vosburgh.
“We were very fortunate to find a fantastic casting director who auditioned Lara,” said Schorr. “She’s quite established in Israel as an actress and a model, so she came out for pilot season and had been in LA for two days when we auditioned her. She didn’t have an apartment or a car, but she got the job a week later. She really connected to the character by visiting narcotic support groups and talking to young people about their descent into heroin and drug addiction. She kind of had this whirlwind Hollywood experience and then had to go back home for a work commitment.”
Schorr did much of the heavy lifting on “Inner Demons” herself, as agencies don’t really package microbudget projects unless they’re trying to launch a first-time filmmaker, as was the case with Sean Durkin and “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which is set largely in a vacation home. “That’s an affordable movie, and so are ‘Drinking Buddies’ and ‘Compliance,'” said Schorr.
“The microbudget template is very much there in the genre area and because there are so many fan sites there’s a way to market these movies to the audience that wants them,” she added. “But I believe there’s a way to do it with other types of movies as well. Look at ‘Drinking Buddies,” which was a good movie that was made affordably. I think there’s a lot of great examples of how you can succeed in the microbudget space with a comedy or drama as long as you have an interesting enough concept and a story that can be told without it costing a fortune. A movie doesn’t have to be expensive to be important and get people’s interest. ‘Amour’ is special because it’s a master filmmaker working with an exceptional cast, but it’s not expensive. It’s hard to [stand out] in the microbudget space but you could be lucky enough to make something as profound and important as a movie like that.”
The veteran producer also addressed the fading stigma regarding VOD and the current state of indie distribution.
“I have mixed feelings about the state of the theatrical experience, but the stigma about VOD is definitely gone, particularly for this kind of film,” said Schorr. “I love the theatrical experience but for the vast majority of movies, it just isn’t the point anymore, sadly. It’s turning into one of those things where it’s something you do for certain kinds of movies, and all the rest of them aren’t going to have that experience. It’s not even worth getting sad about it. It’s rare to have a drama that plays theatrically. It’s a shame and yet it’s sort of understandable at this point.”
Schorr acknowledged that working in the microbudget space also demands certain sacrifices and tradeoffs.
“I wish everything was still theatrical but the flip-side of it is that the means of production are much more available now. You lose certain things, no question, but there are also gains made. I could never have made ‘Inner Demons’ without the accessibility of digital production and distribution,” said Schorr, who has been advocating for companies to report VOD grosses, as she believes financial transparency would benefit the business as a whole.
To that end, Schorr said that following its premiere at the LA Film Festival, there were four offers on the table for “Inner Demons,” which went on to debut in the Top 10 on iTunes’ horror section as well as Google Play. “We’re really high on all the [genre] charts, so we’ll see how things turn out,” said Schorr.
One of the inherent challenges of succeeding in the microbudget space is the staggering amount of competition, as it’s hard to standout amidst an endless sea of VOD titles.
“There’s a glut right now so there’s that issue to deal with, but that’s why it comes down to concept and finding one that can cut through the massive quantity of things competing for people’s attention,” said Schorr.
“It’s hard to find those concepts and scripts that can be made on a microbudget but if you hunt hard and find those, there’s a real opportunity there and I’m very excited about that. I loved the experience on ‘Inner Demons’ and I really believe in it. It’s fun to be able to greenlight your own movie.”
“I’ve learned a lot. It’s a challenge because there’s just no money for anything, but I learned strategies for how to put these microbudget movies together and I want to put it back into action. In the modern era, the producer has to be kind of nimble and hunt for those opportunities, and I feel [the microbudget space] is one,” said Schorr, who is also excited about the opportunity to break young talent.
Schorr Pictures recently produced Disney Channel’s original movie “How to Build a Better Boy,” which debuted this summer, as well as “The Pretty One,” which Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions released in May. The company also continues to develop Max Landis‘ script “Good Time Gang” and an adaptation of Denis Tafoya’s novel “Wolves of Fairmount Park.”
The company is currently looking for thrillers, horror scripts, noisy dramas and comedies that can be made affordably, but Schorr knows a strong hook is what counts these days. “First and foremost, we’re looking for an interesting idea. Sometimes it’s about execution, but for [better or worse], it’s about marketing.” Isn’t it always?