September 25, 2009
On the Big Board
||Unique and terrifying. Among the decade's best horror.
After Oren Peli began experiencing strange things in the home where he was living, he decided that perhaps it would be an interesting exercise to set up some cameras at night to see what happened as he slept. This germ of an idea grew, and he prepped his house to be the subject of a long-form movie. He researched paranormal phenomena as well as demonology, wanting his story to hone as closely to the truth as possible. A story outline was developed, and actors Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat were brought in to perform as the owners of the home. With a budget of $15,000 and a hand-held camera, Peli was on his way to seeing his vision actually unfold on the big screen.
Once the movie was finished, the writer/director signed on with Creative Artists Agency, and they were able to get the movie screened at the 2007 Screamfest Horror Festival. From there, a couple of Miramax production guys got their hands on the movie and tightened it up a bit. Even so, Sundance wouldn't accept Paranormal Activity, so the movie went on to screen at Slamdance. Even though it was getting some decent buzz, no distributor picked up the film.
Then, a funny thing happened. A DVD of the film made its way to the DreamWorks studios. The film slowly made its way up the chain, until finally a guy named Steven Spielberg - perhaps you've heard of him - took it home to watch. He returned the next day and claimed that the DVD was haunted. Minutes after seeing the film, his bedroom doors locked and he couldn't get out without the aid of a locksmith. That's not all that happened when Spielberg saw the film, though. He loved the movie. He believed that they could remake the film on a bigger budget - with Peli still serving as director - and release it as a major motion picture. Peli and producer Jason Blum (the Miramax guy who did the re-working of the movie) stipulated that they'd be able to screen the movie to get audience reaction and ideas for rewrites. People walked out - but not because they didn't like the film. They were simply too disturbed by what they saw.
Months later, Paramount took the movie as it was and decided to release it in 13 college towns across the United States in September of 2009. The movie would have midnight screenings, and chances are it would make enough coin that they'd be very happy with this decision. It sold out 12 of 13 screenings, and the studio decided it would expand to another 20 markets the next week. The movie made $500,000.
Naturally, this meant that Paramount would take things a bit further. The film had a full limited release in 160 locations. It made $7.9 million in those 160 locations, which means it was selling out all over the place with a per venue average of $49,379. While this was happening, the studio had been encouraging people to go request that the movie come to their town. If they received one million requests, it would happen. To no one's surprise - particularly given that the movie became a major news story - Paranormal Activity rolled out on October 16th to 760 theaters.
People compare the film to the Blair Witch Project, and both indeed had the same sort of viral success that, well, happens about once a decade. Paranormal Activity will go down as a textbook example of marketing, and it's something that other studios will surely try to recapture with varying degrees of success. Hopefully, though, there will be no Book of Shadows in Paranormal Activity's future. (Kim Hollis/BOP)