Anyone who loves horror movies, loves low budget filmmaking, loves indie film or facebooks knows about Paranormal Activity. As someone who has seen $15K short films that sucked and multi-million dollar horror that sucked. I am completely awestruck by this film. And I am even more awestruck by the way it’s been marketed.
If you like old school horror and you are not jaded by high budget screamers, then see this film. It’s for those of us who have a high suspension of disbelief and were more scared by Robert Wise’s The Haunting than any FX laden gorefest in the last 20 years. If you watch film to point out the wires on the floating bed and the zipper on the monster suit, then stay home. This movie has only a handful of effects and all are as low tech as possible.
But the most amazing thing about this film is the marketing. There are tens of thousands of low budget horror movies out there. And I’m sure hundreds are good enough to get this hype. But we don’t know them. Why? Low budget films always have no budget PR. After winning a mere honorable mention at Screamfest in 2007 and screening at Slamdance the same year, Oren Peli and his little film was another invisible low budget horror. But behind the scenes, money was changing hands. Dreamworks came with pen in hand wanting to remake it. But that fell through and this year, the movie got a giant push on facebook. We can’t give Oren Peli the credit, though. It was all the work of Adam Goodman, head of production at Paramount. Facebook was a cheap way to get the PR ball rolling as well as decide on where to screen and who to market to.
So now that we know this film wasn’t publicized in the same way it was created (with no money and a lot of creativity), we have to ask, “Can a small budget film do this without the big studio ties?” This reminds me of a little project I mention often in times like this -Repo: the Genetic Opera. As someone who saw the stageplay workshopped in bars around LA back in 2002, saw it complete in a number of theaters in 2003 (packed every night), and then read about the film being made in 2007, I saw Terrance Zdunich and musician Darren Smith as an inspirational “you can do it!” story for any struggling filmmaker. After years of tireless rewrites, reworks, and re-productions on the stage, the film was made for about $8.5 million. That’s admittedly no micro-budget, but it’s not the $20+ million that Zombieland and Halloween II got to play with. Thanks to Saw-famous Darren Bousman as director, it seemed a PR slamdunk. But the film was completely abandoned after some studio shenanigans and we saw the opposite of PA’s PR happen. A film with all the potential to become a blockbuster became a mere blip, only well known to horror movie fans and devout indie followers. In a panel this year at Fangoria, Zdunich admits to spending much more than 40 hours a week promoting Repo himself. And the reward is good. Fans love with fervent loyalty. Girls squeal. Shadow casts play the film and act it out a la Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the fame isn’t the caliber of Facebook bombardment and water cooler discussions across the country. A hardworking man does not a studio PR machine make.
Does this mean only the small budget being swooped up by the big studio, combined with luck, executive persistence and lack of studio drama has a chance? Dear god, I hope not. We’re shooting in February and I have no intention of our film getting into any studio chair. It’s ours. And will stay ours. We’ll find a way…if Facebook kills us, we’ll find a way.