Since “Paranormal Activity” stomped all over “Saw VI” at the box office this weekend, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote about how creativity and risk-taking are rewarding, shaking up Hollywood and reminding executives not to write off the audience. So thank you, Patrick Goldstein, for making my job easier. “It’s yet another reminder for cynical studio execs that audiences are not simply sequel zombies, only willing to patronize the latest installment of a familiar, easily accessible franchise,” Goldstein exults. “Moviegoers still crave fresh, new, exciting ideas, even if they come in a primitive, low-budget package.” Also, it’s “a risk that has paid off. Big time.”
Big whoop. Making a lo-fi horror movie is hardly a “fresh, new” idea; the fact that Goldstein mentions “Paranormal Activity”‘s “visceral, ‘Blair Witch’-style appeal” in the same post should be proof enough of that. The perceived “risk” is in the heads of studio execs who think if something costs too little there must be something wrong with it. What’s else could be the problem? That there were no stars? Have you seen a horror movie lately? “The Unborn” starred Odette Yustman. Doubtless the “Saw” franchise initially drew in fans of Cary Elwes, Danny Glover and Tobin Bell, but surely it’s Bell’s star power that keeps bringing them back! Er, surely.
Nothing’s going to change. “Paranormal Activity” cost $300,000 to make and around $10 million to market; Oren Peli wants $10 million for his follow-up “Area 51,” which he’s shooting right now, and he can’t get it. Being behind the viral success story of the year: not enough.
Everyone seems to believe that faux-“viral” success of the film CAN’T BE REPLICATED EVER AGAIN, and therefore there’s zero value attached to the words “From the director of ‘Paranormal Activity.'” Clearly, they’re taking the wrong lesson from the “Blair Witch” example, because Paramount is working on “Paranormal Activity 2.” Book. Of. Shadows. Need I say more?
Here’s the real lesson, courtesy of Current‘s John Lichman: “It shows the worst thing possible to independent filmmakers and smaller studios: mainstream studios have perfected your grassroots campaign and they’ll gladly be taking all of those films you were going to spend months marketing for a mere direct-to-DVD release.” Right. Furthermore, let’s not forget the one true expense involved here: striking around 2,000 prints, a cost no true “viral” “indie” could’ve swallowed.
[Photo: “Paranormal Activity,” Paramount, 2009]