So, what’s all the hype about Paranormal Activity?


Have you seen the movie Paranormal Activity? … It only made it to the M’sian cinema circuit,  starting Jan 7, 2010 … talk about late….. :(

Well, it’s a horror movie. My favorite kind. The story centres around a young couple who has just moved in together  to a new home in San Diego. Given certain ‘activities’, of the paranormal kind, happening in the house, they believe that it is being haunted by a ‘demon’ that was apparently following Katie, the girl, when she was 8 years old. Micah, the boyfriend is determined on documenting the phenomena, hence the appearance of a handheld camera which records a series of events which leads up to the ‘surprise’ ending.

Amazing how a movie featuring just …  1 house (which incidentally is the director’s own house ~ Oren Peli), 1 handheld camera, 1 demon… (not ghost) and  4 actors (2 guys & 2 girls) …. could be such a blockbuster success! The production budget of the movie …… only USD11,000. The film grossed an impressive USD36.9m in its first month of showing in the US, & we haven’t even taken into account the box office earnings internationally … Not too shabby I say.

So what’s the hype all about?  Well to understand it, here are some interesting facts surrounding the movie…… 

1. If you were a fan of the Blair Witch Project (BWP), in 1999 … you would definitely want to watch Paranormal Activity (PA). They share the same low budget features …. with minimal scripting, minimal acting & employ the use of hand held cameras to simulate a ‘real’ incident… OK, maybe BWP wasn’t so low budget (USD60K) compared to PA (USD11K) but BWP made USD140m at the box office. PA is on its way to making as much.

The Blair Witch Project was hyped up to be a true story. The film was done in a documentary format. It had a lot of people fooled….. & more importantly, freaked!  PA too started out similarly by creating the illusion that it was a home video footage, edited for public viewing. ……. If you notice, the screen couple take on the  first names of the actor and actresses i.e. Micah (real name Micah Sloat) & Katie (Katie Featherston). There are also no credits rolling at the end of the movie, creating an illusion as if there was no directing, casting or even scripting involved.  In fact, when the movie first screened during film festivals ….. there was even a note thanking the families of the couple for allowing the video to be shown publicly.  The actor and actress, playing the screen couple, were visibly absent during the limited premiere of the movie. They were apparently spying on fans queuing up for the movie from across the street, hidden behind a tree ….. 

But there’s a difference …. Paramount does not pretend that this movie is anything other than fiction, unlike BWP which tried to carry the hype to the end. The people behind the marketing of PA knew better than to insult audience’s intelligence in this day  and age dominated by social media…..  

2. …. which brings us to fact no. 2…. Using social media as a marketing tool. It demonstrates the power of the ‘word of mouth’ through the WEB.  How was it done?   There was a two prong approach …..  It all started in Sept 2009. 

  • Part 1. ‘Piecemeal’ release. The film was not released nationwide as would happen conventionally, but instead, on a  ‘piecemeal’ basis. Paramount first released it in Sept to limited midnight showings, in just 13 college towns. The first ‘scary’ seeds were thus sown. From then on, the WEB did the rest of the work. The initial batch of audience who was scared into sleepless nights started spreading the word around ……. it was tweeted, facebooked & viewer comments flooded the movie’s website …. Perfect. Now to execute part 2 of the viral marketing plan. 
  • Part 2. Empowering the fans! Now, with all the hype created, the rest of the potential audience market wanted to watch it…. and they could ‘demand it’ at the official website of PA. They had to click on a yellow box at the top right corner of the page to ‘demand’ for the movie to be shown in their town … and the producers promised if they reached certain targeted numbers… it would go to the town that demanded for it. At the same time, there was another number counter which monitored the absolute total number of ‘demands’. If it were to reach 1 million, it would go nationwide. A case in point  ~  One of the viewers, a student, desperately wanted to catch the movie after hearing about it. ….He went to the website & clicked to ‘demand it’ to come to his town … everyday. At the same time he was spreading the word to his friends to do the same. Imagine this action repeated over and over again by countless fans & you have a winning formula. 

One month & a million demands later, PA not only opened in the towns which demanded for it, but also nationwide in the US. Talk about an ingenious way of marketing the movie. No expensive ads involved. No roadshows. No big Hollywood names. Just hype. …. and the power of the ‘word of mouth’.

3. The person responsible for the actual production of the film is Oren Peli, an unknown film director who is actually a video game designer from California.  PA was first shown at a film festival in 2007. Paramount bought the movie & only showed it in 2009. Why? Well maybe because Paramount wasn’t sure if the lack of glitz in the movie gave it the formula for success. There was talk that Paramount wanted to remake the movie & plump it up with big names … Thank God they left it alone. Goodness knows how much the budget would have been inflated by …. The original, non glitzed version by Oren was filmed for just USD11,000 and completed in 7 days. The screen couple were paid USD500 each for 7 days work, for God’s sake!  Now, tell me, if Paramount is able to top that, & still make  a similar rate of box office returns?! 

4. Did you know that there are THREE different endings to the film? The ending shown at film festivals was different from the Paramount version… Some say the original ending is more realistic, adding 10 more minutes to the film. So, in other words,  the current version has been edited with an ending that has more ‘commercial’ appeal. If you’re curious to find out what the other two endings are like, click here.  Note of warning: SPOILER present. Don’t click on the link if you haven’t watched the movie.  

It’d be interesting to see which ending plays out as the favorite amongst the audience. Wish we could view all & vote on it… (hmmm… viral marketing idea for a sequel? I.E. Audience participation required…Play a role in determing how the story for the sequel goes… ). The buzz word  is, once the Blu-Ray DVD of PA is released, it will feature all three endings.

5. Steven Spielberg was said to have taken a DVD of the movie home to watch it again after seeing it at a film festival. Later that night, halfway through the movie, his bathroom door slammed shut for no reason & was locked from the inside (apparently a locksmith had to be called in the day after to get it open). He stopped the movie, took the DVD out & bundled it into a trash bag ….  He returned it the next day. True or False? I say, it was all part of the viral marketing strategy to create the scary hype further…… 

Well, one must admit, this is a true Hollywood success story. But let’s get down to the conclusion, PA ~ Hype or  over hyped … 

SCARY factor ~ OVERHYPED. It was hardly scary, only 3 out of 10 for me (1 being the least scary to 10 being the scariest). But, it was entertaining, nonetheless. Believable factor ~ Fair score of  7 out of 10, especially if you have gone to the link to read about the original (first version) ending to the story. 

MARKETING factor ~  Now that’s where the TRUE HYPE of the movie lies….. I give it a perfect score of 10. The strategy employed in promoting the movie is a work of genius. True to the spirit of the movie, it was cheap, creative but most importantly effective…. and relevant to the times, exploiting the social media tool to the max. Paramount spent USD1m on web marketing and has garnered an estimated USD29m in profits, to date. Audience participation in ‘demanding it’ was the greatest ‘blockbuster hit’ of a marketing strategy in itself.  And, credible. It made no false claims about the movie being real. Instead, it used real life fan comments to fuel the hype about how  scary the movie was & let the WEB and social media do the rest of the work.  And by ensuring a slow release of the film, it created a hunger and a  frenzy to ‘demand it’ be shown in their towns, nationwide.  The marketers empowered the audience, letting them feel as if they played a part in the movie distribution process.  I congratulate the film based on this. Too bad we, the international audience, did not have a chance to be apart of this experience. It would’ve been fun!

 

 

 

 


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2 responses to “So, what’s all the hype about Paranormal Activity?

  1. Great Article! Gives hope that a David can make a Goliath profit.

  2. Did you watch the Oscars? Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin made fun of this movie! Haha!

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