Jen Chaney has an astute article in the Washington Post about the latest movie phenomenon, “Paranormal Activity.” Like The Blair Witch Project, it is more concept than movie, taking advantage of what most would consider a disadvantage: no money. The premise of both films is that they are found footage from rudimentary amateurs. And both films arguably had more creativity in their marketing campaigns than in the films themselves.
Chaney calls it a “a pop cultural sneak attack,” not just in terms of its box office (exceeding its under-$15,000 budget many times over in its first weeks of release) but in its buzz. The title is a top-trending topic on Twitter. It “outsold a 3-D Pixar double feature (the “Toy Story” re-release), a Bruce Willis thriller (“Surrogates”) and a Michael Moore documentary (“Capitalism: A Love Story”). ”
The movie’s trailer audaciously showed the audience’s shocked reaction to what they were watching, like the film recognizing that our imagination is much scarier than anything that could appear on screen. And Chaney describes the “you have to ask for it” marketing campaign.
Apparently because we — the same individuals who relish our right to elect a president, choose our American Idols and watch our favorite TV shows OnDemand — voted to bring this slow-building shocker to a theater near us. Or at least some of us did. Paramount Pictures, the studio distributing “Paranormal Activity,” has dubbed it the “first-ever major film release decided by you,” mainly because of an online polling system that guaranteed a nationwide roll-out for the micro-budget movie once 1 million supportive votes had been cast.
Whether those votes reflect actual audience demand for the film or whether they were an appearance that created a reality, it worked, and “Paranormal Activity” will unquestionably be one of the most profitable films of the year.