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Movie Mom

Paranormal Activity: Marketing or Art?

posted by Nell Minow

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.

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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.

  • Barry Lynn

    I only wish this horrendous excretion had left town before my impulse to see, eventually, every film ever made kicked in and $8 left my wallet. The marketing was clever, but normally if the film has no real “payoff” (as in, an ending)you’d think word of mouth would still kill it. As is often the case, though, my movie reviewer acumen does not comport with that of others: over 80% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes belie it. May the Blair Witch join the couple in bed in “Paranormal Activity”–and hope that morality and/or contraception prevent any awful offspring.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Yes, Barry, I’m afraid it is the marketing that is the art form here, not the movie.

  • Henrietta22

    Since I never agree with someone else’s critiques, we’ll pop “Airbornes”, hopefully against the flu in crowds, and see it soon.

  • jestrfyl

    It seems that the designation “art” is an afterthought in the commercial film market. Very few films created as art become commercial successes. This is simply one more example of commercial inclinations taking advantage of the current appetite for the metaphysical.
    Not every swirl or flower painted on a canvas is art; not ever note played (even if played sweetly) is music; not every frame (or its digital equivalent) on a screen is art. Art is how those swirls, notes, and frames affect your spirit, inflame your mind, or motivate your body. THAT is the fun of art.

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