A lot of Hollywood observers couldn’t figure out why writer-director Oren Peli’s Area 51 couldn’t score a U.S. deal.
IM Global’s Stuart Ford had easily sold the film all over the world, as he had Peli’s previous film, the hand-held micro-budget horror flick Paranormal Activity. And that film’s surprise box office performance this September, building from just a few screens to 1000 in a matter of weeks, and grossing over $106 million domestically, would seem to make the filmmaker’s follow-up picture a hot ticket. Why wasn’t Paramount’s Adam Goodman buying the movie, if he wanted to stay in business with the guy who had brought him such a profitable phenomenon?
Well, CAA, producer Jason Blum, Room 101, Ford, and financeers Incentive Filmed Entertainment and Aramid Entertainment Fund all thought they could make some significant change. And they were asking for too much money for the $5 million story about teens who find aliens in the Nevada desert. When Paramount finally stepped up to a slightly reduced minimum guarantee, the deal was made.
Paramount bought the movie for high-seven figures. And that, in today’s marketplace, is news. These days, independently financed movies have to raise P & A along with their budgets, because most filmmakers now have to pay distributors to service their releases for them. The old days of selling a movie to domestic distributor are long gone. It’s rare now.
The film wrapped three weeks ago. And Paramount has it set for 2010 release. “Now we’re beginning to be in profit,” said Blum. Will Paramount repeat its innovative grassroots marketing strategy? “I believe there is something to the idea of doing less with more,” said Blum, “and getting a studio machine behind small films of any genre. But the movies have to be standouts. There has to be potential for broad appeal, and most movies like that are genre movies. There is no expectation that they will try and repeat what they did before. The studio has shown they can get behind big movies and little movies. But for this film the release strategy has to be different. Oren Peli isn’t an unknown anymore.”