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“I learned a lot about the process of filmmaking and that if you’re totally persistent and want to follow through with something, you’ll get it done.”
Oren Peli

For Halloween day I’ll step away from my Once Upon a Time in Hollywood posts to interject an update about the movie Paranormal Activities. The seven day results fro Friday October 23 through Thursday October 29 had Paranormal Activities number one at the box office.   I wouldn’t call it paranormal but that is highly unusual. Especially for a movie that opened five weeks ago and had yet to have a number one week.

That’s the power of word of mouth and a great marketing plan.  On halloween night the film will also pass the $70 million mark. Keep in mind that the budget has been said to be between 10,000-15,000. No typos there. Less than most used cars. I saw the movie this week and they keep the budget down by shooting in just one location (the writer/directors house) and using just four actors (two of which are on the screen for just a couple minutes). And one of the actors doubled most of the time as the cameraman using just  a $3,000 video camera.

So the film made for $15,000 bringing in $70 million in the box office according to several sources is now the new box office record holder as the most profitable movie ever made. Ever. A film made by the  39-year old Oren Peli, a first time filmmaker who was born in Israel and living in San Diego. (Passing the decade old record set by The Blair Witch Project.)

I’d like to say it was in the spirit of what I’ve been writing about for two years hear at Screenwriting from Iowa. Something big happening by an outsider to the Hollywood film industry. The only problem is there wasn’t a screenplay written—at least in the traditional sense.

“There was no dialogue. There was only an outline of the story, the actors never received any script. They didn’t know about anything they were getting into. All they knew is they were going to do something about a haunted house and basically discovered everything as they were shooting. There were no lines for them to follow. Everything was spontaneous.”
Oren Peli
shocktillyoudrop.com

The film was shot in just seven days in 2006, but took 10 months to go through the 70 hours of footage. The first version of the film was made in 2007 and several different versions were completed and tested a various film festivals. The film hit the jackpot when a DVD found its way to Steven Spielberg. DreamWorks picked up the film first with the intention of Spielberg remaking the film but then it was decided that that wasn’t needed. Like The Blair Witch Project hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to enhance the film that eventually made the theater. But essentially it’s the film Peli made for $15,000.

They did a masterful of using social media, most notably Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. While the success of Paranormal Activities is off the charts and against all odds, I think you will see more of its ilk in the future. Not just horror films, but films in general where lovers of film tap into the resources that are out there and make a film that finds an audience. I’ll talk more about those resources tomorrow in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… (Part 9).

Scott W. Smith

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One thing that is not going down in price is the cost of going to movies. While you can buy a classic movie on DVD for $5, going to a mediocre one in the theaters can cost just about twice as much. And by the time you add drinks, snacks, gas (and sometimes parking), a family of four can spend over $70 bucks going to a single movie.

Heck, for $70 you can make a movie these days. A feature film, too. That’s how much Welsh director Marc Price spent making his film Colin which made it to the Cannes Film Festival last month. According to an interview with CNN the film took 18 months to shoot and most of the money according to Price went to, “A crowbar and a couple of tapes, some tea and coffee.” Remember when low-budget filmmaking used to be a couple hundred thousand dollars?

Blame it on the Blair Witch guys and their $40,000 film, Kevin Smith’s Clerks for $27,500, then Robert Rodriguez and his sub- $10,000 film El mariachi. Welcome to filmmaking in the new economics. If you can get your hands on the latest cameras that shoot digitally you should be able to cut the tape costs out and maybe cut Price’s budget in half.

The film’s press release says, “Without funding the filmmaker’s goal to make an explosive feature length production fuelled by the creativity and inventiveness of those involved that would not be restricted in any way by lack of funding.”

Casting was done through Facebook and MySpace where 50 people answered the call to “Who wants to be a zombie?”And what sets this film apart from other no budget films is that it not only played at Cannes, but it may be the first one to pick up a distribution deal. It’s another piece of a growing trend.

Another piece of new school filmmaking is Twitter. A couple months ago I said someone was going to write a screenplay on Twitter. Well…Killer Green is reported to be the first screenplay written on Twitter to have been optioned. Writer David Niall Wilson began the script in February 2009 and it was optioned this month by Ambergris Films. Wilson has been writing since the mid-80s and has had over 150 short stories published. He lives in North Carolina and you can follow him on twitter @David_N_Wilson.

Interesting things happening outside L.A.

Things a lot more interesting and original than The Proposal which happens to be number one at the box office this weekend. Really, is that the best that Hollywood can do? Think of the years it takes to sift through thousands of scripts to find the few that will be produced by a studio. Think of all of the creative, talented, and experienced cast and crew that it takes to make a film. The tens of millions of dollars that it takes to produce a Hollywood feature. And we get …The Proposal.

A movie that Rolling Stone critic Peter Travis wrote, “A romantic comedy so numbing it feels like Novocaine,” and that Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The problem is not the acting. The problem is what these actors are required to say and do.”

Now Sandra Bullock could make eating an apple interesting to watch for an hour and a half, my point is simply this — The Proposal reflects the best Hollywood has to offer. My case for this whole blog is the cure — fresh scripts and movies from places far from L.A.

Nov.’09 Update: Story in New York Post of guy who started to Twitter funny thing his dads says and lands a TV deal.

March ’11 Update: In 2010, CBS began airing the sitcom  $#*! My Dad Says starring William Shatner based on the Twitter feed @ShitMyDadSays written by Justin Halpern (and which I referenced in November ’09).

Scott W. Smith

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