Posts Tagged ‘Oren Peli’

“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

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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In light of the box-office success of Oren Peli’s low-budget  (almost no-budget) movie  Paranormal Activity I’ve decided to start a new category on this blog dealing with filmmaking.  The first quote will be from writer/director Peli who was asked by Indy Mogul’s Erik Beck, “I was wondering if you had any advice for our audience of aspiring filmmakers?

“Yeah there are three things that I would probably advise, but the most important one is casting. If you don’t have good actors that do a convincing job then it doesn’t matter what your budget is, it’s just not going to work. If it wasn’t for Katie (Featherston) and Micah (Sloat) being as good as they were we wouldn’t even be talking now because the movie wouldn’t have been going anywhere. The other thing is the issue of perseverance, it’s not easy to make a movie and you just need to keep going and be extremely stubborn and not get discouraged when things don’t go well. And I would encourage people to pick up a videocamera and just start shooting and no matter how well it turns out you’re always going to learn and gain a little experience.”
Oren Peli

In the coming days I’ll unpack the perfect storm of a downturn in the economy mixed with some incredible recent breakthroughs in small cameras that can help you “just start shooting.”

Scott W. Smith

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The movie Paranormal Activity continues to be that little film that does mysterious things in the dark. The sub-$15,000. budget film averaged $25,000 per theater last weekend. (The number one film in total box office revenue had just under $9,000. per.) Much has been written about the film that was shot in 2006 with some friends over a seven day period, took ten months to edit, and two years to get distributed before earning $30 million in its first three weeks in the box office.

Oren Peli, 39. is the writer/director of the film and was recently interviewed by Peter Hall at Cinematical:

Peli: By trade, I am a software programmer, so I never really had any experience with movies before. I started out with Paranormal Activity.

Hall: So this was your very first stab at filmmaking?

Peli: Yes, pretty much, I never even made shorts or anything like that.

Now while while Peli apparently didn’t have a background in filmmaking, according to the L.A. TImes,  he did start his first software company when he was 16 so I guessing he’s a pretty smart and creative guy. (And in one interview with Rick Fiorino Peli talks about spending a year in pre-production.)  Another way of thinking about it is it’s been about a 25-year creative  journey for Peli. And once Steve Spielberg and Dreamworks got their hands on the film who knows what was the actual budget of the film being shown in theaters these days.

But like The Blair Witch Project it doesn’t matter. What matters is a handful of people got together at the writer/director’s house and took a $3,000. camera and made a film that people are flocking to see and when its worldwide run is completed will probably make over $100 million.

While the movie’s success is not normal—it’s not unheard of, and like I pointed out in my posts last year New Cinema Screenwriting (part 1) and New Cinema Screenwriting (part 2)—this is a growing trend.

Oct 30, 2009 update: According to The Wire Paranormal has now passed The Blair Witch Project as the most profitable move to date.

Scott W. Smith

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