What happened with the 2007 horror movie Paranormal Activity was truly a once in a lifetime experience. The making of Paranormal Activity featured a director named Oren Peli, who had no film experience whatsoever, but had a good idea for a movie. Peli came up with $15,000 and got his buddies to help out with filming the horror movie at his own house on a home-video camera. Somehow, someway, his $15K movie made almost $200 million worldwide.
Peli is an Israeli-born software designer. While his debut behind the camera (and as a screenwriter) produced a solid outline for a horror movie, and a good effort as a director, he can thank most of Paranormal Activity’s success to a viral marketing campaign. His story about a young couple who move into their first house together only to become convinced that their bedroom is haunted by some unworldly demonic presence, hit spectators where they feel the most vulnerable, in their sleep.
What the couple finds when they set up their home-video camera to record while they sleep made audiences scream. Here are some amazing behind-the-scenes facts about Paranormal Activity. It was a lottery-ticket dream come true for both its freshman filmmaker and the studios that backed the project.
'Paranormal Activity' Is The Most Profitable Movie Of All Time When Based On Return On Investment
The documentary-style horror movie was made for a mere $15,000. By the time its theater run was over, the film raked-in $193 million worldwide. Those figures make Paranormal Activity the most profitable movie of all time when based on return on investment (ROI) at over 645,000%. That ROI percentage is much higher than another revered ROI touchstone, The Blair Witch Project.
DreamWorks Initially Planned To Remake Peli's Original Cut
Paranormal Activity was purchased by DreamWorks in 2007. The studio planned for the uber-raw, low-budget movie to be remade with a bigger budget with Peli once again behind the camera. However, when the studio screened the horror flick for a test audience to attract perspective screenwriters to the project, the studio changed their mind.
In the middle of the screening, several audience members walked out. But it wasn't because they were bored or didn't like the film; it was because they were too scared to stick it out. Based on those reactions, the studio opted not to reshoot the movie, but instead just use Peli's original film with a few alterations including a new ending.
Paramount Pictures Used A "Demand It" Winning Strategy To Sell The Movie
In 2009, Paramount Pictures released Paranormal Activity in a handful of college towns. Their marketing strategy was to focus on social media that pushed people who saw the movie to "Tweet Their Screams." Most of the early reviews for Paranormal Activity were positive and the box office receipts were encouraging.
Paramount then pushed something called a "Demand It" campaign. Basically, if an interested person wanted Paranormal Activity to come to a theater near their hometown, they would go the movie's website or Facebook page and hit a demand button so that the studio would bring the picture there. If the movie got to one million "demands," they would release the film nationally. It only took the movie five weeks to become the highest grossing R-Rated thriller in the United States in the 2000s.
Peli Had Absolutely No Film-Production Experience Whatsoever
Exactly 10 years ago was one of the most important & nerve-wrecking days of my life - world premier of Paranormal Activity at Screamfest. pic.twitter.com/ZrmbJLUKbr— Oren Peli (@Oren_Peli) October 14, 2017
Paranormal Activity was not only Peli's debut feature film behind the camera, but it was his first time doing anything cinematic whatsoever. The software programmer never even directed a short or had any experience in movie production. Even still, Peli knew that he had a good premise for a horror movie. He gathered a group of friends, came up with $15,000, and hired some actors. The entire shoot took just seven days and was filmed at the director's own house in San Diego.
Peli's only other directing credit came in 2015 with the horror movie Area 51. However, he has several writing and producing credits to his name.