'Paranormal Activity': Hollywood's demonic saviour

Shot on a camcorder, on a budget of £9,000, the film is sweeping through the US

It's cheap, but not very cheerful. In fact, it's utterly terrifying. But as a mood of austerity grips Hollywood, a horror movie made for a few thousand dollars may be creating a new blueprint for the film industry's financial future.

The film, Paranormal Activity, features an unknown cast and crew, and was made for the meagre budget of $15,000 (£9,300). Yet, on the back of an inspired marketing campaign, and exponential hype, it has been selling-out US cinemas and is poised to outperform a host of starry rivals.

Already dubbed "one of the scariest movies of all time", its success is drawing comparisons with The Blair Witch Project, the documentary-style film which in 1999 became the first viral marketing sensation of the internet era, returning a staggering $250m against its $60,000 budget.

The new film, a tale of demonic possession, made mostly on a camcorder, is gaining remarkable momentum in the run-up to Hallowe'en. It represents a rare good news story in an industry bracing itself for cuts to budgets and star salaries, following a slew of redundancies among leading studio executives. It was first released by Paramount a fortnight ago, in just 12 locations and shown only at midnight. But last week Paranormal Activity expanded to 33 US cinemas, making the unthinkably-high sum of $500,000.

On Friday, it was screened in 155 US cinemas. Despite the limited nature of its distribution (an average Hollywood film debuts in around 3,000 locations) it is expected to break into the box office top 10 this weekend, alongside offerings from Michael Moore, Vince Vaughn and Matt Damon.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Gitesh Pandya, an analyst who runs the internet site boxofficeguru.com. "This is a movie where a conventional release pattern would have flopped. They had to do something different."

Not only does Paranormal Activity prove that hit films don't always need to cost tens of millions of dollars, it also demonstrates how a cheap-but-inventive PR campaign can outgun multimillion dollar traditional marketing efforts.

Paramount purchased the film in the New Year, after its unknown director, Oren Peli, showed it at the Slamdance Film Festival. Its strictly limited release has created an aura of exclusivity around the film, which spent the week among the top "trending" topics on the social networking website Twitter.

The trailer is also a low-budget triumph: it was released only on YouTube and garnered nearly 1.5 million views. It intersperses clips from the narrative – about a young couple who tape spooky goings-on in their San Diego house – with footage of a screaming audience at a test screening.

The film's official website, meanwhile, invites would-be viewers to click on an icon to "demand" that it is screened in their home town. So far, almost 250,000 voters have done just that. "They've done a great job of creating a pent-up demand to see the movie," said Paul Pflug, a Hollywood PR consultant who masterminded the marketing of The Blair Witch Project. "The key has been to make it seem exclusive, and difficult to see, and that has made it a sell-out."

The billion-dollar question, of course, is whether Paranormal Activity's business model, which ignores special effects and expensive marketing in favour of simple storytelling, can be replicated.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil