Warner Bros has acquired The Vatican, a pitch for a conspiracy-driven thriller to be scripted by David Cohen. William Brent Bell, who directed and co-wrote the weekend’s surprise hit The Devil Inside for Paramount’s Insurge release label, has made a deal to direct the film. The Vatican will be produced by Roy Lee, Lawrence Grey and John Middleton, and Bell’s producing partner Matt Peterman. Peterman wrote The Devil Inside with Bell, and produced that horror hit with Morris Paulson. The low-budget The Devil Inside grossed $34.5 million on an opening weekend that is usually dominated by holiday holdovers.
SPOILER ALERT Bell recently spoke to MovieWeb and tried to make a convincing case for why they stuck with that cheap ending, and he doesn’t really succeed. “People seem to understand movies so much, they want something different. But, when they get something different, they don’t like it. We all agreed, and Paramount and everybody, came to the conclusion to have the ending be this. We think it’s pretty ballsy, even for Paramount, to stand behind that, but we’re totally behind that,” Bell rationalized. “That website, we think it’s a pretty interesting experiment. There’s going to be a lot more on there that continues the story, even more than is on there now. It’s a continuation of the story, and it will be up on there sooner than you think. Nobody is waiting for the DVD extras. We’re going to show you a continuation of the story on that website very soon.”
The Vatican, a sale that was conducted right before the holidays, will be fast-tracked by Warner Bros and is described as a hybrid that uses some found-footage techniques like The Devil Inside did. Cohen wrote Subject Zero, a script on last year’s Black List, and No One Lives, which is in postproduction, was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura and stars Luke Evans.
Sony Pictures is not known for risky moves. So all through the holidays rival studio execs were predicting that they would not go forward with the 2nd and 3rd film installments of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium trilogy The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest. That opinion was based on the mediocre opening for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Its domestic debut was significantly behind M:I4 and Sherlock 2, but it’s R-rated and both of those are PG-13. Then overseas grosses, expected to be huge, began trickling in underwhelming.
Now it seems that Sony Pictures is indeed going forward with The Girl Who Played With Fire already written by Steve Zaillian, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest which Zaillian is penning. Studio chief Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin have not yet locked in David Fincher as director. But they’re looking to start shooting #2 by the end of this year/beginning of next. Overseas, Sony now expects GWDT to do over $200M — so $300M all in globally. “And that’s a really good number,” the Sony exec told Nikki Finke hopefully. But one mogul countered, “The surprising part is that Sony is not waiting to see if the movie works overseas before going forward with the sequels. I would have.”
Right now Dragon Tattoo has amassed a $76.8M domestic cume and should get very close to $100M because it’s holding better than any other holiday movie. Sony and rival studios believe the movie’s box office was hurt by that long brutal rape scene not appropriate for a Christmas release. (“It’s a notch too dark for that window,” one studio chief told Finke. Agrees a top Sony exec, “It was too cocky of us. We might think about that next time.”) Counting against GWDT was that the Hollywood version of the bestselling book had already been made into a Swedish film widely distributed beginning in 2009. Plus Zaillian and Fincher changed the first book’s ending. As for book #2, its challenge is that title character Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara) isn’t much in it. But Sony has changed that, too, and Zaillian’s script places her front and center again.
This ‘found-footage’ exorcism film surged for the normally slow post-holiday weekend. Paramount’s fledgling Insurge label’s The Devil Inside scored the biggest opening for the first weekend of a new year and the 3rd biggest January opening (behind Cloverfield and the Star Wars reissue). Even rival studios were saying hooray for the genre winner. But not without snark. “The industry starts out the year with a big number — and a people pleasing ‘F’ CinemaScore,” one rival studio exec snorted. But there’s no arguing that Paramount may have another Paranormal Activity mega-profit project in theaters this weekend. (FYI, Steven Schneider from the Paranormal Activity team is exec producer on this pic as well.) Insurge made a $1M acquisition of The Devil Inside and scored a big $34.5M opening weekend, including larger-than-average $2M midnights from 1,400 theaters; it’s rare for a studio to recoup its cost from just the midnight shows.
It’s the second film for Paramount’s low-budget Insurge label. And much like the studio’s Paranormal Activity franchise, the studio focused on marketing designed to trick audiences into believing this nonsense. So the campaign made the low production values The Devil Inside into the film that “The Vatican Doesn’t Want You To See”. It was a no-brainer for the studio to debut the trailer on October 21st with Paranormal Activity. The Halloween time period also proved key online, with viral scare videos and 911 calls pushed to fans.
Since the film was acquired for just $1m, Paramount also kept the marketing cheap, cheap, cheap. The TV ads kicked off during AMC’s The Walking Dead finale November 27th. Apparently there was a big ethnic push in the US market. The Hispanic campaign included English and Spanish language nets, wild posting, digital boards, and radio in the top 12 Hispanic markets. Branded horror programming roadblocks were placed on Sify, Chiller, AMC’s Fear Friday, and IFC Fright Night. Select targets for high-profile finales included Terra Nova and American Horror Story. And getting into the holiday spirit, the studio made a red band trailer as well as 10-sec scary radio spots to counter-program Christmas and New Year’s Eve across all 6 live network and cable late night shows covering festivities. (No wonder the heartland hates Hollywood…) ”The Devil Inside iPad and iPhone application served as another opportunity to scare unsuspecting fans,” an exec told Nikki Finke at Deadline. “The application is presented as a test to find out how possessed you are, that in turn surprises fans with a scare from the film. Since its launch in late December, the app continues to see 4-star rating on iTunes from a global user base.” As for the midnight shows, Paramount organized radio DJs, food trucks, and prize giveaways to make each screening seem special. Using Twitter as a tool, the studio on Friday morning sent out tweets about “an unexpected theater possession” where the film broke down and a contortionist from the film scared a packed theater of fans. The lengths to which Hollywood has to go to market horror these days… Smart marketing, not something you can say too often these days.
Hollywood’s scary 3 months of slumping North American box office is officially over — appropriately enough at the start of Halloweek. In fact Paranormal Activity 3 (which cost only $5M) recorded the biggest horror opening of all time and the biggest October debut this weekend not adjusted for inflation or ticket pricing, according to Paramount. Its worldwide cume is now $80M. For decades, studios have had to spend more and more to keep their big franchises aloft. Not the Paranormal Activity series, and in this economic climate that’s become a very attractive model for the studios.
Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 3 as predicted is setting a franchise best with $45M for the weekend after opening to $26M today in 3,321 theaters so kudos to Oren Peli and Jason Blum who returned to produce the highly secret feature. Report from Nikki Finke.
Strong late shows Friday night surged grosses despite audiences giving it only a ‘C+’ CinemaScore. Then again how many horror films are well-reviewed? It’s 80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with raves from Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. Rival studios say the weekend take is approaching $52M even if Paramount is sticking by $50M. (there’ll be a huge drop from Friday to Saturday). Paranormal Activity 3‘s strong tracking for weeks showed wannasee not just with young males but also with older moviegoers. So no surprise this bloodless thriller is breaking Hollywood’s 3-month-long box office slump this weekend. PA3 cost only $5M, making the low-budget high-grossing franchise “the gift that keeps on giving,” as a studio exec tells Deadline.com.
The marketing strategy for the first Paranormal Activity was midnight screenings in a few college towns, build word of mouth over several weeks, then slowly open it across the country. Now the 3rd in the franchise gets a wide release from the get-go. “We always market this franchise in a very specific way- we try to stay true to the fanbase,” A Paramount exec tells Finke. “We don’t betray the conceit that the footage is real, and we rely on core fans to spread the word by doing playful stunts and allowing them to see it first.” Paramount highlighted its Thursday midnight opening in all its media. The TV campaign consisted of lots of cable and very little network as well as the highest percentage of online of any movie Paramount has ever handled. ”We spend half of what most other wide releases spend in P&A and continue to let fan buzz propel release,” a Paramount exec boasted.
Then again, you have to laugh at what Ariel Schulman, who directed with Henry Joost, said about how they got the PA3 gig: ”Catfish had a lot to do with it. Paramount were big fans and we had been on their radar. When we first interviewed with the president of Paramount, he actually said, “If you tell me right now that Catfish is fake, you’ve got the job.” And we just went real silent. And then I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that.” Because it was real. I think he figured that if we could create that authenticity dramatically, then we could do it again for this. Ultimately, we convinced them of exactly that. Catfish is completely real, but I think we have a knack for identifying the authentic moments in home video, and it plays like a narrative.”
Internationally, Paranormal Activity 3 opened in France Wednesday and saw $521K opening gross which was +45% higher than PA2, Australia Thursday which saw $516K or +14% ahead of PA2, and almost every foreign territory today besides North America. Russia’s $550K opening gross was 45% higher than PA2. To pump up global grosses, Paramount indulged in a global stunt: the first-ever worldwide tweet-to-see-it-first contest. There were 20 round-the-world fan premieres in 8 countries after a contest based on the most Twitter activity. Out of 250 cities, the winners included Melbourne, Tel Aviv, London, Sao Paulo, New York, and Hollywood’s Arclight, where thousands of fans turned out for gourmet food trucks and franchise star Katie Featherston.