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.
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.