LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Horror fans know that Freddy, Jason and killer leprechauns never die -- they simply keep coming back. Now Paramount is hoping for the same effect as it tries to lure audiences back for the sequel to its breakout horror hit "Paranormal Activity."
Stakes are high for re-creating what Ad Age honored in its Digital A-List (and what The New York Times declared "certainly the movie-marketing story of the year"). Last fall, Paramount proved a film could be launched on the back of social media, using a platform called Demand It, from San Diego-based Eventful, to dictate "Paranormal Activity" would be released first to audiences that wanted to see it most.
But the studio is adopting a more-traditional marketing and distribution strategy for the film's sequel, out Oct. 22, in the hopes of building a future horror franchise. That strategy means likely forsaking the incremental buzz that fueled the success of the last film. The marketing strategy for "Paranormal Activity 2" is more heavily reliant on TV and traditional media, with spending estimated in the $14 million to $17 million range, according to executives familiar with the campaign.
While that figure is still conservative (studios typically spend $30 million to $36 million to market a wide release), the studio is in a theoretically low-risk position for a highly anticipated sequel. Spending $17 million on film that cost between $1 million to a little more than $2 million to produce means Paramount could easily turn a profit during the opening weekend alone if the sequel tops the first film's $22 million haul in its first weekend of wide release last October (clobbering Lionsgate's "Saw VI," the favored box-office draw, in the process).
But instead of the experiential, audience-reaction ads that made the first film such a word-of-mouth hit, the new series of TV spots and theatrical trailers are teasing existing fans with allusions to the first film, and Paramount has kept plot details under wraps for the sequel, which was produced by Oren Peli (who filmed the original with a handheld camera for a measly $11,000 in 2007) and directed by indie director Tod Williams.
The studio's partnership with Eventual also helped drive early buzz for the first film. Paramount agreed to release "Paranormal Activity" wide once 1 million fans asked for it, and an outpouring of response (more than 1.3 million fans demanded it within three weeks) was enough to make "Paranormal" the most-profitable film in Paramount's history on a budget-to-gross ration, hauling in more than $107 million in the U.S. (and another $85 million abroad).
The demand-based distribution has been scaled back in a big way in favor of releasing the film wide next week, though the studio is re-teaming with Eventful to determine which 20 markets get to see the film first via free midnight screenings on Oct. 21, the eve of its release. "The film is in a very different place now than when it was unheard of," said Eventful CEO Jordan Glazier. "So we said, 'Let's tap into fans of the first film, and give 20 markets the opportunity to be the first ones to see the film.'"
The pressure to recapture the lightning-in-a bottle success of the first "Paranormal" has been unseen among horror franchises -- or perhaps any film franchise -- since "The Blair Witch Project." The Artisan Entertainment film famously grossed more than $140 million domestically on a $60,000 budget. The film's sequel, "Book of Secrets: Blair Witch 2," was a big-budget, scripted production that betrayed the original movie's style and marketing model, suffering at the box office as a result with $26 million.
Mike Monello, a partner-executive creative director at entertainment marketing agency Campfire* who helped create and market the first "Blair Witch" film, said Paramount runs the risk of repeating the "Blair Witch" franchise's missteps -- though based on what he's seen from early trailers, he thinks Paramount has avoided that fate.
"As a fan and as a marketer, it's good not to reveal too much about the film, in particular a horror film and one that will follow a pattern of the film that came before it," he said. "If they violate the things people loved about the first film and the world it sets up, people aren't going to like it."
Paramount suddenly has a considerable amount riding on the sequel's success. Despite finishing the second quarter with 26.1% market share of box-office grosses thanks to hits such as "Iron Man 2" and distributing DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon," the second half so far has been decidedly hit-and-miss. "Dinner for Schmucks" underperformed, and plans to expand indie drama "Middle Men" were scrapped. Earlier this month, the long-shelved Renee Zellweger thriller "Case 39" managed only $10 million in two weeks of wide release.
Meanwhile, Eventful is still proving itself as a viable vehicle for studios to market their films and potentially create innovative distribution and screening strategies. Since last fall, the company has executed nearly 20 different movie-based campaigns for studios such as Universal and MGM, and has seen its services become so popular that some studios have co-opted the model for their own use. Paramount is currently using its own proprietary Demand-like model for "Waiting for Superman," encouraging moviegoers to "pledge" to see the film in their market and syncing the page to Facebook and other social-media platforms.
Mr. Glazier takes the emulation in stride. "When you're doing interesting and innovative things, of course people are going to try and replicate different aspects of it into their own marketing," he said.