Oren Peli just completed principal photography of "Area 51." Paramount bought it for $7.5 million. (Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times / January 17, 2008)
Paramount Pictures is betting it has the next "Paranormal Activity" on its hands.
After weeks of spirited negotiations, the Viacom Inc.-owned studio acquired domestic distribution rights to "Area 51," the next low-budget scare story from "Paranormal Activity" filmmaker Oren Peli. Paramount announced the deal over the weekend, paying an estimated $7.5 million to close the pact, all without seeing any footage from the production.
Other bidders included Lionsgate Films, Summit Entertainment and DreamWorks, now a part of Walt Disney Co. DreamWorks bought "Paranormal Activity," which then-partner Paramount released Sept. 25. With a production budget of $15,000, scant marketing expenses and domestic box-office ticket sales of more than $107 million, Peli's debut feature has become one of the most profitable films in Hollywood history.
Peli's next movie, which just completed principal photography in Utah, is creatively and financially more ambitious. With a production budget of about $5 million, "Area 51" follows three kids as they sneak into a secret (and dangerous) government facility that could just house alien vehicles and bodies. The film's release date has not been determined, but will probably be late next year.
"It's very apparent that Oren has an absolute knack for creating maximum tension in a minimum amount of screen time," said Stuart Ford, whose sales company IM Global worked on the "Area 51" sale. "And Paramount has been doing a really brilliant job in releasing 'Paranormal Activity.' "
Just as "Paranormal Activity" was becoming a box-office phenomenon, Ford sold "Area 51" into more than 45 foreign territories at the recently concluded American Film Market. "We have very deliberately timed our conversations to maximize the Oren Peli buzz," Ford said.