I hate to post non-scouting stuff on this blog, but I’m going to make an exception, as I’m pretty disappointed.
Two years ago, a guy named Oren Peli made an indy horror film called Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget. The film, a pseudo-documentary ala Blair Witch, is about a couple who discovers that their house might be haunted and set up digital video cameras to document the ongoing incidents (the film is an assembly of the more frightening clips, ostensibly presented as “real”).
The film only had three or four screenings before it was bought by Dreamworks and locked away, but those screenings have since become the stuff of film legend. People who saw it swore that Paranormal Activity was the scariest movie ever made, our generation’s Exorcist. Viewers were allegedly trembling from fear in the theater, screaming, swearing they’d never sleep again (the above trailer attempts to confirm this). A growing fanbase was desperate to see the film, which wasn’t available anywhere.
For some reason, Dreamworks couldn’t figure out what to do with the film. An attempt at remaking it ultimately failed, and they were unwilling to release it. Now, two years later, Paramount, who acquired the film recently, decided to see how strong the interest was in a release. Midnight screenings were set up this month – in New York, a free screening was offered at the Landmark Sunshine theater tonight. I’ve been following this film for two years, and I was very excited to finally see it.
Whoever organized this event should be fired. I can’t imagine how the prospects of Paranormal Activity’s success in New York could have been more damaged than by what went on tonight.
A free screening is the first sign of bad tidings. If you’ve ever been to a free screening in New York, you know it’s a nightmare – way too many people clamoring to get in, half of whom have no idea what they’re seeing but are just happy to get something for free, and no guarantee at all of a seat. Smartly, for this event, you had to RSVP, so they had least had an idea of the numbers to expect.
For this reason, I got there at 8, four hours early. By then, there was already a line of about 30 people in front of me. I believe their largest theater seats about 250, so I sat down with my book, fairly confident I’d be seeing the film after two years of waiting.
At 9:00, the line was well on its way around the corner. At 10:00, the line was stretching down Forsyth to Stanton. There were TONS of people, way more than their largest theater could’ve held. Yet people who were excited to see the film were still lining up in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, they’d show it in a second theater. Sure, it was incredibly unlikely, but then, they wouldn’t just let people wait in line hundreds deep for hours for nothing, right? I mean, they had some idea of the numbers from the RSVP count, right?
By 11:30, the place was a mob scene. There still was no word on how the audience would be let in, and people were getting annoyed. Meanwhile, not only had the line gotten even longer, the crowd had swelled. Friends were joining friends, girlfriends were joining boyfriends…but I did a count, and there were still less than a hundred people in front of me. Still a good bet. Meanwhile, everyone in line was assuming that because they hadn’t heard anything, there was still a shot.
Then, 12:00 rolls around. 12:05. 12:10. We haven’t moved. Literally, we haven’t moved an inch. Now people are getting angry. Meanwhile, some idiot on the roof of Schimmel’s Knishes kept spraying water on the crowd, which didn’t help the mood (though is sort of funny in retrospect).
Finally, at about 12:15, a guy came out and said they had let everyone in that they could, and there was no more room.
As far as anyone in line could tell, not a single person had been let in.
I really thought there was going to be a riot. People were furious. It wasn’t that they were angry about not seeing the film for free (everyone I talked to would have gladly paid to see it tonight), but that we had been kept in the dark for literally hours, left to stand around like idiots. People were yelling at the organizers, who could offer no consolation other than a movie promo email address. A few guys were yelling “Don’t worry – It’ll hit Bit Torrent soon!” Worst of all, the popular quote of the night became “fuck this movie.”
I have no evidence, but what I suspect happened is: the theater ended up getting filled early with Paramount execs, reviewers and media types, and “friends of Paramount,” leaving approximately 7 seats for the literally thousand or so people that showed up. Sadly, rather than announce this to the people gathered all the way to the corner of Stanton & Forsyth, they let everyone stand around wasting their Thursday night (most having to get up for work the next day) as if there was some chance of them getting in.
No matter how much buzz Paranormal Activity gets out of tonight’s midnight screenings, they’ve lost something that no amount of marketing can buy from film audiences: fan goodwill. The type of goodwill that has grown organically over two years. There was more goodwill toward a film in that line than I’ve seen for ANY movie in a very long time, and the idea that it was for a little $11,000 film that barely even had a poster was incredible. Unfortunately, most of that goodwill was completely decimated by the shitty organization of the event and the way people were treated.
And that sucks, because Peli’s film has already gone through enough crap since its first screening. Meanwhile, reviews are starting to surface that the film is way overhyped, and that if you go in expecting to be scared, you’ll be sorely disappointed, that it’s not the next Exorcist, or even Blair Witch, for that matter. More bad news.
At the end of the day, I think Paranormal Activity is going to be the movie that could’ve…but didn’t. And it has nothing to do with Oren Peli, or how good or bad the movie is. It’s dumb studios that don’t know how to handle something new. People shouldn’t have been leaving the Landmark tonight saying “fuck this movie,” they should’ve been calling friends to tell them what a great movie they just saw. It’d be one thing if the line was a surprise, but then, every single person had their RSVP form printed out with them.
OK, enough ranting. More New York scout stuff soon!
PS – Oh, and nothing kills me more than film industry types who feel the need to let you know they work in the film industry whenever they can. Tonight’s example: the woman who came up to me in line and asked “What movie are you in line for? I work in film.”