Future Of Film - post 3
Did Jason Blum create the Future of Film Distribution with Paranormal Activity?
James Wight revisits one of the most profitable film releases of all time.
It may seem like a long time ago now, but 2007 was a revolutionary year for film. iPhones had entered the market, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were these young and upcoming websites, and instead of streaming services we had DVD delivery and rental. It’s all a far cry from the digital landscape we know today – especially in a 2020 that’s experiencing cinema closures and a heightened demand for streaming.
It was this year Paranormal Activity took the world by storm, with marketing strategies that are even more important for today’s social media age.
Blumhouse’s low-budget smash hit could be directly attributed to Crowdsourcing. Essentially, this is a means by which companies or institutions outsource a function to a large network of people – usually online – and have them contribute in some way to the product.
It’s a close cousin to Crowdfunding. But where crowdfunding involves raising funds and a financial investment on behalf of supporters, crowdsourcing doesn’t rely on a financial element – rather social engagement.
For producers, this can be interacting with a fan base to give ideas/feedback during the development or marketing process – with some fantastic results, or free marketing.
The earliest online example of this fan-engaged narrative is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project which used the online space to create a faux police reports, mysterious paranormal events, and a mythos about the “real” events. It was a way to use the late-90s internet to mix truth and fiction to create a hyper-reality – audiences couldn’t get enough of it.
But it was Blumhouse’s Paranormal Activity that really evolved this concept into an ingenious marketing campaign.
Paranormal Activity had a similar approach when it came to word of mouth but evolved the online concept to incorporate elements of ownership and active participation to influence the distribution of the film.
On the website for Paranormal Activity was a box with the words ‘Demand it!’ where participants voted for movie to play at their local cinema. With this, Blumhouse built the tools to determine which cities would best respond to the film, and where to launch the limited releases of the “forbidden film.”
This is a fascinating case study because it shows how online marketing can engage with audiences, and directly involve them in the storytelling Paranormal Activity.
The question is, what can future filmmakers take away from this 2007 case study?
The fact is streaming has revolutionised distribution. It’s now easier than ever to upload a short film or movie, but you equally risk getting buried beneath all the other shows and series being uploaded constantly.
But behind that comes the need to engage with audiences and defining your brand. This social strategy was what turned what could have been another low-budget, found-footage horror movie into a cultural event. It’s this online crowdsourcing which any future filmmaker can tap into to make their film stand out.
Through a clever social media campaign, Paranormal Activity built an audience even before its limited theatrical distribution. With this engagement-first approach, Blumhouse’s grossed $193.4 million off of a tiny $215,000 budget!
When it comes to the Future of Film, we believe social media is increasingly vital for building audiences and cementing a brand. Even though it’s been over thirteen years since the release of Paranormal Activity there are more avenues than ever before to engage with audiences.
It may only be a matter of time before we see a new Halloween classic get its start on TikTok.