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Paranormal Activity Tears a Page From the Blair Witch Playbook

Before the producers of the ultra-low-budget pants-wetter Paranormal Activity launched a Web campaign asking moviegoers to demand to see the film in their towns, they communed with the producers of the mother of all virally marketed indie horror flicks: Haxan Films, makers of The Blair Witch Project.

paranormal activity"Those guys really showed what you could do with a cinema-verite style, a great concept, and no money," Paranormal director Oren Peli told the Orlando Sentinel. He made his film for $15,000 in 2006 but struggled to get it onto big screens.

So Peli called on producer Gregg Hale and co-writer/co-director Dan Myrick, two of the five who in 1999 blew up the reality genre with their shaky, grainy film and its Web component, which suggested the movie kinda, maybe might be real. It seemed less like a feature film and more like a documentary scrounged together from found footage.

"We actually talked to the director and producer a few months ago," Hale says of his meetup with Paranormal's people. What advice did they offer? "We told them to be sincere in whatever you do, to not try to blatantly market to people, to reach out to the audience with a message that is honest." Wait. Isn't Hale the guy that put a bunch of fake documents and photos on the Blair Witch Web site to make it all seem more real?

"Our approach was that we were trying to expand the arena in which the story of the film was told," Hale explains. "No movie says, 'What you're about to see is fake.' So we presented that material as entertainment online in the same way you'd present a movie."

This was, of course, 1999. Ten years later, scads of Facebook-ing, Twittering Internet readers don't believe a posted birth certificate that declares the President of the United States to be a natural-born citizen. Paranormal wasn't going to get away with the trick Haxan pulled off back then. So instead, they peppered their Web page with a call to action: "Hit 1,000,000 demands and the movie will open nationwide!" Guess what? They did it! It opens Friday at theaters everywhere.

"You demand to see the movie, but you're demanding to see the movie from the people who're doing the commercial," Hale points out. In other words, you're not visiting the corporate Web site of AMC or Regal, you're telling the marketers of Paranormal Activity that you want to see Paranormal Activity. "It's a really smart angle."

Hale says Jeremy Walker, the publicist who worked on Blair Witch, is working with Paranormal's producers, too. The film's trailer (below) features footage of an audience reacting to the film—in the run-up to Blair's release, Hale and company gave Walker the same sort of footage shot on an infrared camera during their early screenings.

In the end, Hale insists, "Our advice didn't have much of an impact on these guys, but they have gone about it a legit way, and I think it's paying off for them."