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Paramount grabs next movie from 'Paranormal' filmmaker

November 30, 2009 | 12:33 pm

Peli 

Paramount Pictures is betting it has the next “Paranormal Activity” on its hands.

After weeks of spirited negotiations, the studio acquired domestic distribution rights to “Area 51,” the next low-budget scare story from “Paranormal Activity” filmmaker Oren Peli. The studio 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 the Walt Disney Co. DreamWorks bought “Paranormal Activity,”which then-partner Paramount released on Sept. 25. With a production budget of $15,000, scant marketing expenses and domestic box-office returns 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 likely be sometime later 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.

 — John Horn

Photo: Oren Peli, the writer-director  of "Paranormal Activity" and "Area 51." Credit: Myung J. Chun

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