|After a young, middle class couple moves into what seems
like a typical suburban starter tract house, they become increasingly
disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is
certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they
sleep. Or try to.
First-time director Oren Peli had been
afraid of ghosts his entire life, even fearing the comedy film
Ghostbusters, but intended to channel that fear into something positive
and productive. Peli took a year to prepare his own house for shooting,
going so far as to repaint the walls, add furniture, put in a carpet,
and build a stairwell.
In this time, he also did extensive
research into paranormal phenomena and demonology, stating, "We wanted
to be as truthful as we could be." The reason for making the
supernatural entity in the story a demon was a result of the research
pointing to the most malevolent and violent entities being "demons".
phenomena in the film take place largely at night—the vulnerability of
being asleep, Peli reasoned, taps into a human being's most primal fear,
stating, "If something is lurking in your home there's not much you can
do about it."
Attempting to focus on believability rather than
action and gore, Peli chose to shoot the picture with a home video
In deciding on a more raw and stationary format (the camera was
almost always sitting on a tripod or something else) and eliminating the
need for a camera crew, a "higher degree of plausibility" was created
for the audience as they were "more invested in the story and the
Peli says that the dialogue was "natural" because
there was no real script. Instead, the actors were given outlines of the
story and situations to improvise, a technique known as
"retroscripting" used in the making of The Blair Witch Project.
In casting the movie, Peli auditioned "a few hundred people" before finally meeting Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat.
He originally auditioned them individually and later called them back to audition together.
was impressed with the chemistry between the actors, saying, "If you
saw the [audition] footage, you would've thought they had known each
other for years."
During a guest appearance on 'The Jay Leno
Show' on November 3, 2009, Sloat and Featherston explained they each saw
the casting call on Craigslist. Featherston noted they were originally
paid $500 for their work.
The film was shot out of sequence due
to Peli's self-imposed 7-day shooting schedule, though Peli would have
preferred the story unfold for the actors as he had envisioned it.
Sloat, who controlled the camera for a good deal of the film, was a
former cameraman at his university's TV station.
"It was a very
intense week", Peli recalled, stating that the film would be shot day
and night, edited at the same time, and would have the visual effects
applied to it as the acting footage was being finalized.
The film was
screened at 2007's Screamfest Horror Film Festival, where it impressed
an assistant at the Creative Artists Agency, Kirill Baru, so much that
CAA signed on to represent Peli.
Attempting to find a
distributor for the film and/or directing work for Peli, the agency sent
out DVDs of the movie to as many people in the industry as they could,
and it was eventually seen by Miramax Films Senior Executive Jason Blum,
who thought it had potential.
He worked with Peli to re-edit the film
and submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival, but it was rejected.
The DVD also impressed DreamWorks executives Adam
Goodman, Stacey Snider, and finally Steven Spielberg, who cut a deal
with Blum and Peli.
DreamWorks' plan was to remake the film with a
bigger budget and with Peli directing, and only to include the original
version as an extra when the DVD was eventually released. "They didn't
know what to do with [the original]," said Blum; they just wanted to be
"in business" with Peli.
Blum and Peli agreed, but stipulated a
test screening of the original film before going ahead with the remake,
believing it would be well-received by a theatrical audience.
the screening, people began walking out; Goodman thought the film was
bombing, until he learned that the viewers were actually leaving because
they were so frightened. He then realized a remake was unwise.
Paramount Pictures, which acquired DreamWorks in 2005, bought the
domestic rights to the film, and international rights to any sequels,
for $300,000 USD.
When the film was taken in by Paramount Pictures,
several changes were made. Some scenes were cut, others added, and the
original ending was scrapped, with two new endings being shot.
ending shown in theaters during the film's worldwide release is the only
one of the three to feature visual effects, and it differs from the
endings previously seen at the Screamfest and Burbank screenings.
The theatrical release was delayed indefinitely because Paramount had
put all DreamWorks productions on hold. Meanwhile, a screening for
international buyers resulted in the sale of international rights in 52
Only after Goodman became production chief at Paramount in
June 2009 did the film finally get slated for a fall release.
On September 25, 2009, the movie opened in 13 college towns across the United States. On his website, director Oren Peli invited internet users to "demand" where the film went next by voting on eventful.com.
This was the first time a major motion picture studio used the service to virally market a film. Twelve of the 13 venues sold out.
On September 28, Paramount issued a press release on Peli's website, announcing openings in 20 other markets on Friday, October 2, including large-market cities such as New York and Chicago.
On October 3, it was reported that a total of 33 screenings in all 20 markets sold out and that the movie had made $500,000 domestically.
A day later, Paramount announced that the film would have a full limited release in 40 markets, playing at all hours (including after-midnight showings).
On October 6, Paramount announced that the movie would be released nationwide if the film got 1,000,000 "demands" on eventful.com. The full limited release of the film started on Friday, October 9.
On October 10 the Eventful.com counter hit over 1,000,000 requests. Paramount announced soon after that the film would get a wide domestic release on Friday, October 16 and then expand to more theaters on the 23rd.
By November, it was showing in locales worldwide.