Paranormal Activity's Demand It Campaign - The Future Of Small Film Distribution?

Paramount is currently gearing up to release the low-budget horror film Paranormal Activity on Sept. 25th in a few select cities. In addition to the typical marketing campaign, they're also doing something quite innovative to figure out where to open the film next: They're asking fans. They've started an Eventful page for the film, and are asking fans to demand screenings in their area. The areas with the most demands will be the first to get future screenings.

It's worth considering what this means for future small film releases. Paranormal Activity was famously made for $11,000, so Paramount can't exactly screw up the film's release. For other films, the balance of release location versus potential viewers can mean all the difference between theatrical failure or success. While it's not a perfectly accurate metric, measuring viewer interest directly could potentially be more informative than market research and other standards studios use to judge release dates and locations.

Consider the case of Trick 'r Treat—a universally praised film that was initially set for a Halloween '07 release, but it ended up being pushed back to the point where the only release we're getting is a DVD this October. Word was that Warner Brothers couldn't figure out when exactly to release the film, and that they were clueless how to market it. While there was probably some other studio politics involved with that film, it certainly wouldn't have hurt to ask fans how interested they were in seeing it—especially after the buzz it quickly built up.

I suppose with Trick 'r Treat, it's clear that the studio just didn't want to put in any effort towards figuring out a release strategy. If they did, polling fans would have certainly made things easier for them.

As we've learned over the past few years with the rise of viral marketing campaigns, as well as an increased focus on making things more social and collaborative online, getting your audience involved often leads to a more dedicated and vocal group of fans. With viral marketing, studios learned to use audiences to help promote their films. But if given the chance, perhaps there's more studios can learn from fans.