Paramount lands ‘Area 51’

Oren Peli's next film heads to studio

Paramount Pictures has landed U.S. distribution rights to “Area 51,” the Oren Peli-directed follow-up to the sleeper hit “Paranormal Activity.”

Deal puts the studio back in business with the creative and financing team behind “Paranormal Activity,” the $11,000 film that’s grossed more than $106 million since Par began rolling it out in September. Peli had a much larger budget to work with on this extraterrestrial tale than he did for his ghost story, as sources said he brought the film in at a shade under $5 million.

As many as four other bidders wanted the pic, but Par Film Group prexy Adam Goodman had an inside track. He was instrumental in acquiring “Paranormal Activity” while at DreamWorks and was the hands-on exec at Paramount, which effectively executed the rollout as the film built word of mouth and became a breakout hit.

Goodman closed the deal with David Molner, chairman of Incentive Filmed Entertainment, Stuart Ford, CEO of IM Global, and CAA. Just as they did on “Paranormal Activity,” Peli wrote and directed “Area 51” and Jason Blum is producing through his Blumhouse Prods. banner. Room 101’s Steven Schneider, IM Global’s Ford and Amir Zbeda are exec producers.

Pic, which completed principal photography three weeks ago, was fully financed by Incentive and the Aramid Entertainment Fund. Latter is a co-financing partner of Par’s slate on films that include the “Transformers” films.

The film employs the “found footage” narrative structure that Peli used in “Paranormal Activity” to tell the story of three teens whose curiosity leads them to the notorious Area 51 portion of Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert.

Fueled by the strong grosses of “Paranormal Activity,” “Area 51” was one of the brisk sellers at the American Film Market. It has sold internationally almost everywhere except Japan and certain Eastern European markets, for which talks are ongoing. Key buyers include Momentum in the U.K., Concorde in Germany, Equilatero/Warners in Spain, Village Roadshow in Australia, Alliance in Canada, PlayArte in all of Latin America including Brazil, RCV in Benelux and Svensk in Scandinavia.

Studio and financiers confirmed the deal and said they were pleased to be teaming once again. The film will find its way into theaters some time in 2010.

“Moviegoers everywhere demanded to see Oren Peli’s spectacular debut and we are excited to show them what he’s created next,” said Par’s Goodman.

Molner said the deal illustrated the fertile ground in creating moderately budgeted franchises that have become some of Hollywood’s biggest hits.

“These films show that real franchises can be successfully launched from the independent side of the business — not something the marketplace necessarily believed five years ago,” he said. “As financiers, we’re very lucky to create value in ownership with major distributors like Paramount Pictures and the enviable talents of Jason, Oren and IM Global.”

IM Global’s Ford said: “With the international distribution already set up on the film, bringing Paramount onboard after they did such distinguished work on ‘Paranormal Activity’ is the perfect finale and most important piece in the jigsaw.”

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