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‘Panic’ pushes Hollywood buttons

Uruguayan director Alvarez scores big deal on short

Ghost House Pictures has made a seven-figure deal with a Uruguayan commercials director to direct his pitch for an alien invasion film — an exceptional deal for a helmer making his feature directing debut.

Most first-time helmers make $250,000, but Fede Alvarez scored his million-dollar deal based on the heat generated by “Ataque de panico!” (Panic Attack), a four-minute, 48-second short about an apocalyptic robot attack Alvarez directed through his commercial production house for less than $500. After the short found its way to the Internet and Kanye West featured a link to the film on his blog, a 30-year old who was not on anyone’s radar outside the Uruguayan blurb market suddenly found the biggest agencies in Hollywood in a panic to sign him. That created a chain reaction of activity over two weeks that led to a trip to Hollywood, where he met with every major agency, management firm and law firm that responded to the short.

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After he signed with CAA, Anonymous Content and attorney Karl Austen, Alvarez made a preemptive deal with Ghost House that sets the helmer up to make his first film under the guidance of one of his directing heroes, Sam Raimi, who formed the genre label Ghost House within Mandate Pictures with Rob Tapert, Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake.

Raimi sparked to Alvarez’s short film — which offers a stylized vision of apocalyptic destruction that appears to have been made for far more than Alvarez spent. After Alvarez pitched an original idea for an alien invasion idea to the “Spider-Man 4” director, Ghost House closed a deal with Alvarez’s new reps that guarantees him a six-figure holding deal to wait while Ghost House hires a high-end scribe to turn the idea into a feature. The six-figure deal will be applied against a seven-figure fee if Ghost House makes the film.

Raimi will produce with Ghost House partner Tapert, with Vertigo’s Roy Lee and Doug Davison also to be involved in producing capacities. Kahane will exec produce.

That an unknown could put himself on the map by placing his film on the Internet shows how much the Hollywood landscape is changing and how hungry financiers and studios are to find a filmmaker who may deliver the next “Paranormal Activity,” “District 9” or “Twilight.”

While the Thanksgiving weekend results for star-driven films like “The Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock show that name talent is still key, Alvarez’s short conjured up a high-concept, visually intriguing pic that can be made for a small budget with no gross players by a filmmaker who can plug into a youthful demographic.

Ghost House deal gives Alvarez the opportunity to make his Hollywood debut that is godfathered by Raimi in a mentoring role similar to the one that Peter Jackson played in Neill Blomkamp’s directing debut on “District 9,” an under-$30 million film that’s grossed over $180 million worldwide.