Here we are with the final guest blog for “The Last Exorcism” from producer Eli Roth. It’s been a fantastic week of coverage for a movie that more than deserves it. There have been some really smart films this summer and this one is no exception, but it’s far more than just a cherry on top. No one sells it better than Eli himself, so read on to hear about the exciting final days leading to today’s release. And seriously, make sure you check out the movie this weekend– it’s well worth your time.
by Eli Roth
Once Lionsgate bought the film, I noticed something strange on that release date. Why was August 27th so familiar…? Oh, yes, I know: because my friend Alex Aja’s film “Piranha 3D” is opening the same day, which I have a cameo in. This put me in a very odd position. I’m friends with all the “Piranha” people, and I want their film to be a big hit, but putting us on the same release date puts “The Last Exorcism” in direct competition, and could split the horror fan base.
Lionsgate understood, they had taken this into consideration, but they also had statistics for many weekends where two horror films opened and both did fine. I called Alex Aja and he totally understood that I had nothing to do with choosing the date, it just worked best in Lionsgate’s release schedule. “The Expendables” took Friday August 13th well before they had bought our film, and they had movies booked up already for the fall, so this was the best date for everyone. Eventually “Piranha 3D” moved a week earlier, and we all breathed a sigh of relief, but it was mainly because of the availability of 3D screens in the marketplace.
The next step was the rating. When Lionsgate bought the film, they said that if the MPAA wanted us to cut out or water down the scariest parts to get a PG-13 they’d release the film rated R. We never shot the film with a rating in mind, we always just did what was best for the story. Because the film takes place around a religious southern family, there was no swearing. It felt out of character for many of the people in the film. There’s also not a lot of violence, and certainly no more than in a film like “Cloverfield” or “The Ring” or “The Grudge.”
We submitted the film and when it came back PG-13, we felt it was the right rating. I think with an R rating and my name on it people would come out of the movie saying “I thought it would be gorier.” With PG-13 people come out very scared, but really focus on the performances, which is what we want. It sets up the right expectations for what people are going to experience. Also, if you’re going to make your film rated R, take full advantage of the rating, like “Piranha 3D.”
I was never against PG-13 movies, but was VERY against movies that should have been R that were castrated to PG-13 to “reach a wider audience.” You should never take out the very thing people want to fit a rating, but in this case what people are coming to see is a scary, psychological possession story, not endless gore, so it made sense. People will often say that there’s no such thing as a scary PG-13 horror film, at which point I remind them that “Jaws” was rated PG, and many people consider that film the scariest of all time.
Once we have our rating, that dictates how we can do our marketing. With an R rated film you have many more restrictions on where you can place your trailer. Tim Palen, the marketing head at Lionsgate, cut an amazing, amazing trailer, which we were able to get placed on “Inception” and “Salt.”
Trailer placement is a huge, huge deal. Think of it this way: everyone’s fighting to get on the big summer movies, and those slots are going to go to other movies the studio already has. But the theaters have a say as well, so that first weekend “Inception” opened, people started tweeting about the film. Not only that, we were attached to the negative of “The Expendables,” which turned out to be a huge late summer hit, as we all hoped it would be.
Suddenly we were everywhere. I saw very directly the effect twitter had on “Inglourious Basterds.” That opening weekend something like 78% of the tweets were about “Basterds.” Word of mouth and that first initial reaction is so hugely important on a horror film, that at our world premiere at the Los Angeles film festival in June I asked the fans to please tweet if they liked it. We had spent 3 years making it, so if they could take 30 seconds, it would make a huge difference. And it did.
Suddenly newspaper, magazine and television entertainment outlets were asking to see the film, and Lionsgate was able to now start to propel the film and set up screenings everywhere. Keep this in mind — just because you have a movie in theaters there’s no guarantee news outlets are going to cover it.
When you have a film without big name stars you have to give them a reason, and very often the reason is the actor’s standout performances, which we have. Ashley Bell is so good in the film I’m starting to see articles talking about Oscar buzz surrounding her. I know it’s early, but the fact it’s even being talked about in a minor way is a great indicator of how people respond to her in the film.
Patrick Fabian is so spectacular as the reverend people are coming out of the movie not only saying “Who is this guy and why haven’t we seen him before?” but are also saying it’s been years since they’ve seen acting this superb in a horror film. Ashley did everything with zero makeup, as Daniel Stamm wrote in his blog, so what you’re seeing is the raw film with no CGI alteration. It’s very, very scary.
We had several other screenings, one at Comic Con which was really fun, where I did my first Q&A with Daniel Stamm and producer Eric Newman. The fans really got the movie, and loved that it was different, well acted and, most importantly, smart.
As we got closer to release, my publicity ramped up. I did my first appearance on “The Tonight Show.” I went back on Chelsea Lately, which is always fun. And I went with Daniel to different screenings around the country, from Toronto to New York down to the blazing heat of Austin, Texas.
All over we got the most incredible responses from fans. People were definitely split on the ending – some love it, some hate it, but overall people really loved the film in ways they did not expect. And then, just as the commercials started ramping up, Lionsgate came out with what I consider to be the most genius promotion they’ve ever done: the Chatroulette video.
Back in May, we had a big marketing meeting at Lionsgate and went over all the different ideas for the campaign. They are so, so, so good at Lionsgate at marketing these movies. They really understand the fans, and pitched all kinds of fun promotions. One of them was this chatroulette video of a girl about to strip, but then she turns demonic and possessed and we filmed the reactions.
I thought it sounded fun, but it was very dependent on how people responded to the girl. I remember opening up the video at Newark Airport, and literally screaming out loud laughing. It was the most simple, effective and brilliant use of viral marketing I had seen in years. It was inspired.
Lionsgate launched the video that night, and two days later there were over a million views. By opening day there are well over 2 million. Suddenly EVERYONE was talking about the video. Friends were getting sent the video by everyone they knew — and people were watching it over and over and over. We had done it. We became the zeitgeist.
Suddenly everyone wanted to do interviews, and what started as a mini half-press day this week turned into a full blown press day with over a hundred interviews crammed into 7 hours. My amount of interviews tripled, and I swear it was because of that video. It just made the movie look smart, clever and fun, which I am proud to say it is. Now that we had everyone’s attention, we began to focus on making people aware of the Thursday midnight shows.
Earlier this summer I went to the first midnight show of “Eclipse,” and every single screen was sold out. It was insane. Even if you weren’t into “Twilight,” you couldn’t help but have fun. It was just infectious.
I called Lionsgate the next day and said that of all the other films being released this summer, we were the most conducive to a midnight show. They’re just made for horror films. Lionsgate agreed, and since the prints are delivered Thursday to the movie theaters anyway, it’s easy to set up. We just tagged the trailers “Special midnight shows Thursday.” We did a promotion with AMC cinemas to get the word out, and at first I was going to fly to another city, but so many interviews came up in Los Angeles I had to stay local. I went to the AMC Burank 16 theater, where I went opening night of “Cabin Fever” eight years ago, and what I saw was beyond belief.
I had never seen a crowd like that. By the time I showed up they had sold out the midnight show, added a 2nd, sold that show out and had added a third. The line went on and on and on and on. I just went down the line taking photos, shaking hands, and thanking people for turning out. Then I heard from Patrick Fabian in Long Beach: Sold Out. Ashley Bell at The Bridge near LAX: Sold Out. A second show added: Sold Out. Eric Newman was at Arclight Hollywood: sold out. A second show added: sold out.
It was what we had dreamed of all those years ago. Creating something original, smart, and completely our own and seeing audiences come out to enjoy it in droves. I introduced all the screenings, told some stories, took tons of photos and signed autographs. The movies started and I theater-hopped listening to the very, very vocal reactions.
Then we started getting reports about the east coast: we sold out midnight shows in New York, New Jersey, Texas… it wasn’t just local. The response was incredible, and as I’m writing this I just want to thank everyone who came out and gave the film a chance. All the work was finally paying off. The movie opened, and people came out to see it, and as a filmmaker that’s the most satisfying feeling of all.
So here we are, at opening day! The reviews have been spectacular — from the NY Times to the LA Times to the Washington Post, to aintitcoolnews, people are embracing how smart and unique the film is. We worked for three years on this film, doing it totally outside the system, landing with the best distributors possible, who really care about getting something new and original and different out there, so get out there and support our opening weekend!!
The opening weekend determines everything in the life of a film, so if you’re thinking of seeing it sooner than later, sooner definitely makes a huge difference. And if you like it, please don’t be shy about tweeting! This movie is a purely word-of-mouth film and every positive mention helps! You can write me @eliroth to let me know what you thought. I’ll be running around from theater to theater with the cast tonight, so if you’re out in Los Angeles I may see you there!!