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EXCLUSIVE: Roland Emmerich's 'The Zone' is Shut Down

The found footage movie genre has its first victim.

The Zone, the low-budget found-footage sci-fi movie that Roland Emmerich was to start shooting next week, has been shut down.

"This is not a project (Emmerich) is pursuing at this time," was the comment issued from the director's camp.

The movie was to have been a radical change of pace for Emmerich, who was going to work with a budget of $5 million instead of his usual blockbuster $100 million-plus figure. An April release was being targeted by Columbia Pictures, which was to acquire Zone as a negative pick-up.

No plot details were known, but Zone, which revolved around an alien invasion, was to have been improv-based and cast with relative unknowns. The production had been in rehearsals with actors Peter Mackenzie and Brandon Scott, who were to have played a journalist and a cameraman, respectively.

Members of the production are at a loss as to why the film had its plug pulled, though rumors abound.

Two factors may be in play: One, the found-footage trope is becoming overplayed, and two, Zone would have been released a scant weeks after another found-footage sci-fi movie.

The genre’s conceit is that the footage purports to be genuine reels, tapes or files found after the person operating the camera expires or disappears. Alien invasion flick Cloverfield kicked off the recent trend, which also encompasses the hugely successful Paranormal Activity movies and The Blair Witch Project 11 years ago.

The genre has stuck a chord with a generation of moviegoers who have grown up around the ubiquity of handheld cameras and YouTube; the genre’s strengths were that it could be done more cheaply and it can connect with audiences on a personal level.

But in recent weeks, as Paranormal Activity 2 has cruised past the $140 million mark at the global box office, the pipeline for these movies has filled very quickly.

Gareth EdwardsMonsters, shot in a documentary style, opened two weeks ago, and this Friday sees the release of Skyline, which, while not a found footage movie, is low-budget sci-fi.

In mid-October, Warners picked up Dark Moon, a found footage spec from Olatunde Osunsanmi.

This is where the second factor comes in.

This past weekend, the Weinstein Co. announced that it had picked up Apollo 18, a found footage project being produced by Timur Bekmambetov. It has a screenplay by Brian Miller and Trevor Camwood is directing.

And more impactfully, Apollo 18 was heading to a March release date, which would have seen it come out just before Zone.

It looks like in the staring contest between Bekmambetov and Emmerich, Emmerich blinked first, which is too bad as both would have probably been different enough that both filmmakers could have stood tall. Being a marketer on the second movie, however, would have been a tough job.