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It was a flash bomb of an auction. Within 36 hours of first hitting the town, a package featuring a 39-page short story titled “Occupant” and written by newbie Victor Sweetser saw offers zoom from a $25,000 option to a final purchase price of high mid-six figures. There were numerous studios and filmmakers fighting in the trenches for the project — Paramount, Lionsgate, Amazon — but in the end it was New Line that won it.
The early February brouhaha illustrates the hot streak of Zach Cregger, the filmmaker behind last year’s horror hit Barbarian, which cost $4.5 million to make and then grossed more than $40 million domestically for 20th Century Studios. Cregger is attached to produce Occupant along with frequent partner Roy Lee and Scott Glassgold, who originated and developed the project. Occupant is described as a reverse haunted house story. Instead of a family moving into an abode, here a historical house is moved for preservation purposes into a neighborhood. Scares ensue.
It’s Cregger’s third project to be set up in as many weeks, highly unusual for a neophyte filmmaker, albeit one also repped by CAA, Artists First and Jackoway Austen.
At the beginning of the year, Cregger set up horror thriller Weapons in a frenzied auction that New Line also won and that will see the filmmaker earning $10 million to write and direct what will be his follow-up to Barbarian. Days later, New Line (again) went all in for Companion, a sci-fi thriller that Cregger will produce with BoulderLight Pictures and Lee. Both (yes, both) projects came with automatic green lights and are expected to shoot this summer.
Before this moment, Cregger was in the comedy game as a co-founder of the comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know and co-directed a little-seen 2009 movie titled Miss March. He also starred in a comedy titled Wrecked that aired on TBS for three seasons.
Barbarian was rejected by almost every production entity in Hollywood, in some cases twice, thanks to its unique structure and many twists. But the movie proved to be a hit with audiences and critics, and especially with other producers and executives who immediately wanted to be in the Cregger business.
“He capitalized and then he leveled up,” says an executive at a rival studio that lost out on Occupant.
New Line, for one, is thrilled to be in the burgeoning Cregger business. With horror one of the few genres consistently working theatrically outside the superhero genre, it now has three projects tied to a talent poised to become a voice in the scary movie department.
“If I just saw Barbarian, it would be enough for me to bet on Zach having a long and impressive career,” said New Line’s president and CCO, Richard Brener. “But after reading Weapons and discussing Companion and The Occupant with him, it’s a virtual lock. When you add how collaborative and personable he is on top of that, well, I hope he is part of the New Line family as long as possible.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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