EXCLUSIVE: After a ferocious bidding battle that involved six studios, Netflix is closing a feature rights deal to The Watcher, an article about the true story of a creepy stalker whose menacing letters kept a family from moving into their New Jersey dream house. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman are attached to direct. Screen Arcade’s Eric Newman (Narcos) and Bryan Unkeless (I, Tonya) will produce through their first look Netflix deal.
This is shaping up to be one of the biggest material deals this year, especially for a magazine article, and Netflix will pay seven figures for a rights package that includes an article by Reeves Wiedeman published on New York Magazine’s website The Cut, and the rights of the beleaguered homeowners who’ve lived this nightmare for four years.
The article auctioned by CAA created a stampede for the movie rights in an auction that has been vigorous all week. Sources said that the bidder included Universal for Jason Blum, Warner Bros for Roy Lee, Paramount for JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot, Amazon for producer Michael Sugar and Fox for Peter Chernin.
It is a strong premise for a movie in the vein of The Amityville Horror, only here the house was haunted from the outside so it has parallels to films like Pacific Heights, in its exploration of upward mobility and the risk that can occur when a family bets everything on a dream house. The article begins in June 2014, when Derek and Maria Broaddus were preparing to move with their three children into the dream house they bought for $1.3 million in tony Westfield. Derek found a peculiar welcome letter in the mailbox addressed to the new occupant. The anonymous writer detailed his long history with the house, and divulged details about the family that were more than disturbing as the letter went on. “How did you end up here?” the writer asked. “Did 657 Boulevard call to you with its force within?” The letter went on: 657 Boulevard has been the subject of my family for decades now and as it approaches its 110th birthday, I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I will find out… “You have children. I have seen them. So far I think there are three that I have counted,” the anonymous correspondent wrote, before asking if there were “more on the way”: Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Better for me. Was your old house too small for the growing family? Or was it greed to bring me your children? Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them too [sic] me.”
The new homeowners sought out the police, and several other letters arrived — the letter writer used the word “blood” often — and the sellers acknowledged they too received a letter recently they tossed away. Soon, they and neighbors on the block were eyed as potential suspects, and the dream became a nightmare. The couple tried in vain to discover the letter writer; they eyed their new neighbors warily as those people wondered if the homeowners were themselves behind the stalking campaign. The Broadduses never moved their children into their dream house. They tried to sell, even tried to raze the structure that the letter writer claims he and predecessors have watched for a century, and build two new houses that would have allowed them to recoup. The property was a few feet short of zoning requirements and the town, fueled by the anger of neighbors, wouldn’t grant permission. So they have mostly rented the house while trying to stay afloat. The film deal will certainly help in that regard.
Joost & Schulman are an intriguing choice. Their projects include genre in Paranormal Activity 3 and 4, and a whodunit in the 2010 documentary Catfish, which expanded into the popular MTV series. They are wrapping the Screen Arcade-produced Power with Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt.
CAA brokered the auction and reps the producers and the directors. Orlee-Rose Strauss will oversee for Supermarche, Joost & Schulman’s production company, and Alyssa Rodrigues will oversee for Screen Arcade.