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In a few short years, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY creator Oren Peli
has gone from a fresh new face on the genre scene to a minimogul, producing the
hit INSIDIOUS and the upcoming LORDS OF SALEM and venturing into scare TV with
ABC’s upcoming THE RIVER. And he is continuing to shepherd the follow-ups to
the film that put him on the map; with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 having grossed
over $100 million last year and hitting Blu-ray/DVD today from Paramount Home
Video, Peli spoke with Fango about the challenges of the sequel, and a bit
about THE RIVER.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 takes us back to 1988, reintroducing
us to the beleaguered characters of Katie and Kristi as children (see review
It continues the found-footage approach that has worked so well for Peli in the
previous movies, and which he employed for his yet-to-be-released thriller AREA
51 (about which he declined comment during this interview) and the Amazon-jungle-set THE RIVER (debuting February 7) as
FANGORIA: Three films into the series, how difficult was it
to come up with a concept for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 that was fresh, yet
maintained continuity with the previous mythology and made sense in that
OREN PELI: It was very tricky. After the first movie, I
never anticipated in my wildest dreams that there would be a sequel. It wasn’t
ever designed to be a franchise; I was very happy with it the way it was on its
own. And when we started talking about doing another film, I was very
skeptical, because I didn’t know where we could go from there. But then when
the writer Michael R. Perry came up with the idea of going back in time to
explore Kristi’s family, it all made a lot of sense. We were like, “Wow, that’s
really smart. It could actually work.” And when people seemed to respond very
positively to it, it became inevitable that we were going to have to do a third
movie—and we were like, “Oh crap, now we’re gonna have to come up with an idea
for another one…”
But because the second one extended the entire PARANORMAL
ACTIVITY world, we kind of instinctively knew it would make sense to go even
further back in time and further explore the mythology. We thought it would be
a terrific opportunity to go back to the ’80s and create our little homage to
horror movies from that period, but also keep it in the contemporary
found-footage format. So once we kind of honed in on the idea of focusing on
Kristi and Katie as little girls, it all made sense to us, and we felt pretty
confident about it.
FANG: You had only one credited screenwriter on PARANORMAL
3, Christopher Landon, after using three writers on the previous film. What led
you to narrow it down to just Landon?
PELI: Well, on PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, we had a lot of drama
going on, with our original director [Kevin Greutert] having to drop out
because of contractual obligations with the SAW franchise, and there was just a
lot of chaos on that production because we were still trying to figure out how
to get it done. When we went into the third one, having been through the
process of the second, we felt a little bit more confident that we knew what we
were getting into. Chris Landon was the last writer on PARANORMAL 2, so we just
kept rolling with him, and he was one of the first advocates for the idea of
revisiting Katie and Kristi’s childhood. We all liked it, so he came up with
the story, wrote the script and just stuck with us throughout the process.
FANG: You hired a director with traditional dramatic
experience, Tod Williams, for PARANORMAL 2, and then for the third you got
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman of the pseudodocumentary CATFISH. Were you
specifically looking for a filmmaker or filmmakers with that sort of vérité
background this time?
PELI: We were actually considering a whole bunch of
different directors. There were not a lot of people out there we could consider
who experience in cinema vérité; it’s a very, very small niche. So we
considered some of those kinds of directors and also some traditional
horror-movie directors, and there were some fantastic filmmakers we talked to.
At the end of the day, Henry and Ariel ended up being a little bit of a gamble
from our point of view, because CATFISH, the only movie they had directed, they
claim is not even a scripted found-footage movie, but a real documentary. We
weren’t sure how those skills would translate into a scripted film, but we got
a great vibe from them that they really understood what it takes to create
something that feels very authentic. They got the world we were trying to
recreate, and even though CATFISH is specifically a drama, there are moments
that are very, very tense. We felt like, if they can take this romantic-mystery
documentary and create so much tension, then they’ll definitely be able to
create some amazing scenes in PARANORMAL 3. We were extremely pleased with
them; we took a chance that paid off very nicely.
FANG: So are Landon and/or the directors going to come back
for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4?
PELI: Well, we haven’t made any announcements or any
decisions, so everything is up in the air, but we would absolutely love to work
with Chris Landon and the directors again, because it was such a strong team.
We hope they’re going to come back, but there have been no decisions yet.
FANG: Do you have any idea of the storyline, or where you’re
going to take the mythology in the fourth film?
PELI: Yes, we have quite a few good ideas.
FANG: But you can’t discuss them.
PELI: Of course not!
FANG: Is it more difficult, as you go on with such a popular
series that’s shot under such a veil of secrecy, to keep the films’ secrets
while you’re making them?
PELI: So far, we haven’t had too much of a problem. For both
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 and 3, we used the same crew, so it became sort of a
tight-knit family. Everyone really loves the franchise and respects it, and no
one will try to jeopardize it by leaking anything. And in addition, anyone
who’s involved has to sign a very, very strict nondisclosure agreement. So if
anyone ever wanted to leak something, they would have to think, “What could I
possibly gain from leaking information, as opposed to how much fun it would be
to deal with Viacom’s legal department and find myself on the wrong side of a
lawsuit?” [Laughs] And one other thing is, as the movies get closer to
production and release, there is so much noise and so much misinformation on
the Internet that even if somebody actually did release the entire storyline—the
accurate storyline—you wouldn’t know if you could believe it or not because
there is so much nonsense out there.
FANG: What’s the process like finding the right actors,
especially the kids, for a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie, which require a very specific
kind of acting? Is it more difficult casting a film of that nature?
PELI: It’s extremely difficult, and we were lucky to have an
amazing casting director, Terri Taylor, who had worked with us on PARANOMAL
ACTIVITY 2 as well. Just in general, finding people who can do this kind of
improv style and act in a way that doesn’t look like they’re acting, that
they’re just being natural and going about their business, is extremely
difficult. In addition, we had to find young actresses who looked similar to our
established characters. So it wasn’t that we only needed to find two extremely
talented girls, they also had to look like young versions of Katie and Kristi.
And beyond that, just working with kids in general can be very challenging.
So it was tough, and we knew that if we couldn’t find the
right two girls, we wouldn’t have a movie. We literally went through thousands
of candidates, and when we finally saw the auditions of Jessica [Tyler Brown]
and Chloe [Csengery], we were like, “Oh my God, they’re amazing!” We were
impressed not only by their ability to act, but also by the depth and
intelligence behind their improv. During the casting session, it wasn’t
necessarily about reading lines; our casting director would give them a certain
scenario, and they would basically have to tell it back in their own words. And
they added so much detail and life to this story they’d just heard 30 seconds
ago, we knew they were extremely bright and talented. That was one of the main
things that made us feel confident about the movie; we knew we had such a
strong cast, between the two little girls and the adults, that we had the right
ingredients for the magic we needed.
FANG: Are you also using the found-footage approach on THE
PELI: Yes, THE RIVER is a found-footage show, although it
feels a little different from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY because what we show in THE
RIVER is supposed to have been shot by a professional documentary crew, so
although it is the same format, it is shot in a much more professional way. It
looks more like, say, SURVIVOR or a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC show.
FANG: Did you find it easier or more difficult shooting for
television, working under those restrictions, than making the PARANORMAL
PELI: Well, in some ways it’s easier and in other ways it’s
more difficult. One of the main challenges is just the crazy, accelerated
schedule of the TV season, so every time the next step gets greenlighted—the
script stage, the pilot stage, the shooting stage—you have a very, very short
amount of time to prepare and get everything going. Though it’s not like we
have a ton of time with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, so that process might actually
have prepared us a little bit for THE RIVER because we have to conceive, write,
produce and complete one of those movies in a year, which is a very short cycle
for a feature film.
FANG: The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies are based on being
fairly subtle with the horror and not showing too much. Is it difficult, as the
films go on, to keep coming up with tricks you can use without being too
explicit, and do you carry that approach into THE RIVER as well?
PELI: Yes, it’s absolutely difficult. We spend a lot of time
trying to come up with the perfect scares, and we want to walk the fine line of
providing those moments, and wanting to progress the plot and have you learn a
little bit about what’s going on, but we don’t want to show too much. We
believe that the audience’s own imagination is usually the best tool to help
create the scares, based on their own personal nightmares and the things that
frighten them. So we spend a lot of time trying to come up with different
scares, and we shoot a lot of stuff. Sometimes we think, “Oh! Here’s a great
idea!” and we film it, and it turns out great and makes it into the movie, and
other times we’re like, “Hmm, it’s not as great as we thought it would be,” and
go back and try other stuff. There’s a lot of experimentation, and we shoot a
lot more than we actually end up using. That’s also our philosophy on THE
RIVER; we’re trying to rely more on subtlety and creating tension and mystery,
rather than using gore or big CG monsters or anything like that.
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