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Currently amassing brand name recognition in the genre, Oren Peli is easily one of the great indie horror success stories of
the last decade. After all, the guy went from directing a movie in his house
for a budget that would barely cover salty snacks on most film shoots, and ended
up with a worldwide hit. Speaking with him during a visit to Toronto, you can
that tell he’s still shocked and thrilled by the success, allowed into that
special club of people who make millions by scaring the pants off of adoring
He hasn’t exactly been twiddling his thumbs since PARANORMAL
ACTIVITY hit either, supervising two sequels (and counting), helping bring
INSIDIOUS and Rob Zombie’s upcoming LORDS OF SALEM to the big screen, directing the
mysterious AREA 51 project under levels of secrecy appropriate for the title,
and creating his own genre TV series in ABC’s THE RIVER. This week, Peli has
yet another project coming out in CHERNOBYL DIARIES, a film that he co-wrote
and produced about a group of twentysomething tourists who decide to visit a
crumbling city abandoned after Chernobyl’s notorious nuclear disaster and end
up discovering more than just creepily empty streets (aka spooky kids and
supernatural shenanigans). We got a chance to chat with Peli about his latest
movie, his commitment to a realist horror aesthetic, his ever-growing low
budget horror empire, and attempted to prod him about the many future projects
bubbling in his head.
FANGORIA: When did you first get the idea for CHERNOBYL
OREN PELI: It was probably a couple of years ago. One day, I
was just browsing on the internet and found some photoblogs and videos of
people who actually did go into Prypiat. I knew about the disaster in
Chernobyl, but I didn’t know about this unique city. It’s a ghost town that was
abandoned by people who didn’t even have a chance to gather their belongings
when they were evacuated. I didn’t know that people were now allowed to go back
in there and supposedly it’s pretty safe if you go with a tour guide, avoid
certain areas, and don’t stay for too long. I did a little more research into
it and thought it was such a fascinating place. The images that I found were so
haunting and creepy. Then, at some point I was having dinner with a friend and
mentioned that it would be a good setting for a horror movie and he went crazy
and told me I had to do a horror movie there. I said, “I don’t really have
time, I’ve got a lot of things going on.” But he just basically said, “Oh, you
can get a director to do the hard work. You just have to work out a story.” He
basically talked me into doing it on the spot.
FANG: Were there any movies that you had in mind as an
influence on this project?
PELI: There wasn’t anything specific. The main thing that
was appealing was starting in a very grounded form of realism, so that you feel
like the characters are a group of people that you might know. On a whim, they
decide to take a trip to Prypiat while visiting Europe and then quickly the bad
things begin. Just the whole concept of being stranded in a foreign country is
bad enough. Here, you’re not just in a foreign country, but in an abandoned
city effected by radiation. You’re supposed to be alone there and then in the
middle of the night, you here a scream of something that might be human or
inhuman. That was the grain of the idea that seemed terrifying and we just
built from there.
FANG: Was it difficult to recreate the unique look of
Prypiat? I’m assuming you weren’t able to shoot there?
PELI: Originally, we did want to shoot there, but in 2011 no
one was allowed in. They were doing construction or something. Of course, now
you can go back. But, we were stuck and had to come up with another strategy.
It ended up being a combination of two things. First of all, we found some
amazing locations in Hungary and Serbia for the exteriors and interiors.
Secondly, our director Bradley Parker is a genius with special effects. He had
a background as a visual effects supervisor, so he could look at all the
different locations we had and figure out how to make everything flow and find
all of the settings that we needed. He would look at a location and say, “it
has this element that we really need and then through visual effects we can
make it perfect.” It was very important for us to faithfully recreate the
location, because in many ways it’s the main character of the movie.
FANG: What sort of creative relationship did you have with director Bradley Parker?
PELI: We were very fortunate to find him. We met him and instantly
liked him, first as a human being, just such a nice guy and very smart. He had
a great vision for the movie that was very much in line with what we had in
mind. It was a very collaborative process between me, Brian Whitten the
producer and Brad. We really got along and everyone could contribute ideas.
Brad brought ideas to the story and we suggested how to do certain things
visually. We worked as a very tight-knit group. We didn’t really have a studio
to answer to, so there were no notes to get from anyone. It was really whatever
the three of us wanted to do. Because it was such a collaborative project, once
Brad started shooting, we kind of knew what was going to happen. For the most
part, it ended up being very faithful to the idea that we originally had.
FANG: Were you concerned at all about setting a supernatural
horror movie in around a genuine tragedy?
PELI: That was never really a big concern. What we were
doing was always obviously fictional, and we never intended to offend anyone.
We aren’t trying to say it’s a documentary or something that really happened.
It’s a fictionalized horror film. We always assumed that people would just take
it for what it is and it seems like the overwhelming majority of people have
accepted it that way.
TO BE CONTINUED
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