Ben Peyser and Scott Rutherford Talk Ghost Team One, in theaters this Friday
This Halloween will be the first time in five years that a Paranormal Activity movie hasn't been in theaters. If you're missing the demon, Paramount still has you covered with the found footage thriller Ghost Team One, which isn't just packed full of crazy horror, but also serves up some of the funniest jokes seen on screen this year. It perfectly captures the tension and terror of a Paranormal Activity movie. But it also does something that franchise fails to do. It gives us characters we actually care about and a story that isn't completely reliant on the next jump scare.
It's a full-on party movie that proves to be an outrageous romp from beginning to end. The story follows two roommates, Brad (J.R. Villarreal) and Sergio (Carlos Santos), who accidentally arouse the spirit of a dead Korean brother owner responsible for killing two men in cold blod. With the help of the fetching amateur ghost hunter Frenanda (Fernanda Romero), the two longtime friends begin to document their experiences with the horny ghost, which brings about some unexpected and deadly circumstances.
To celebrate the release of Ghost Team One in theaters this Friday, and available on VOD, we contacted first time directors Ben Peyser and Scott Rutherford via Ouija Board to find out more about the making of this sure-to-be-cult sensation.
In the film, Brad and Sergio live with recovering drug addict Chuck (scene stealer Tony Cavalero), who seems to absolutely detest his two roommates, and eventually becomes an unwilling pawn in the Whore Ghost's wicked game. We begin our conversation delving into the unlikely relationship between Chuck, Sergio and Brad.
Is there some sort of backstory that you made up as to why Chuck would be living with these two guys? Cause he certainly seems to despise them with all of his soul...
Ben Peyser: Oh! Hello, winner, winner, chicken dinner! Chuck is our character that is desperately trying to stay sober living with these two stoner idiots that would rather throw parties than help with his sobriety. We kind of imagined that, before he got sober, he was a real party beast. And his house was the equivalent of the Frat House that never died. So, it was a matter of him leaving college, and he found it hard to move on. Once he got sober, he had to say goodbye to all of his old friends. He still had to rent out his two rooms, so that he could continue paying rent. And these were the guys he found. Now, he is stuck with them. And they are all stuck together.
Scott Rutherford: Lets just say he has a lifetime of battling some inner-demons.
Ben Peyser: Hey, oh!
You gave me the winner, winner, chicken dinner! Is that one of the questions that has been asked a million times? Are you sick of answering for Chuck's behavior?
Ben Peyser: No!
Scott Rutherford: You're the first person to ask us that, so you're the winner!I thought I was failing you! Now, me, personally, I thought maybe these two guys had moved into Chuck's house before he went off the deep end. They were the residual from his party days. Maybe at one time they used to all be friends? That Chuck is now sort of living with his own ghosts...
Ben Peyser: Yes! No you are feeling something.
Now, I know when I was in film school, I was told that the smartest thing a first time filmmaker can do is set their movie in one location. You do that here, with the house, and you do it brilliantly. What were some of the challenges of keeping the story contained within the whorehouse, and what were some of the benefits? And, yes, I realize you do go outside of the house once or twice, to go to the store...
Scott Rutherford: We definitely set out to make a The Bourne Identity style movie. But the Fiji location, and the Manila location fell through! So, we had to adapt very quickly to that. I would definitely say that one location has its advantages and it has its challenges.
Ben Peyser: As long as you are aware of your challenges, you can figure out a way to overcome them. The fear is, you can get bored on location. So we were conscious of moving all around the house. In creating a movie that is enough of a ride, that you don't waste any time thinking about the fact that you are in one house. You just follow the story, you are on this ride. Since you are not conscious of it, subconsciously it is creating this nicely contained environment where all the action goes down. All of a sudden, by the end of the movie, that house has power. That house has meaning to you as a viewer, which makes the story a lot stronger...Yeah, it ended up being a real fun way to work.
Scott Rutherford: Another thing I will say is that this is the first feature film we've directed. And we directed it together. We did this found footage style. What's great about found footage is that if you do it right...I think we pulled it off...It can be really intimate. It really puts you in there with the characters. You're not looking for explosions. You're not looking for it to be in CG. What's great about it is, this ride you are on, it's with these guys, and you are feeling everything they are feeling. And really, honestly experiencing the problems they are gong through.
That's what I thought. You guys set up a really great character story. And then you add the scares onto that. Which is the downfall of a lot of found footage movies. They deliver their four minutes of scares, but then they struggle coming up with 75 minutes of story that we actually want to sit through and watch. You guys subverted that pitfall...
Scott Rutherford: Right!
Ben Peyser: I like that you put it that way. We're both total pussies. We love horror movies, when we're forced to watch them. But we don't want to watch them. Why do I want to be scared? I don't want to be burnt. I don't want to be in pain. I don't like fear. That's why we had to figure out...What would curb that fear for us? What would keep us in this house? What would make us stay in this story? That's where the grounded character motivation came in. And finding, like...These guys love Fernanda. When she came into audition for us, I just fell in love with that girl. She is amazing. That would keep me coming back. So, it is sort of like...That motivation...We needed to know why these guys where here. We wouldn't be here just for the scares. The scares scare us. We need a reason to stay here. We need something so compelling, we'll stay put despite the scares.
Scott Rutherford: Yeah. We wanted to make our leads as big of pussies as we are. As big of cowards as we are.
Ben Peyser: So, most horror movies you see, the guys are doing what no one wants to do. You are the audience at home, and you are going, "No, don't go up the stairs!" And then they go up the stairs. You start to move away from them. These characters are morons. You can't respond to them anymore. We thought, wouldn't it be funny if the characters in the movie were actually like us. So they are doing the things, and saying the things that the audience is feeling at home. They actually say, "I don't want to go upstairs. That sounds like a terrifying place to go." But then the beautiful woman walks upstairs, and they are like, "Ah, well, I don't know???" That stuff seemed short, maybe I can follow her for a little bit...
Scott Rutherford: A key, too, is, we didn't want to make a spoof. We wanted to make a believable, grounded comedy. We grew up, we loved This is Spinal Tap, we loved The Office. And we wanted to have our characters react believably and honestly to situations that were as ridiculous as they may get. Instead, what ends up happening, instead of a scare just being a gag, like you might see in a spoof movie, where you don't really care...It comes across flat, and you think, "Oh, they're just trying to be funny." Or, whatever...In our movie, the scares work, because you are there, and you're with the characters. You believe the characters are reacting to this situation, so when something scary happens, you believe them. You're like, "Ah! Don't do that! Don't go there!"
Watching the movie, I think what excited me the most was seeing these two Mormon guys try to conduct an exorcism. What fueled that inspired bit in the climax. Are you guys friends with the Mormons, do you practice the religion?Ben Peyser: The credit on the Mormons goes to [Writers] Arthur Pielli, Andrew Knauer and [executive producer] Hernany Perla. They, for a long time, thought it would be pretty funny to do this Mormon thing. Like all of the movie, it just sort of evolved on set. I've experienced the Mormons coming to my door. Usually, the biggest thing is, they get signed out. No one wants to talk to them. But then they do come in. It happens in the movie. They come in the house. It was key for us...We weren't mocking the religion. People don't know what it is, or what its really about. So, our lead characters are in this situation where they really need help. They turn to these guys, "Can you help us? Can you help us?" But, actually, no. They're like, "We don't do exorcisms at all." Its having fun with what people think they know about the religion, and what they don't know.
What I don't know...I first got publicity materials for your movie maybe a year ago. And you guys had independent distribution. Then, here at the last minute, you got picked up by Paramount. Right after they announced that there would be no Paranormal Activity 5 for Halloween 2013. Did they discuss with you that you would be the replacement? Did you guys ever consider calling it something like Paranormal Activity Presents: Ghost Team One? Cause it's enough in that same vein to really appeal to and please that same crowd. If you like Paranormal Activity, you're going to love Ghost Team One...
Scott Rutherford: I would love to believe that, but I can't get anyone to go on record and say it. (Laughs) No, we were just fortunate to be picked up by the studio that also does Paranormal Activity. But, it was a happy accident.
Ben Peyser: We are thrilled to be released in the anticipation of Halloween. It's just the perfect time for this movie.
Scott Rutherford: This is an indie movie. We made it for no money. We went the festival route. We played at Slam Dance. We were just crossing our fingers that someone would be interested enough to get the movie out there. So, it certainly wasn't that we were looking at Paramount, or that they were looking at us. They saw the movie, and they thought it was really funny. In terms of marketing...It is its own comedy. We love the characters. They loved the characters. In a way, its like..."It's...A comedy....BUT...It's also in the horror world...It's not the same exact thing."
Ben Peyser: They are different beasts. What Paranormal Activity, and all of these found footage movies, have done for us...They have created this cinematic language that the viewer now understands. So we are totally on board with found footage. We get it. We know how the conceit works. But we felt no one had really done it in this way yet. You can get really great comedy out of it, because it is improv based. Authenticity is the most important thing. I think that Paranormal Activity did a really important thing in establishing that cinematic language. But then, what we're trying to do with this movie is get laughs. And some scares, for sure. But I think the biggest thing to walk away with is, "This is a good time! This is a real party!"
I agree with that. But you never take the found footage genre down a notch. You're not coming at it like Marlon Wayans' A Haunted House. The humor comes naturally out of what is going on.
Ben Peyser: Totally.
Scott Rutherford: We did not want to make a spoof. We love grounded comedy. I think the found footage genre...It is almost begging for it. No one else is doing it. Everyone else is just spoofing it. Everyone else thought, "Paranormal Activity is just a phenomenon. We should just make fun of it." As opposed to saying, "No, Paranormal Activity is such a phenomenon, it has created a genre. It has created a film language. A new type of language for film." So, we can use that language and do for comedy what Paranormal Activity did for horror. You don't need money. You just need authenticity and a great story. And, we just wanted to do that for laughs. A grounded character comedy using that found footage genre to do something we haven't seen yet.
Now, I know you've been asked this question a bazillion times, but I haven't read all of your press yet. I want to know, what was going on with J.R. and that dog? Did that dog just absolutely hate him?Scott Rutherford: Oh, dude, that is my ex-girlfriend's dog. And that dog hates everyone. But is also...I am so deeply in love with that dog, its stupid. But. She is a rescue, so who knows what her life was like before my ex-girlfriend took her in and loved her endlessly. Now, she is this charming, wonderful, loving dog that still has so many demons. Just barely beneath the surface. That is just how she is with everyone. But it was just such a great, hilarious addition to the film.
Ben Peyser: Though, I would give credit to J.R. for working it. But the biggest credit goes to Meghan Falcone, who plays Becky, for forming an instant bond with Chanelle. Because Chanelle, she is a tough little cookie. But Meghan found an in with her. That was really nice.
In those scenes, you can tell that the dog likes Meghan. After the dog attacks, it turns to her for comfort. It was a special thing you guys caught on film.
Scott Rutherford: Meghan Falcone does look like my ex-girlfriend.
Ben Peyser: Meghan is Scott's ex-girlfriend...
Scott Rutherford: No, she's not. But the similarities are kind of hilarious.
Ben Peyser: She is your ex-girlfriend!
Last question! Ghost Team Two! When are we going to see it?
Ben Peyser: Let's do it!
Scott Rutherford: You got the money? We're in!
How much money do you need?
Scott Rutherford: Uh...How much money do you got? What's in your wallet?
I have exactly $47 to my name.
Scott Rutherford: We'll take it!
Ben Peyser: Give us that, your credit card, all of your friends' credit cards...I think we have a start.
Scott Rutherford: We would love to do Ghost Team Two. Tell everyone you know about Ghost Team One, and tell them to go see it in theaters when you can. Its such a fun experience. It's a party movie. Bring a big group. Get drunk, get stoned, get high on life...Whatever you like to do...But go see this movie. Hopefully, if we can get the world to love it as much as we do, and the people that have seen it so far love it, we can bring you Ghost Team Two as soon as possible!
I would rather see Ghost Team Two than Ghostbusters 3 at this point, in all honesty.
Ben Peyser: Yeah! Preaching to the choir, my friend!