The director of the horror film that's sweeping the nation tells us about how this film came to be
My history with the hottest flick in town, Paranormal Activity, is a brief but rather interesting history. Just in my day-to-day duties at the site, I had heard about the film for some time now, and I followed the film as the buzz grew with the release of the fantastic trailer and word that it was finally getting a theatrical release, instead of just a remake like Paramount had originally planned (they were going to include a copy of the original film with the remake's DVD). There was one fateful event, though, that I knew we were about to see something truly big happen for this film. It was announced that the horror site Bloody-Disgusting was holding a free midnight screening of the film, on the eve of its very limited release in a dozen college towns across the country, and I just had to see it. There were no press seats for the event, so I just strolled down to the Arclight in Hollywood two hours early to stand in line for the film... only to find, literally, thousands there before me. Despite the theaters efforts of getting as many theaters as possible for the event, they could not accommodate everyone, and I, the smart guy who thought I was slick showing up two hours early, was one of them who wasn't accommodated.
Thankfully, those lovely folks at Paramount invited me to a screening on the Paramount lot that next week, and I was finally able to see the film that some had even called one of the scariest films of all time... and I would have to agree with that bold statement (CLICK HERE to read my full review of the film). Now, with the film on a massive tear through its limited release, selling out theaters left and right and racking up huge per-screen averages from its limited theater count, the film is on the brink of another wide expansion, with the film hitting approximately 800 theaters on October 16 and, as it was just announced today, the film is eyeing yet another expansion to 2,000 theaters by October 23. The man behind this box office magic is writer-director Oren Peli, who shockingly makes his feature film debut here. I was fortunate enough to speak with the talented new filmmaker over the phone, and here's what he had to say.
It's been quite a whirlwind ride for your this past couple of weeks, hasn't it?
Oren Peli: It's been absolutely crazy, yeah.
I read that this whole film came about because of things that were happening in your house, so can you talk about what some of those things might have been, and how closely they relate to the movie, or how you drew off those and crafted this film?
Oren Peli: Yeah. Basically, when you're trying to fall asleep or when you're asleep in your own home and you hear something, something totally unexplainable like the house settling down or the house creaking, or anything like that, or to think about what could be going on in your house when you're sleeping, you wouldn't even be aware of it. When you're asleep you're totally vulnerable, so I started thinking about the idea about what if somebody set up a video camera and you let it run and you capture something going on when you were sleeping. Then you review the footage and when that happened, that would be extremely unsettling. So that was pretty much the idea.
Can you talk about how you got the budget together? There have been different reports over how much the budget was, $11,000 or $12,000.
Oren Peli: I would say - I never really counted it exactly - but it was probably more like $16,000.
You filmed this all in your own house and I read you took about a year to renovate and prepare your own house for this.
Oren Peli: It was about a year of pre-production, where I took a lot of time to study the subject matter, hauntings and demons and ghosts and possessions, everything related to supernatural and other subject matter. Then we shot the movie, and it was only about a week of shooting, and then about another year of post-production.
What I was really intrigued by were the effects in here. I read you were kind of editing the film as you were going, adding effects in while you were filming, so can you talk about the nature of these effects? Were you using a lot of practical stuff or what kind of process were you using for the effects?
Oren Peli: Just about everything that you see is practical, so I had to practice, in advance, during the year of pre-production. I was training myself to figure out what I can do and what I can get away with and what I cannot, and write the story around my abilities and limitations. When I knew how the effects were going to happen, I just practiced doing them practically, and then applying them to the video. There are some scenes where Micah (Sloat) and Katie (Featherston) are reviewing footage that happened the night before, so I had to edit tape and get the shots ready for the laptop, so they could watch it. So that's something that had to be done on the set. So it definitely made the whole thing very interesting and crazy.
Yeah, I imagine. Especially some of the big scares in the film, it looks like wire work or stuff like that. Is that the kind of stuff you were doing?
Oren Peli: Well, I think we should probably keep everything a mystery for now, but hopefully on the DVD we'll give away some of the secrets. It's a little bit too soon.
OK, fair enough. So Katie and Micah were just such amazing finds and I read that you went through a bunch of people before you found them, so what was that discovery like, finding these two actors for this film?
Oren Peli: Oh, it was great. The one thing that I knew, for sure, was that I didn't want to make the movie unless I found the right actors that could pull it off. It's a very challenging role. They have to act as if they're not acting, and the acting has to look all natural and authentic. When I found them, that's when I decided, 'You know, this could actually work. This movie could work.'
With the weird journey this film went through, after the festivals and the delays, what does it feel like just to have this out there and finally being ready for a mass audience?
Oren Peli: It's amazing. We always believed in the movie, we always believed we would find an outlet, and we always thought it would be well-received, but we didn't know that the fans were really going to embrace it the way that they have, so we're really just grateful and thankful to the fans for getting behind it the way that they have and demanding that it keeps expanding until, now we have a nationwide release, so it's really overwhelming.
This whole Demand It campaign had been used for bands and musical outlets, but this was the first time it was used for a movie. So can you talk about getting involved in that process and how you maybe first heard about that?
Oren Peli: Well, the marketing people here at Paramount, they really loved the movie and they wanted to figure out some creative way to release it. You can't just push the movie out there in tons of screens and run trailers like you would with a big-budget movie with famous stars. The movie plays really well in front of audiences, so we figured lets just put it out there and not put any money behind it, with a little bit of Internet marketing and put it out there on a few screens, do a few festivals and lets play at midnight on some college markets and give the fans the power and the ability to demand the movie. If they like the movie, they'll demand it and we'll bring it to their city and, if they don't, we won't. It was a little bit risky, but we had some faith and hope that the fans would get behind the movie. The level that they have got behind the movie is beyond our wildest dreams, and it was a pretty smart move, as it turns out.
Oren Peli: Oh, I have no idea. I'm just amazed by the numbers we have so far (Laughs). I'm just as thankful and grateful for every day that we have and who knows. So far it's already exceeding expectations.
You talked a bit about the DVD, and it's kind of ironic too since the film was planned on being remade, with the original film being included on the DVD, so do you have any goodies in store that you're going to throw on the DVD for us?
Oren Peli: I don't know. We're actually not really discussing the DVD that much at this point. It's probably too early.
I also found it interesting, again to compare it to The Blair Witch Project, but people were scared in the theaters but it didn't really translate well to a home audience. But do you think with a film like this, that is actually set in a house and with things that are happening in a house, do you think this will translate better than maybe The Blair Witch Project did on DVD for home viewing?
Oren Peli: I don't know. It's good because if you're watching the movie at home, and you have to try to go to sleep right away, it may be very effective. So that definitely could be part of it, but it's also great to watch it in the theater because of the shared experience and seeing and hearing everyone reacting and screaming at the same time. I think one of the reasons that the movie is playing well now is because it's became almost like an event. People want to see it in the theater while they have the chance.
I thought it was kind of interesting how scared of ghosts and affected by them you were growing up, and how you were scared by Ghostbusters. Do you find it at all ironic that you made what people are calling one of the scariest movies of all time when you were so scared of ghosts?
Oren Peli: I think it was a way for me to feel better about the whole thing. Now that I've made a movie about ghosts and I know exactly how it was made, I find it less scary. Another thing to me was, The Exorcist scared me so much, it was like this was my revenge.
So it was almost therapeutic for you, making this film?
Oren Peli: Yeah, maybe. I haven't really had a chance to watch too many other movies yet, so I don't know how I'll react when I watch the next movie that will scare me.
Can you talk at all about Area 51 and your work on that film as of now?
Oren Peli: No, not really. We're trying to keep everything secret, so hopefully one day you'll get a chance to see it and, until then, we're going to remain that way.
Well, it's about Area 51, so I imagine it would be pretty secretive.
Oren Peli: Yeah (Laughs). Exactly. Good point.
Finally, what would you like to say to this groundswell of fans that have been supporting this film and demanding it, on the eve of this national release this weekend?
Oren Peli: Just how unbelievably thankful and grateful I am. I'm totally overwhelmed by the support and I'm almost totally speechless. I thought it was going to work out, but I didn't know that the fans would embrace the movie to the degree that they have and it's all thanks to them that the movie is expanding and going nationwide now.
Excellent. Well that's about all I have for you, Oren. Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck with your new films.
Oren Peli: OK. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Oren Peli's phenomenal Paranormal Activity expands to over 800 theaters nationwide on October 16 and will be expanding to a massive 2,000 theaters on October 23. If you haven't seen it yet, I can honestly say this is a theatrical experience that only comes around once in a couple of blue moons, and it's something you should definitely check out, if you haven't already.