Late in August, MTV News took you behind the scenes on a low-budget horror flick called “The Last Exorcism,” revealing the secrets behind its special effects and how the actress who played the demonically possessed main character managed to contort her body in such crazy ways.
Now, we’re back with another low-budget horror flick about demonic possession: [movie id=”452053″]”Paranormal Activity 2,”[/movie] a follow-up to last year’s out-of-nowhere blockbuster. The film once again is presented as found material — security-cam footage and home videos shot by a family whose home becomes haunted by a very unfriendly demon with an eye on their baby boy.
Director Tod Williams popped by the MTV Newsroom on Friday (October 22) to share five things you need to know about “Paranormal Activity 2″ (beware of mild spoilers below).
There Was No Script
Just because the first “PA” made almost $200 million, that didn’t mean the filmmakers were going to change their approach to the second film and actually, you know, write a freakin’ script. Like the original, “PA 2″ started off with only an outline — but even that they didn’t always stick to.
“The entire thing was improvised. Even story beats were improvised,” Williams told us. “If we were experimenting with an idea of where the story would go, we would go shoot it. We’d just act it out. Sometimes we kept that stuff, and some of it is in the movie the first time we did it. Sometimes, we’d be like, ‘That’s interesting, but now we’ve got to change [something else]. Once we had the house set up, we had the ability to go back and back and back.
“We leapt into this thing not really knowing which way we were going to go, on some level not knowing if we were going to make it to the other side,” he added.
The Best Way to Break a Leg Is to Twist
Williams’ philosophy of scares can be summed up with the following sentence: “If you’re trying to break somebody’s leg, if you hit him with a baseball bat, it doesn’t break. If you twist their leg and then hit him with a baseball bat, then you’ll snap it.”
That is to say, the film builds very slowly, from a creepily turning mobile above the baby’s crib to the moment when one character is sitting in the kitchen and every single cabinet bursts open with a thunderous clap. It’s a scary-as-hell moment.
“We had to twist the audience into a knot before we hit them,” Williams said.
The Security Cameras Kept Moving Around
The haunted house is equipped with just a handful of security cameras, each pointed at a specific area of the house: the living room, the baby’s room, the front door and so on. The cameras don’t pan or zoom, nor are their positions moved at any point during the film. Thus, choosing the exact position for each became a painstaking process for Williams and his team.
To begin, Williams brought cinematographer Michael Simmonds, a vet of low-budget indies like “Big Fan,” into the mix. Together they conducted a slew of camera tests inside the house, placing the security cameras in different spots until they found the perfect shot for each one.
“Many of those changed,” Williams said. “We realized we’d need to cover parts of the house and leave big spaces that weren’t covered. We had to make sure the compositions didn’t hurt us by showing too much but were rich and interesting enough so you had to look around and try to find out where you were supposed to be looking.”
There Are Essentially No Visual Effects
With Paramount backing the film from the beginning, filmmakers might have been tempted to introduce some fancy visual effects to “PA 2.” But Williams made sure to keep the emphasis on practical effects.
“You can see that the language of the film is very real-world,” he said. “There is some very simple stuff to make things work, but nothing animated or CGI or creating something that didn’t exist. Everything you see is there. Some things were there that are no longer there.”
That Baby Is the Best Actor Ever
Perhaps the most startling thing about “PA 2″ is the young boy, who walks, opens doors and appears to pause dramatically exactly when appropriate. He really does seem to be urged on by some otherworldly spirit. The key to the performance, the director told us, was an exhaustive amount of takes and some key advice from Williams’ wife, Gretchen Mol.
“There were two brothers, and they were wonderful to work with,” he said. “Their parents were right there with us. We did a lot of takes — a lot of takes. When we started shooting, these kids couldn’t walk. But by the end, they were running around. It changed the way we were going to use them.
“I have a young son who turned 3 this year, and he was in his crib and he got out of his crib, and my wife was in the house alone and she came into the bathroom and he was standing there,” he continued. “She told me how freaky it was, and I was like, ‘Well, that’s pretty cool.’ And that’s something we played with.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Paranormal Activity 2.”
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