Last October, on the day “Paranormal Activity 2″ hit theaters, director Tod Williams stopped by the MTV Newsroom to reveal five secrets about the horror sequel — everything from the best way to break a person’s leg to why the baby in the film is possibly the greatest actor in all of Hollywood.
Another year, another “PA” flick — and even more secrets revealed. The morning after a raucous screening in New York City, “Paranormal Activity 3″ directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman paid us a visit and gave up the goods. Read on for 10 “Paranormal” secrets, then check back on Monday for their answers to a ton of our burning questions — queries that were simply too spoiler-filled to reveal before fans have had a chance to see the film for themselves (be aware, though, that there are mild spoilers below).
The Fan Camera
A key issue in any found-footage movie is finding creative ways for characters to film the action. That issue becomes especially thorny three pictures into a franchise. How do you keep things fresh in a “Paranormal” flick, a series that largely confines each story to one house, the demon-haunting action captured with camcorders set up in various rooms? Joost and Schulman, along with screenwriter Christopher B. Landon, came up with a new technique that opens up an entirely new way of viewing events that is at once simple and totally scare-inducing: a camera mounted on the base of a swiveling fan.
The idea was one Joost and Schulman used when they first discussed the gig with Paramount. “It’s like, ’How would we do it if there were a ghost in our office and we only had one camera? How would we capture the whole thing?’ ” explained Joost. “We were like, ’Would we put it on a model train and have it go around the house?’ We would put up mirrors to see stuff, or this fan idea. It turned out Chris Landon, the writer of the movie, had basically the same idea, independently of us. So when we got together for this first time, it was like, ’Oh great, you want to do that too!’ ”
The Sex Tape
For “PA3,” it wasn’t just about new ways of capturing the action, but of new action to capture. That’s why you’ll see the making of the first-ever sex tape in the new “Paranormal,” one between the two central adults in the film, mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and live-in boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith).
“The president of Paramount [Adam Goodman] was like, ’I want to do a sex tape this time,’ ” Schulman said. “They always tease it in the ’Paranormal’ movies, and at this point, everyone’s inclined to think they’re not going to do it. [Dennis] is going to ask her to film it and she’s going to say no and they’re going to turn the camera off, or she’ll say yes and they’ll turn it off right away. [Goodman] was like, ’I want to take it there.’ It gets pretty uncomfortable. It’s like a real sex tape, which is awkward.”
The Filmmaker Cameos
Though they spent the great majority of their time behind the scenes, Joost and Schulman actually make cameos in the film — though you’d never be able to tell unless they hadn’t revealed the secret to us. Without diving too much into spoilers, let’s just say that at one point you see what might be a young girl or a demon hiding under a white sheet — that old clichéd Halloween costume. In actuality, it was neither a demon nor a young girl, but Schulman. Why’d he choose that role for himself? “Catlike reflexes,” he cracked. “Very agile.”
Joost’s cameo is similarly mysterious, though at least part of his body is visible — even if you can’t tell it’s his. “I operated [the camera] for a bunch of awesome shots,” he said, adding that in one climactic scene that we won’t spoil, “My hand is in the film. I just slammed the stuntwoman with the camera. It was fun. She was like, ’Hit me as hard as you can!’ I was like, ’I don’t want to hurt you!’ ”
The First Scare
Now, we’re not going to ruin the first big scare moment for you (what’d be the fun in that?), but Joost and Schulman did explain their thinking about that all-important initial jump-out-of-your-seat moment and why it occurs exactly when it does.
“We have to get a lot of exposition across first, because once the scare happens, the rollercoaster ride really sets in and it’s hard to move the plot forward,” Schulman said. “So we need time to establish the characters and what the heck is going on.”
Added Joost: “I think there is also a moment in the movie where it wins you over. Prior to that, everyone’s sitting there with their arms crossed and they’re like, ’OK, let’s see if this is any good.’ And you need a moment like that, early in a movie, just to let all the tension out of the room and let people relax and settle in.”
The Teddy Ruxpin
Set in the fall of 1988, “PA3″ incorporates all sorts of pop-culture references from that era, the most prominent of which is Teddy Ruxpin, the talking bear that was a favorite toy of so many kids back in the day. Again, we won’t tell you exactly how Ruxpin fits into the story, only that the filmmakers had some other ideas for the toy that they couldn’t quite pull off.
“Teddy Ruxpin was on our original list of ideas,” Schulman said. “We had a bunch of crazy ideas for Teddy Ruxpin but had legal issues. He plays audio cassettes and you can put other ones in there, like a Metallica tape, and just have him rage, which is really creepy. You can also set him to record, so we wanted him to record the demon at night if the camera turned off. Lot of legal issues with Teddy Ruxpin!”
The Pop Culture References
Keep your eyes and ears peeled throughout (if you can), because the film is littered with other ’80s callbacks. There’s a reference to “Back to the Future” at one point, but as Schulman let us know, “You can’t say ’Back to the Future,’ so instead [Dennis and his friend are] just having an argument about what it should have been called. ’Back to the Present.’ ’Back to the Past.’ ”
“Dennis also wears one of my old Swatches from 1984,” he added. “There’s a Lite Brite in the kids’ room. And one of the kids calls out [former NBA dunk-contest champion] Spud Webb. Kids love Spud Webb because he’s small.”
The Famous Katie Photo
It’s no spoiler to say “PA3″ takes place before the events of the first two films, following two sisters Katie and Julie from adulthood back into childhood. In both of the original films, there’s one important photo of Katie as a child displayed at certain times. In “PA3,” we see the moment that photo was taken.
“We were thinking about the hard-core fans on every decision. So we thought, ’What’s the coolest way to bring back that famous photo?’ ” Schulman said. “Well, how about the taking of the photo?
“There are a lot of [references to the earlier films] you’ll pick up on the second viewing,” Joost added. “Why that scene is there, lines of dialogue, things like that.”
The film takes place in September 1988, with certain dates highlighted graphically. One highlighted date is 9/10/88, but then the events skip ahead past 9/11, a storytelling decision that was very important to the filmmakers. “Out of respect,” Joost said. “Never gonna do that.”
The Demon’s Name
The demon that has been haunting Katie and Julie finally gets a name in “PA3″: He is Toby, Julie’s supposedly imaginary friend. So why that name?
“Toby is the name of our [assistant director’s] dog,” Joost said.
“No, the writer’s neighbor’s dog,” Schulman corrected.
“And our A.D.’s dog,” Joost laughed.
The Loose Tooth
Early on in the film, young Julie shows off a gruesomely loose tooth — a simple, creepy scene that hints at the violence to come. So was this some fancy special effect? Hardly. More like the luck of having a young actress on set.
“Little girl shows up on set and says that she’s got a loose tooth,” Schulman said. “We say, ’Film it, work it into the scene.’ Can’t fake that.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Paranormal Activity 3.”
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