By Scott Neumyer
Say what you will about the “Paranormal Activity” series, but there’s absolutely no denying that director, writer, producer, and creator of the franchise Oren Peli not only crafted one of the most lucrative horror film series in recent memory, but he also helped paved the way for the found-footage phenomenon that currently graces the silver screen a few times every year. The franchise’s latest film, “Paranormal Activity 4” (out on Blu-ray and DVD today) takes the terrifying series in a new direction and provides a fresh take on what could easily have become a stale plate of sequels.
MTV recently sat down with Peli to discuss the “Paranormal Activity” series, his rigorous casting process, and the director’s favorite horror movies.
MTV: You started this series back in 2007, on the cheap, and it has become an enormous hit. Did you imagine the enormity of it way back then?
OREN PELI: Absolutely not. For all I knew, I was just making a little movie that maybe no one would ever see, and it wasn’t until after we started doing screenings that we saw that the movie kind of hitting a nerve. People were responding very well to it. That’s when I started thinking that it could possibly do well if we got some type of limited theatrical distribution. When Paramount came on board, and the movie became a phenomenon, we thought it was amazing. It exceeded all of our expectations. On top of that, to have “Paranormal Activity 2” come out and become successful and then “3” and then “4” and who knows what else next. It exceeded everyone’s (and certainly my) expectations.
MTV: This is the first film in the series that you didn’t really have a hand in writing. You only directed the first film, but you’ve produced them all. How different are the roles that you have when you’re tackling these projects?
OP: My role is very different between the first one and the sequels. Obviously, in the first one, I wrote, produced, directed, and edited it. I was in charge of most aspects of the film and now, for the sequels, I’m more involved as one of many consultants, producers, and executives working with a writer and a director. I’m one of many voices, but obviously I don’t have as much control as I did on the first one. It’s a blessing, but you definitely wish you sometimes had more control. That’s just the nature of the process.
Chance of Returning?
MTV: Do you feel the pull of wanting to maybe direct another one at some point?
OP: Never say never but at the moment, I’ll say no. Been there, done that, and I’m more than happy with the way that the first film turned out and I’m proud of the way the sequels have turned out even though I didn’t direct them. But I don’t feel any urge to go back and direct a sequel.
MTV: “Paranormal Activity 4” is really the first film in the series to move outside of Carlsbad into a new area, and it’s also the first one to really go outside of that main family from the first few films. Was that something you were nervous about doing when the idea came up?
OP: I don’t think we were particularly nervous about it. We actually thought it would be a positive thing to, without breaking the rules of how the structure of the movie works, mix it up a little bit. The movies do sort of expand with every sequel. In the third one, we had a couple of houses as opposed to only one house. In the fourth one, we’re actually spending more time outside than we did in some of the other films. We have two houses and the movie actually starts outside in the street, so you get more of a sense that we’re in a community. These were deliberate to slowly expand the universe and the language of the movies. It didn’t feel like a huge risk, but just felt like something that would be natural.
MTV: Is that the direction in which you see the series moving? More about how the mythology bleeds into other families and new areas?
OP: Well, even if I knew exactly, I wouldn’t want to tell you because we like to keep everything under wraps when it comes to our future development. So I wouldn’t want to give anything away as to what we’re planning in the future.
MTV: We’re definitely to see “Paranormal Activity 5” as this point though, as we’ve heard.
OP: Yes, it’s been announced.
MTV: Can you say, at the very least, if we’re going to see Katie Featherstone return?
OP: Unfortunately, I’m not able to say anything about the sequels.
MTV: People are very interested in the Latin spinoff that’s been talked about. What was the decision behind moving into this area with a spinoff?
OP: I won’t be able to address that.
Those Creepy Kids
MTV: You really work with some great child actors in Paranormal Activity 4. How did you know that Kathryn Newton, Brady Allen, and Aiden Lovekamp would be the right fit for the film?
OP: For “Paranormal Activity 2”, “3,” and “4,” we had a fantastic casting director who really gets what we’re looking for which is actors that aren’t necessarily good at reading lines, but can actually become the characters, take on their personality, and improvise their dialogue. It’s a very strange and unusual casting process where, instead of acting out scenes and reading lines from a memorized script, we just throw them in all these random situations and interview them. Through this process, we end up finding extremely talented actors. Both kids and adults. It’s a very rigorous process that takes many months. We hold our auditions nationwide and go through thousands of people. We do a lot of mixing and matching and chemistry tests. It’s not an easy process, but it helps us always end up with a really terrific cast. I think that’s one of the reasons that the franchise, as a whole, keeps on working because the acting is always believable and relatable.
“Paranormal Activity 4” is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.