Oren Peli wrote and directed the very first Paranormal Activity movie, which went on to enjoy enormous success – grossing $193 million from its $15,000 budget. Now principally a producer, Peli has brought to the screen not only all the Paranormal Activity sequels, but has also produced both Insidious films, The Bay, Chernobyl Diaries and Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem.
Out in UK cinemas now, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is the latest instalment in the haunting Paranormal Activity series. The new film follows a brand new family, The Fleeges - father Ryan (Chris J. Murray), mother Emily (Brit Shaw) and their young daughter Leila (Ivy George) - who move into a house and discover a video camera and a box of tapes in the garage. When they look through the camera’s lens, they begin to see the paranormal activity happening around them - including the re-emergence of young Kristi and Katie from the third movie.
We caught up with Oren to talk about Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, as well as the making of the original Paranormal Activity and it’s unparalleled success;. We also discuss whether the first film is a love triangle between Katie, Micah and the demon; and what he would do if he discovered his own house was haunted.
Where does Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension fit into the series timeline? It looks like it relates to part 3, as well as introducing a new family.
Yes, we are moving forwards in time. So the main story line is taking place later in the timeline than the previous instalment, but there is a connection between the events of Paranormal 3, and a little bit after Paranormal 3, so… I don’t want to get into too many details, because I don’t want to spoil it, but we are definitely kind of hopping back and forth in time between the present and the late 80’s, and early 90’s, to follow up on Katie and Kristi - the little girls.
I love the updated mode of spirit photography it looks like The Ghost Dimension uses. Was that something that captured your imagination too?
This was an idea that the studio had. The thinking was, “What can we do with this particular sequel to both stay true and consistent with the style and the story of the previous instalment, but also to provide something new and fresh?” So the idea was to have a new visual component that meant for the first time we’re going to show something new that we never had before, and that it will be interesting and exciting for the audience to finally see how the activity happens in the house, and to see the final form of the demon in this story.
Having written and directed the first Paranormal Activity, has it been difficult to not direct any of the subsequent films yourself?
No. I mean… The first one took a lot of effort. It took me three years to make, and then two years to get the distribution. By the time it came out and was successful, I had been doing it for more than four years, so I was more than ready to let someone else take over the creative effort and direct it. I’m very happy with the way that things have worked out.
How much of a surprise was the enormous success of the first film – making $193m on a $15,000 budget?
That was definitely surreal and amazing and crazy! The odds were against me: that I would buy a video camera and run around my house, and film a movie! I didn’t have any connections to Hollywood, or any hope that the movie would get any attention, so to have it released by a major studio and to be successful was amazing. I’m always grateful to the fans who always supported it from the very beginning.
I recently heard the first Paranormal Activity described as a love triangle between Micah, Katie and the demon, and really like that idea. Was that something intentional, and if not, what do you think of that theory?
That’s actually very cool! I don’t think I’ve ever heard it described that way, but I do think there’s something there. When I created it, I never imagined it as a love triangle, but there’s definitely a battle for Katie between the demon and Micah – who’s trying to protect her – but that’s a very cool way of thinking about it! I’ll use it in the future!
How hands on a Producer are you? Do you like to be very hands on, or give the director freedom; or is the key to try and juggle both?
When it comes to the Paranormal [Activity] sequels, I’m more hands off – I show up to story meetings, and I might go to the set to visit, but I try not to get in the way of the directors or the writers and give them the freedom to bring their own vision to the movie they’re working on. So I try not to meddle too much.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
These movies are really hard and challenging to make - the creative process of coming up with a story and it making sense, then kind of overseeing the whole process. Then, when you finally get to watch it with an audience of real people and fans, and to hear the reaction and to hear them scream and moaning and groaning, then it becomes very rewarding. It’s like: “Oh good. It was all worth it!”
You returned to directing to do Area 51. What was it about that project that made you want to direct again?
I have a lot to say about Area 51, but I’m saving all that for a later time.
Okay. What would you do if you discovered your own house was haunted?
I’m a sceptic, so I don’t really personally believe in the supernatural. So I would get an electrician, a plumber… anyone that I could think of to find out what was really going on, ‘cause I wouldn’t believe that something supernatural was happening.
What are your plans for Halloween?
I have a newborn, so we’re just going to have a mellow evening at home with family.
What are your favourite “classic” and modern horror films? What do you revisit, what do you draw inspiration from?
I would say the movies that had the most effect on me were The Exorcist, which I watched as a kid, and it totally terrified me for the rest of my childhood. More recently, it was The Blair Witch Project, which I loved as a horror movie because it is very scary and effective, but also because it inspired me with the style in which it was done – as a found footage movie. Up until that point, I didn’t know that you could make a movie on that style. I thought if you wanted to make a movie you had to have connections to Hollywood, you had to have official financing. Then I went and saw The Blair Witch Project, and read about how it was made, and it got me thinking that if I ever had an idea for a movie that I could shoot in that style, then I could just buy a video camera and make my own movie.
Can you tell me more about that first exposure to scary films?
I wasn’t into horror films, but, as a kid in Israel, I begged my parents to let me watch The Exorcist. I kept on begging to watch until they said: “Okay. Fine. You’ll learn the hard way”. So I watched it and about halfway through I told them: “Okay. I’m done. I can’t continue watching”. Then I had nightmares that night, and couldn’t sleep well for a few weeks. I was so traumatised that for the rest of my childhood, I didn’t watch any movies that had anything to do with ghosts, or hauntings, or demons. I didn’t even watch Ghostbusters when it came out – because I was still so traumatised by anything to do with ghosts. So it wasn’t really until my twenties that I got back to watching horror movies.
If you could produce a dream project, with an unlimited budget, and you could cherry pick any director and stars you wanted, what would that be?
Well, you know I actually have a few ideas, but I don’t want to mention them as I might end up making them! So, for now, I’ll stay mum on the subject!
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is in UK cinemas now.