The Paranormal Activity series is heading towards its big conclusion with The Ghost Dimension, the first film in the series to come in 3D, and the one that will finally explain what the heck has been going on. As the first trailer for the film is just dropping, I had a chat with producer Jason Blum about the series overall, the promise of this alleged final chapter, and the state of the nation with Blumhouse and their pantheon of responsibly-priced, often risky horror movies. Here’s how the conversation went down.
Who is the overall boss of the Paranormal Activity series? We’ve had different writers and directors come and go, but when it comes to the whole sequence, who is steering the ship?
There are multiple captains. It’s a combination of Oren [Peli] and I, and obviously Paramount – it was Adam Goodman for a long while, now Mark Evans who works for Adam. I would say it’s a triumvirate of Adam, Oren and Paramount across the franchise, and obviously, Greg Plotkin steered the ship as director on the last movie. When we find out these promised answers, the solutions to all of the puzzles we’ve been wondering about, when did these answers come along? How pre-planned is this ending? And who thought of it?
They weren’t pre-planned. We did each movie one at a time, but as we continued, we kept a kind of a bible, a set of rules, and were very careful not to contradict what we had set up in the past. But we kept building the mythology with each movie. The answer to your question… well, you’re hoping for one person but there really wasn’t, it was a group of people. Ashley Brucks was involved from the very beginning, on the first Paranormal Activity, and she has been involved with the story through every one. A guy called Chris Landon has been very involved, but there’s no one single person. I’m not hoping for just one, I promise you. I like the idea of a Paranormal Activity brain trust.
That’s exactly what it is. There’s a group of us who get together and argue every week, all year round. When did the penny drop and you worked out what the pay-off was?
I think there was a general consensus that we wanted this to be the last in the franchise. We think the audience, and all of us, had gotten tired of teasing, we wanted to start showing. We decided to do that before we had written the script and were just at the treatment phase. It was creatively very freeing to not hold anything back and to make the last Paranormal Activity. It’s unusual because horror franchises usually die when they stop making money, but Paramount was behind it and we were behind it, announcing that this was last no matter what the movie does. That gave us a lot of freedom, creatively, to really do something with this movie.
What would it take to convince you to do another one?
A lot of years. It needs a rest. I think that if a new person came up with a new spin on this, many years from now, and it was spectacular… but we need new blood and a lot of time to let it sit and stew. When you’ve spoken to me before you’ve suggested that one of the benefits of the Paranormal series is that you can look at what you’ve shot and then go back for another go, that it’s quite easy to do reshoots on these. Did you take a lot of runs at this last one?
It was a lot harder because it’s in 3D. With 3D it’s not so easy to go back and reshoot, not as much as with the ones in the past. And this time we’re finished, though usually we’d still be shooting at this stage. This time, though the movie’s not done, we’re done with the shooting part and are in post production. That’s very unusual for Paranormal. 3D did not make the production process as nimble as it had been on the past movies. I’m curious as to what the narrative explanation will be for me watching 3D footage this time?
This is the first, only and maybe forever only found footage movie in 3D, but you’re going to have to go to the theatre to see how we explain that. But there is an explanation?
Yes. My mind boggles. So, what do you get for making the film in 3D? It’s more work, it takes more calculation, I’m sure it gave director Greg Plotkin sleepless nights, but what do you gain?
A couple of things. By saying it was the last one, we get to give answers. By doing that in 3D we gain a new tool. One of the challenges is to make each one of these movies feel independent and different, and worth seeing obviously, and not retreading. 3D offered exactly that. I’m still not entirely clear on the relationship of the ancillary Japanese film to this series. Is that folded into the continuity by this last film, or is that forever some kind of outlier?
It has nothing to do with this movie or any of these movies. Truth be told, they got their hands on the rights before we had locked it up. They went off in a very different direction. So this movie references the four previous movies and also Marked Ones. I am forever confused by their marketing on the Japanese film.
You and me both.
What did you learn from the success of The Marked Ones? We don’t see enough films with diverse casts and The Marked Ones was another reminder that the audience is prepared to see much more diverse representations in genre cinema.
I definitely agree with that. It showed exactly that, and we’re making a big effort to show more diverse casts. It really depends on how it’s being handled, but we do make an effort to show that the characters in our movies are like the world is, which is very mixed. I think there’s obviously a bigger audience for that kind of representation.
There’s none so vocal as the horror audience. Are you listening?
The horror audience? I am them. And I do listen to them. They can be very tough, but also very supportive, but you’re right, they can be very vocal. We do listen, though we don’t always follow their advice. Can you cite an example of something that has happened over the sweep of the Paranormal Activity series as a result of audience reaction?
Yeah, I think the last movie happened because of the audience. The fourth movie in particular was like “Guys, enough with the teasing, we want answers.” That was a lot to do with making this the final movie and answering questions instead of posing additional ones. That had a lot to do with listening to the fans.
What are you going to fill this gap with? Paranormal has been a big part of your world for a while.
Well, we’ve got Ouija, Sinister, Insidious and The Purge, and one more franchise that we’re working on. Sinister and Ouija are only on movie two, with Sinister 2 out in August and Ouija 2 we’re going to start shooting in the fall. It’s time for some new ones to come in, and we’ve got plenty of movies to hopefully fill the void. What are the pleasures of a sequel or a series of films?
I love them because, I think, I like working creatively with parameters. All of our movies are lower budget and that makes them more interesting too, we have to come up with solutions other than throwing money at problems. Franchises are kind of the same thing: you have a box that you have to work in where you need to make each film different enough from the previous one so that it feels new, but not so different that it feels like a totally different movie. I wouldn’t be creatively satisfied if all we did were sequels, but in the same breath, I’ll say that I wouldn’t be creatively satisfied if everything was an original. It’s good to use the different parts of my brain. Very different rules apply. Why is your Amityville film slipping away from me? Everytime I think I’m going to see it, it vanishes into the future.
It’s really true, isn’t it? We did re-date it. One of the things is that you need to space out scary movies. There was one date where there we scary movies too close on each side, though particularly before it, so I pushed it. We’re also still futzing with it, it’s not completely done, but it will be coming out next year, I promise. What do you think of the changing distribution landscape? I saw Creep at a festival and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it again, and now I know my next chance will be via Netflix. That left me scratching my head a little. What do you think about this shift, particularly in respect to the kind of films you make?
I think distribution is in flux and it will continue this way until windows are addressed in some way or another. I don’t think the windowing system will last forever, and until that change shifts, I think that distribution will be in flux. It’s getting more efficient and healthier. Four or five years ago, if you didn’t get a theatrical release there was almost no market for your movie, and now a movie like Creep is a good example. We’ve got a healthy deal with Netflix and there’s great distribution. People won’t get to see it in the theatre, but at least they’ll get to see the movie.
When DVD disappeared but before digital distribution came on strong there were a few years where a movie that didn’t get theatrical would just be gone. It’s definitely better than it was, though I still think it’s going to… well, the internet is bringing efficiencies to all sorts of industries, and they’re coming to the movie business.
Is it opening any particular possibilities that weren’t there before?
Definitely. I think movies have been slightly waning in cultural importance, as compared to television, but I think that when this distribution issue gets sorted out there will be a resurgence in the 90-100 minute storytelling format, for sure. What happened to the idea of Creep 2 and 3? Have they gone away now?
They haven’t gone away… we were originally with Radius and they had packaged to do one, two and three. We moved to Netflix, where we only did a deal for one, but if Netflix wants another one, I think Mark [Brice] and I would love to do it, but there isn’t a definite plan like there was with Radius, you’re right about that. When I think of M. Night Shyamalan [director of upcoming Blumhouse release, The Visit], I think of clever, deliberate cinematic language. What has he brought to found footage?
Well, he doesn’t actually even call it found footage. I think he’s right not to. When you see the movie you’ll see that it’s hard to describe his version… I guess the shots are much more composed. It feels like a Night movie, especially one of his when he was going more thriller, his earlier movies. It is found footage, but you’ll almost forget it’s found footage. The shots are incredibly composed but what I love about this movie is that it’s not self conscious so you won’t realise that. You’re going to realise it now that I said it.
For better or for worse, I think we’re coming to the end of seeing as much found footage as we’re going to see, but I think that what Night did with The Visit takes it to another place. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited by this movie when I saw the rough cut. You’ll see that his stamp is very much on it and it doesn’t feel anything like the other found footage movies we’ve done or I’ve seen. There’s been a lot of “You’ll see” in this conversation, so I’m going to go away rapt in suspense. A pleasure as always.
Me too. Thanks again. Thank you Jason Blum.