Few people ever get to have a year such as Oren Peli. A year ago, we’d wager most hadn’t heard of him. But after the massive success of Paranormal Activity, he’s suddenly a man very much in demand. And as Paranormal Activity arrives in the UK, he spared us some time for a chat…
I can’t begin to imagine what an insane year you must have had. We’ve read lots of stories over here about the big-name filmmakers showing interest in the film and offering advice. But from your point of view, when did you get the first inkling that this was working, this was going somewhere?
It was actually a long process because I was editing the movie for a long time. I started it in 2006 and I spent about a year editing it. During the time that I was editing the film, I was showing different rough cuts to people. Early, early on it kind of touched a nerve, and I noticed people were responding extremely. They were saying it was giving them nightmares and that they were not able to sleep.
Then later when we started showing the movie in festivals and at more public screenings, we were still getting that response. Then we started thinking maybe we’re onto something here.
The film did give an impression that someone had spent the time shaping it, tuning the little moments. It’s that level of tuning that you presumably spent all that time working on?
Yeah. Part of the reason was it took a long time to edit was that this is the first thing I’ve edited. I was also doing it in my spare time, I had a full time job. Also, as you said, the whole process of fine tuning, timing, figuring out the pacing, that was very time consuming. A lot of trial and error.
When Paramount decided to release the film theatrically, I read that quite a few changes took place then. The ending is the one we know about. What else did you tune in the guts of the film when Paramount came on board?
Really not that much. Other than the ending. The main thing was just an overall tightening of the pacing. We cut out a few things, but no significant things. A couple of things that happen during the day.
Do you have a favourite ending?
I like both of them for different reasons. I like my original ending with the police because I think it makes sense and it gives the film more of a sense of realism. The theatrical ending, which is a little over the top, visually it does generate a huge response with audiences. It gives them the best scare of the movie.
I read about the stories about how you’d adapted your house to accommodate shooting the film there. I’m just wondering: have you put it up for sale yet? You’d get quite a price!
No, that’s my house, I’m not selling it!
Are you getting lots of interest, though? People walking by and staring in, things like that?
We had a few when the movie came out.
We’re not going to see it on the Universal Studios backlot next to the Psycho house at some point?
I hope not.
Hollywood loves low budget success stories. Have any major blockbuster offers or franchises come your way in the wake of the film’s success?
Yeah, I did have quite a few interesting projects suggested to me. Real studios and producers. At the moment I have my hands full, though.
Is that something you’re open to in the future?
Yeah, in the future, I’m up for anything that makes sense.
Is perhaps one of the most gratifying things about the film the announcement that Paramount made that it’s now going to seriously get into funding micro-budget films, as a result of Paranormal Activity‘s success?
Yeah, I think it’s great, and a very smart idea. Those micro-budget films may end up becoming hits. It’s a very small risk with potentially very high reward.
Are you likely to be involved in any of those at all, or is it entirely Paramount?
That’s entirely Paramount.
The question a lot of our readers wanted us to put to you was about the sequel, which there’s a lot of chatter about at the moment. In the build-up to the release of Paranormal Activity, you talked about the films that influenced you: the original Haunting, Rosemary’s Baby, films like that. You don’t strike me as someone particularly who’d go towards horror sequels as a rule? What are your feelings on Paranormal Activity 2?
As a policy, anything to do with any project that I may or may not be involved in, my policy is to have no comment on it. Sorry, I can’t help you there.
Can I ask then, in the future, is Paranormal Activity something you’d want to personally revisit? Maybe ten, 20 years down the line, in the same way that the original Blair Witch guys are talking about going back to that?
I have no idea! I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in a few months, so I’ve no idea what I’m going to be doing in ten years.
The other project I wanted to ask you about is Area 51, which I presume is what you’ve got your hands full with at the moment?
As I said before, I can’t comment on any projects that may or may not progress.
Paranormal Activity is something that you created, you conceived, and for the last two to three years it’s completely enveloped your life. Did you find it tough to let go, and pass it out to an audience? Did it feel any less yours?
No, it was great. It was a huge sense of relief that it was finally happening, and it was extremely rewarding to see the audience and fans embracing it. So it was great. It was nothing but positive.
You talked about the editing of the film, and the shaping of it. Did you literally load up off-the-shelf software for the first time, and taught yourself from scratch?
That’s basically how it was. I got a copy of Sony Vegas. I did some research into which editing programs were easier to learn and a lot of people recommended it. It felt very natural and intuitive, so I trained myself to edit and worked out what I could do on my own, and then set the story around it.
Were there any parts where you needed to bring in help? Or did you manage to figure out all the challenges?
Mostly I figured everything out on my own. At the very end, right before the movie was released, it went through a clean-up pass at Paramount, where they cleaned up the audio and did some colour correction. But everything else up to that point I did on my own, including the special effects and the audio mixing. Some of it took much longer than it would have done with a professional, as I had to learn everything as I went along, but it did feel very rewarding.
I noticed you were using Audacity in the movie. Did you use the same software to sort the sounds out? Was it as we saw it in the film?
I used Audacity for some things, but most of the audio mixing I did from within Sony Vegas.
What have you taken the most from the last year or two, from this extraordinary experience that’s not really happened to any other filmmaker in the last decade?
I think the best memory was going into screening, and seeing the audience response to the movie. The gasps, screams and laughs. That was the most rewarding thing – that fans were getting to see the movie and really responding well to it.
Oren Peli, thank you very much.
Paranormal Activity is on DVD and Blu-ray now.