Oren Peli is largely responsible for the popularity and success of the found footage sub-genre as we know it today. While he wasn’t the first filmmaker to try his hand at the POV filmmaking style, he did open the floodgates and demonstrate the viability of the technique. What followed was a legion of found footage films with varying degrees of technique and success.
After directing the first entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise and going on to produce subsequent installments in that series, as well as producing heavy hitting horror offerings like Insidious, OrenPeli has stepped away from filmmaking and is shifting his focus to app creation. Peli helped create the event finding app Spot and has most recently lent his creative talents to the augmented reality (AR) app ‘Night Terrors: Bloody Mary’.
‘Night Terrors: Bloody Mary’ drops users right into the middle of a horror survival game. Players will see their reality augmented by the presence of spirits, ghouls and other unsavory creatures.
The app uses iPhone technology to deliver a unique, customized experience to each user. Your mobile device’s camera, LED light, and 360 audio all play into the experience. The app uses player’s phones to display sinister messages, phone calls, videos, and photos.
Wicked Horror had the occasion to chat with Oren Peli about his involvement with the chilling ‘Night Terrors: Bloody Mary’ AR experience and also got his take on how Paranormal Activity helped to kickstart the found footage phenomenon.
Wicked Horror: The ‘Bloody Mary’ app is described as delivering a customized user experience. What makes the app different from user to user?
Oren Peli: One of the things that I think is kind of groundbreaking about the app is that it uses the layout of your house and your home becomes the scene of the experience. So, that is one of the things that sets us apart is that your own home becomes the location of the story. It uses some sophisticated technology that I can’t take credit for–it senses where the walls and furniture and doors are in your house and customizes the story to the layout of your home.
Wicked Horror: Very cool. Speaking to the genesis and the creation of the app, how hands on were you with the creative process?
Oren Peli: My contribution was mostly in the creative area. The technology was already developed. There was a previous version that was quite successful. For the second version, when I came on board, my main contribution was with creating a scary atmosphere, the storyline, and things of that nature. I was like the scare consultant, or something like that. I also helped with marketing ideas and stuff like that.
Wicked Horror: As someone involved with the app and the creation of the scares, when you tried it out, did you manage to scare yourself or did you pretty much know what was coming?
Oren Peli: It was a little bit of both. One of the rewards of being involved with cool projects is when it gets you. With Paranormal Activity, which I was very, very close to–I filmed it and directed it and edited every frame of it–so, Paranormal Activity never scared me. But the first time I watched Insidious, which I was definitely involved in and I knew the script and I was on set–but the first time I saw it assembled together it made me jump, even though I knew it was coming. That’w when I knew that we were onto something. With ‘Night Terrors’, even though I knew the storyline and what to expect, the way you play the game, you play with headphones that immerse you and you’re looking at the screen on your phone and there are some effects and scares that got me that will hopefully get everyone else.
Wicked Horror: That’s high praise coming from one of the creators. Very cool.
Oren Peli: Hopefully someone who wasn’t close to the project will be even more scared. We don’t want people to fall in their house or get injured or have heart attacks. But it’s a much more intense experience. If you’re watching a movie, you’re more passive about it. You’re sitting in a comfy chair. You’re watching things happen on the screen. If it’s done right, it can still be very effective. But when you’re feeling like you’re walking through the story, you’re an active participant and things jump at you, that kind of takes it to the next level.
Wicked Horror: I’m excited to have you on the phone because there is something that has always fascinated me about Paranormal Activity. The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. Paranormal Activity didn’t get a wide theatrical release until 2009. But there really wasn’t much in-between. In a lot of ways, it was like your film gave birth to the found footage genre as we know it. The Blair Witch Project was highly successful, scrappy, and followed a lot of the same principles as your film. But it didn’t start a craze. So, I wonder what you think it was about Paranormal Activity that helped stimulate the found footage boom?
Oren Peli: That’s a fantastic question. I was going through the exact same thought process. When I watched Blair Witch Project, it blew my mind on so many levels. I read about it and by the time I watched it, I knew it wasn’t real footage and I knew everything behind the scenes and how they filmed the movie. But, when I watched it, I thought it was so effective and so scary. Even knowing everything, I could only imagine what goes through the mind of someone that didn’t know as much about the background. It was done so well and the scares were so effective because of the minimalistic approach, because it was found footage, because you never saw the witch–and more than anything else, it just blew my mind because back then I was a video game programmer in San Diego. I didn’t know much about filmmaking and I figured that to make a movie you needed a big studio with big stars and millions of dollars. And here is this kid from Florida who bought a video camera, ran around in the woods, and made a movie, and I watched it in the theater. I didn’t know you could make movies that way. And the success of The Blair Witch Project opened the door to a whole new style of movies that I love. So, I waiting year after year for the found footage movies to come out and there was nothing. It was in 2005 that I started thinking about Paranormal Activity, and thinking, ‘Hey, maybe I can do it.’ I was asking myself the exact same question that you asked me. What happened to all the found footage movies that should have come after Blair Witch Project. After all, it’s such a great format. You make a cheap movie, it makes a quarter of a billion dollars. What happened? I saw that there were some weak attempts to make found footage movies but they were never done right. They were never fully committed to the found footage experience. So, they kind of pretended to be found footage but the actors were scripted, they weren’t allowed to improvise. The end result wasn’t believable as found footage. With found footage, either you are 100% committed or don’t bother. There’s no in-between. When I was set up to do Paranormal Activity, I said, ‘I’m not going to try to fudge the formula. Whatever Blair Witch did, they did it right.’ I basically kind of followed the footsteps. I did a similar audition process to find people who can improvise. I let the actors do the actual filming. And all the things that worked for The Blair Witch Project, I just tried to follow their lead and didn’t try to be smarter than them. When we were doing sequels for Paranormal Activity, one of the rules was that we didn’t start anything until we answered questions about why they are filming and why they are holding the camera. We had to answer all these questions honestly because the audience can smell bullshit. You have to be 100% committed to the found footage format.
Wicked Horror: Thanks so much for talking with us.
Oren Peli: Thank you.