We caught up with Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, directors of Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 and 4 as they discuss the pressures of the franchise, the state of found footage and even get caught browsing the website during the interview.
You can read our review of the film on the site later, and check out our interview with Producer Jason Blum right here.
What is the premise for Paranormal Activity 4? Where are we in the timeline of the franchise?
Ariel: What is unique about it with its premise is that it’s a new family. This demon, this curse, this haunting affects more than the family you’ve known through the first three films. The big question is how they are connected. It follows the second film chronologically. This film takes place in 2011.
Coming to the franchise from Catfish, how do you think your experiences making that film helped to prepare you for making a found footage horror film?
Henry: Well, we’ve made documentaries for many years so having made documentaries, we can take that eye and ear for authenticity and apply it to found footage film. We also happen to be in real life, as you can see in Catfish, a lot like the characters in this movie who film themselves all the time and film their lives like documentarians. We can relate to that and give that to the characters.
Paranormal Activity was well received by most fans. Did you feel added pressure returning to the franchise after having such a successful debut? [Music begins playing loudly in the background]
A: [Laughing] Oh god. [Music continues to play]
I didn’t know you could play the piano.
[Music cuts out]
A: I’m so embarrassed. You want to hear what just happened.
A: All right. I just went onto HeyUGuys.co.uk for fun and immediately, there was a link with a picture of Sharon Stone with her legs crossed and it’s like ‘Top Ten Most Paused Movie Moments’.
Unfortunately, I missed out on doing that feature.
A: Then it was like, Jennifer Lopez showing her butt in The Back-Up Plan so I thought god I better turn the sound off, but since we’re on Google Call it turned all the sound on.
Well, we can always go back to that after this. But yeah, did you feel added pressure returning to the franchise after having such a successful debut?
H: Yeah we did.
A: Yeah, tremendous.
H: Yeah, a lot of pressure. We really thought long and hard about what we could do to expand the mythology and how to do things that people hadn’t seen before.
Found footage seems to be starting to wear thin on a lot of critics. Do you think there is still life in the genre?
H: Yeah, I think there is absolutely life still in it. Saying that found footage is over is sort of like saying the mock documentary is over or the movie-with-a-movie is over or the thriller is over. I think a lot of what people are responding to is that it’s a really tricky genre and it really needs some significant innovation to keep going.
As moviegoers, are you guys fans of found footage yourselves?
H: Yeah, I think it’s got a lot of the built-in elements that a horror movie needs. The main one being a strong point of view and also realism. Especially today, with Paranormal 4, one of the exciting things we can do is use modern technology for the first time in one of these movies. So using little cameras and Skype and Xbox Kinect and a lot of things that a lot of people have in their houses and I think that makes the movie really relatable.
Would you identify the technical innovations as one of the biggest evolutions in the found footage genre since it’s origins with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust and later The Blair Witch Project?
A: People are filming themselves more and more and more everyday and we are being filmed more and more, especially in the UK with security cameras everywhere. Being photographed and being on video is such a commonplace thing and it probably happens hundreds of times a day for most people. I think that just makes the genre stronger and stronger.
Would you say that PA3 and PA4 are a good reflection of what scares you in horror films?
A: Yeah. I think that what we try and do is to make ordinary things really scary or try to remind people how scary ordinary things are. We try to tap into just the most basic fears. In Paranormal Activity 4, one of those fears is the fear of a sharp knife.
Halloween is approaching. What would you say are your favourite horror movies?
H: We love Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.
Are you happy with the news about there being an Evil Dead remake?
A: Oh no, I couldn’t care less.
H: I’m not sure how I feel about that.
A: Who’s doing it?
I’m not sure about the director but I know Diablo Cody is one of the scriptwriters.
H: Interesting. I guess Evil Dead II is a great remake of Evil Dead so maybe this one will be just as great.
What do you make of the trend for remakes? Do you take every film on its own merit or you against it?
A: No, I think we’re generally against it. We get a lot of scripts for all these remakes of some of our favourite films like Carrie and even like Total Recall. I mean come on, it’s crazy, these films were perfect the first time around. It hasn’t even been that long.
H: They are even remaking Tell No One, that perfect French thriller.
Have you had any approaches from people to do anything with Catfish?
A: We were approached to turn it into a narrative. We said no but we have turned it into a reality TV show starring my brother. That actually comes out on MTV in like two weeks. It follows other people’s love stories, Americans that have fallen in love online and have yet to meet.
Will that come to MTV UK?
A: Tell them you want it.
You co-directed the film. How do you split directorial duties?
A: Pretty smoothly actually. We sort of discuss everything beforehand so that we can sort of split up and one of us can deal with actors and one of us will deal with actors and one of us will deal with the camera department or the studio. We trust each other explicitly.
Do you ever have many disagreements while making the film?
A: I think any disagreements usually just lead to arriving at a better idea. We never allow it to compromise. We always just make sure that whoever is usually more passionate about the idea usually wins. If Henry completely believes in something, I trust his instinct and passion.
What do you think about modern horror at the moment? Is it in a good place?
A: I do think it’s in a pretty good place. The success of this franchise tells me that people were tired of gore and torture and that the Paranormal films have reintroduced an interactive experience where the audience has to participate and work. We give them less and so the frame is their palette to explore and investigate. If that means there’s less blood and more tension, I think that’s a good direction for horror films.
Will PA4 continue that pattern of audience manipulation where the viewer can breathe easily during the daylight moments but feel the nerves creep in when the action switches to the night vision cameras?
H: We actually try to do more day scares in this film. But you still feel everybody in the theatre reposition as night falls.
Will we see you guys return for PA5?
A: I guess it all depends on how the audience reacts to this if there will even be a Paranormal Activity 5. It’s very much a fan based franchise.
I spoke to Jason Blum [Producer for the Paranormal Activity franchise] and he spoke of how important the whole mythology of the series is to him. Do you also take the mythology running through the franchise very seriously?
A: Yeah, very seriously. We treat it like an encyclopaedia. We need to know the facts and we need to know exactly what’s happening and why. Whether or not it’s in the film doesn’t matter as long as we know.
Is the mythology scoped out beyond the fourth film?
A: We have a concept of where this franchise would go through another three or four films, if it gets that far.
What is next for you guys?
A: We are writing and directing an adaptation of The Monkey Wrench Gang for Ed Pressman. It’s a really funny action comedy novel from 1975 and it’s sort of like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak to us.
Paranormal Activity 4 is out in cinemas on October 17th