If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman first won notice—and sparked
a lot of debate—with CATFISH, a documentary about a Facebook friendship that
takes some very odd turns, which led some to question the veracity of what they
were seeing. It thus seemed a natural leap for the duo to make their Hollywood
debut with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, the third in the hit series that applies vérité
stylings to suburban-haunting material. Fango spoke to the directing duo about
putting fresh spins on the franchise, keeping it real and what they have coming
In PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, which opens today worldwide (see
our review here),
we’re taken back to 1988 to meet sisters Katie and Kristi when they were little
girls, and the malevolent spirits first came calling. This time, the action is
presented as footage shot by their stepfather Dennis, a professional
videographer who finds himself taping stuff that’s a lot scarier than his usual
weddings and bar mitzvahs…
FANGORIA: How much of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’s story did you
two come up with, and how much was already on the page on Christopher Landon’s
HENRY JOOST: It’s hard to say. It was really a total
collaboration between us, Chris and the producers. A lot of people weighed in.
There are a number of things that we developed with Chris and then brought to
the group, like the Bloody Mary stuff and the fan-cam and things like that; the
crazy thing that happens in the kitchen…
FANG: There were quite a number of producers on the movie;
were there ever any problems having so many different creative minds involved?
JOOST: They all have their different skills and solve
different types of problems, so they didn’t really overlap responsibilities.
Akiva Goldsman was the story guru; if you ever had a story problem, you talked
to Akiva, because he’s a genius. Oren Peli was like the authenticity expert. If
anything ever didn’t feel real, Oren was the one who raised that flag. He was
very sensitive about things feeling too much like a movie, and not like real
life. And Jason Blum was just the problem-solver on set. So they’re all
FANG: This movie is set at a time when home video was not
nearly as advanced as it is today. Was it difficult coming up with a look
that’s cinematic and yet feels authentic to that period?
ARIEL SCHULMAN: Yeah, it was. We wanted it to look and feel
like VHS, and we considered shooting it on VHS. But the studio wasn’t really
interested in releasing a 4x3 analog movie [laughs].
JOOST: We tested it, but it got pretty tiring to watch after
a while. Everybody’s got an HD TV in their house, and movies look so great now;
watching a VHS image would get pretty old fast.
SCHULMAN: So we agreed on basically layering a filter on top
of HD footage. But one of the eureka moments was how to deal with seeing the
camera operator in the mirror, which happens in a lot of scenes. So we took a
small HD lipstick camera and put it down the barrel of an old VHS camera, so
when Dennis is taping himself and it looks completely like a VHS camera, it’s
recording to an HD chip inside.
FANG: Making Dennis a professional videographer helps
explain why he has more advanced equipment than your typical family would at
JOOST: Yeah. We needed to justify him having more cameras.
Now, in 2011, filming all the time is not so weird. Everybody’s doing it. But
in ’88, it was unusual, but this is a guy who films for a living and makes
other people’s home videos better. He’s a little bit better of a filmmaker than
Micah in the first movie, who was just a guy who went out and bought a camera.
SCHULMAN: The conceit of the story is obviously that the
main character needs to shoot the action himself, almost every scene. So to
have the character be inclined to videotape it all helps motivate why the
scenes are being filmed—which was a question we had to ask every single day.
“OK, that scene sounds great for story, sounds great for a scare—but who’s
filming it, and why?” If you’ve got a character who’s slightly obsessive, then
you’re off to a good start. Basically, that’s how our lives work, that’s us.
That’s how CATFISH came to be.
FANG: What went into casting Dennis, and also the young
Katie and Kristi?
JOOST: A lot. Terri Taylor did the casting, and she’s
amazing. The thing we were worried about the most was the little girls, because
you always hear, “Don’t work with kids, they’re so difficult.” We were like,
“This whole movie is about the kids, so if they aren’t great, what are we gonna
do?” We met Chloe Csengery and Jessica Brown, and in the audition they were
already like sisters. They were from different parts of the country, but they
just bonded, and blew us away, they were so good. We spent months with them,
they were great at improv and they’re just the coolest, most talented kids.
SCHULMAN: They only had six hours on set a day, which forced
us to be extremely efficient and prepared. And fortunately, so were they.
They’d come in, we’d explain the scene once and Jessica—who’s 6 years old—she’s
got it. We wouldn’t even know if she was listening, and she’d be like, “I got
it!” and then she just nailed it. You gave her a note, and she’d adjust. She’s 6!
FANG: There are moments in the first film where you see a
photo of young Katie. Was it difficult finding a girl who looked like that
photo, or was that even a concern?
JOOST: Yeah, that was a concern.
SCHULMAN: Yeah, because people know what Katie looked like
as a girl. It’s in both the previous movies.
JOOST: We recreate that photo, the taking of it, in our
movie. It’s an amazing match.
FANG: Most of the scares in the film were staged live,
without the use of CGI…
JOOST: Yeah. There’s a little bit of enhancement. Not CGI
really, but computer postproduction stuff. But by and large, everything’s
SCHULMAN: The last scare in the movie is, I think, the most
shocking. It happens really fast, but it’s horrifying, and it’s completely
JOOST: I’m sure most people will assume it’s some kind of
computer trick, but it’s not.
FANG: Was it difficult staging those gags in a way that fit
the spontaneous nature of the visual storytelling?
JOOST: That was a real challenge, because we couldn’t just
say, “This is the perfect place for the camera to be for this thing to happen.”
The camera is where it is a lot of the time, or the character who’s shooting is
not expecting something to happen. That was one of these flags Oren would
raise, that it couldn’t feel too much like a movie. It couldn’t feel like we
were staging stuff for the camera. It was a very fine line.
FANG: Was there any concern about the little actresses
becoming scared for real while you were shooting?
JOOST: Yeah, we were very concerned about that. We’d talk to
their moms a lot. Before we’d shoot scenes, we’d explain it to them, and they’d
watch the special effects guys set things up so they knew how everything
worked. If they understood the mechanics of it, it wasn’t scary for them.
SCHULMAN: In the Bloody Mary scene that’s in the trailer,
Jessica’s mom was actually in the closet in the bathroom, to make her feel more
safe. She was scared about that moment in the dark, where there’s this really
intense, bright light for a moment. So we went in there first and did it, and
she and Chloe went out and directed the scene, put on the headphones and called
“Action! Cut!” It’s kind of like, I once heard that Werner Herzog, if an actor
was ever scared or was going to be put through something uncomfortable, Herzog
would do it himself first. So we went in first. And it was very scary [laughs].
FANG: One of the fun things about PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is
how much the story is integrated into that of the original; it’s really a
companion piece, as opposed to just a sequel or prequel. Was there ever any
discussion of integrating the past and present more?
SCHULMAN: Yeah. I think everyone wanted to work Katie
Featherston into the movie as much as possible, just because she’s sort of the
core of the franchise, and she’s a great actress and people just love her.
There was always talk about somehow working her in, which we do a little bit.
FANG: You also include more humor than in the previous
SCHULMAN: That was literally the first thing we said when we
showed up at our Paramount for our first interview. We said, “Guys…”
JOOST: “This one has to be funny.”
SCHULMAN: “Yeah. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page
here. This is the third installment of a horror franchise. It better be funny.”
And that got us off on the right foot.
FANG: Was it difficult achieving that balance, especially
given the way you were shooting the movie?
JOOST: Not really. Our actors were really funny; a couple of
them have done improv comedy. And I’ve come to realize that horror and comedy
are actually very similar, timing-wise. They’re both about building tension and
then releasing that tension. So we have scenes where it’s really scary, and
then you’re laughing, and then you’re really scared again, and then you’ll
FANG: Do you think there could be a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4,
and do you think you could bring something fresh to that as well?
SCHULMAN: Yeah. There are definitely some unanswered
questions at the end of this. We’ll see how it goes, and how people react.
These movies are sort of a response to the audience’s response, and a lot of it
is built around what the audience wants. So if it feels like there are enough
unanswered questions for us to come up with more mythology, then we’ll take a
stab at it.
FANG: Do you have any other horror-oriented projects in the
SCHULMAN: We’re putting together a low-budget New York City
horror-thriller. About all we can say is that it would be half found footage,
and it’s about two teens in New York City. It would be pretty unique.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment