Paranormal Activity 2 only came out last October, so there was an extremely fast turnaround time for you guys to finish this one for a Halloween-pegged release. Did you guys have any prep time at all after you signed on to direct the movie?
Henry Joost: We had to start like six hours later. [Laughs.] We got a phone call, we were on a plane at seven in the morning the next day, we landed and then went straight to Paramount at, like, ten at night for a casting session, and it never let up from there.
Ariel Schulman: It basically didn’t stop until last week. [Laughs.] It was about five, six months’ worth of simultaneous writing, shooting, and editing.
And was that overwhelming?
Henry Joost: It was everything—it was exciting, it was difficult, it was challenging, it was a lot of fun. But it was just non-stop. Like [Ariel] said, it’s unusual to be writing, shooting, and editing all at the same time, but, also, really good things emerge from that.
Being that you were shooting in a normal-looking suburban house, did you have to keep the production a secret from the rest of the neighborhood?
Ariel Schulman: Yeah, people thought we were making a mayonnaise commercial. [Laughs.] It was very low-profile. We all had code names, we had a cell-phone jammer on the block. Finding the house was actually pretty tough, because it’s 1988 and we needed to find something that would just transport you to the mid '80s instantly. And most people have renovated their houses since 1988. [Laughs.] So we found this house not too far out from the city that hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1984. You walk in and you’re immediately transported back to your childhood.
Henry Joost: It felt like we walked into one of our childhood friend’s houses.
Ariel Schulman: Exactly. For us, the two young characters, Katie and Kristi, are the exact same ages we were at this period in time, which is really exciting. So all of the props and the sets took us back to childhood. You could tell immediately if something was inauthentic. Everyone who came on set felt like they’d gone back in time.
How far did you guys take it with the authentic props? As far as finding an old Teddy Ruxpin doll?
Ariel Schulman: Wait, what made you say Teddy Ruxpin?
Oh, because that’s what the toy I identify with from that time period.
Ariel Schulman: It’s funny you say that, because he happens to be a co-star. [Laughs.] He was wonderful to work with, actually. He’d always repeat his lines the exact same way, almost like he was pre-recorded.
[Laughs.] I was six years old back in 1988, so the little girls in the film seem to be about the same age as I would have been.
Henry Joost: Yeah, us, too, actually.
Ariel Schulman: You’re gonna love it, then. We’ve got Teddy Ruxpin, we’ve got Lite-Brite, we’ve got glow worms, we’ve got Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids…even Mr. Wizard.
How about My Pet Monster? That was a personal favorite of mine.
Henry Joost: Yeah, definitely. I remember that. But I don’t think girls played with it. [Laughs.] So it didn’t make the cut for the movie.
Fair enough—their loss, though. One of the film’s aspects that critics seem to really appreciate is the idea of having the father character put a camera on an oscillating fan, something that’s never been done before in any found-footage movie. Was that completely your idea?
Ariel Schulman: Yeah, the “fan cam.” That was something we brought to the project. We were really inspired by this moment in Rosemary’s Baby, where, I can’t remember if it was Mia Farrow or Ruth Gordon…. Wait, it’s Mia Farrow on the bed.
Henry Joost: She’s sitting on the edge of the bed and talking on the phone.
Ariel Schulman: Yeah, that’s it. The camera is focused on the other characters, two rooms down away from her, and you can’t quite make out what Mia Farrow is doing through the frame of the door. But very famously during the early screenings, the entire audience would lean to the left and try to poke their heads around the door-frame and see what she was doing. We thought that was so cool, so we were trying to come up with this method of doing something like that in a Paranormal movie.
Paranormal is a very interactive film, and we wanted the audience to sort of have to physically adjust in their seats to have to catch up with the frame. So we started designing these sequences with the writer, Chris Landon, that were built around just missing things, and the three of us arrived at the idea of this “fan cam,” which is a device built by the character in the film in order to catch what he’s been missing.
That’s really clever, because these movies are all about the audience knowing that something’s coming but the filmmakers screwing with that expectation as much as possible.
Henry Joost: Yeah, we tried to subvert expectations in almost every scene.