Exclusive Interview: Creator Oren Peli Takes us to The River
Dread Central was recently invited to a test screening event for ABC's upcoming "The River", which was created by Paranormal Activity mastermind Oren Peli and is being produced by filmmaking icon Steven Spielberg. Before checking out the first two episodes of the brand new series, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Peli about his first episodic television venture, the inspiration behind "The River" and how fans shouldn't expect this show to be anything like another hugely popular ABC series that took place in the jungle (i.e., "Lost").
Peli discussed how "The River" was originally planned to be a feature film, but after further consideration he saw the potential of being able to scare millions of people with his story on a weekly basis.
"I never really planned on branching out into television," explained Peli. "I was barely figuring out the world of movies back when Paranormal Activity was first being released, and I happened to have a lunch meeting with Steven Spielberg - which was mindboggling in itself because I'm getting to meet one of my all-time idols - and while we were sitting there chatting, he says to me, 'We should do a television show together since there hasn't been anything like your style of horror ever done on TV. If you ever have any ideas for a show, let me know.'"
"So I thought about an idea for a show for months and months and really couldn't come up with anything, and then I was hanging out with the writer (Michael R. Perry) from Paranormal Activity 2 and we were chatting about some of the unproduced ideas we had, and there was this one idea we had a while back about a documentary crew that goes missing deep in the Amazon rainforest (there wasn't the river element back then) and we follow the rescue mission going after them. Along the way they find tapes left behind by the original missing crew and there's all this craziness on the tapes where it's hard to tell exactly what happened."
"Michael went crazy for it and suggested we make the story into a television series because there's a lot of rich stories you can tell in the found footage style that goes beyond just a two-hour movie. He had the first script done over the weekend, and then 'The River' was in place, the characters were there - it was pretty amazing how fast he was able to pull it all together. We then brought it to DreamWorks TV and they loved it; we continued to develop it with them and then eventually brought it to the networks to find a home for the show. And the rest is history."
Even though he's had a lot of experience working with found footage projects, Peli discussed some of the challenges of crafting a found footage-style television series versus creating a 90-minute found footage film. "You know, in some aspects it's more of a challenge, and in other aspects it creates a lot of advantages. There are definitely challenges in trying to cram so much stuff into an hour (or really, 45 minutes) and you have to deal with timing everything around commercial breaks and other stuff that can be rather tricky. But since we have more than just one hour, we have an entire season really, to explore characters and stories, that made me realize that we now had more freedom here than we ever had in the movie world."
Even though it seems like networks everywhere are finally embracing genre-infused storytelling now more than ever, we asked Peli if ABC had any reservations about "The River" going "too far".
"Actually, being too gory or too violent was never really a problem for us because that was never our intention with this show - too go really gory or gratuitous - because from the beginning we've always been more about the suspense, the anticipation and the psychological terror these characters are facing," said Peli.
"That doesn't mean we don't have some blood or gore in the show at all, but that's not really the focus of the show. We actually got in more trouble for language because people on the show curse and we bleep out what they're saying, but standards and practices still thought we were doing it too much. That surprised me actually."
"But our biggest concern from the beginning was whether or not whatever network we'd end up at would let us go as dark and as scary as we wanted to in our story, and ABC told us to go as far as we want. They completely embraced the show and told us to go ahead and just run with it the way we wanted to, and that's what we've done," added Peli.
So, what can fans expect when "The River" premieres on ABC on February 7th? The usually tight-lipped Peli wouldn't divulge too much, but he did talk about how viewers shouldn't be expecting to see "Lost 2.0" when the series debuts. "The main thing fans can expect is that this is something very different and unique - both in the way it looks and our approach. I don’t really know of any other documentary-style horror shows that have ever been on network television before so I think we have a chance to do something special here."
"I know a lot of people are already making comparisons to 'Lost', and you know, a lot of us are huge fans of that show because it was such a groundbreaking show that was visually stunning to watch every single week. I can't really tell people just how we're different yet, but once 'The River' gets going, fans will no doubt see that we're so very different than 'Lost'. To me, 'The River' is like getting a one-hour horror movie in your house every week, and that's what makes us stand out a bit I think," added Peli.
With "The River" set to debut in just a few short weeks and with Paranormal Activity 4 on the horizon this October, we asked Peli his thoughts on his amazing career so far and whether or not he'd want to take a shot at another television series down the line.
Peli said, "My career so far has been shocking; it's amazing and it doesn't make any sense really. I feel like I've been incredibly lucky in my career so far, and I'm always thankful to be involved in cool projects like 'The River'. I have no idea what the future holds and I don't have any specific plans at the moment to do other television series right now, but never say never. You just don't know what will happen in the future."
Special thanks to Oren Peli for taking some time to chat with Dread Central, and make sure to check out "The River" when it debuts on ABC on February 7th!
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