Recently we had a chance to sit down with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (review) director Christopher Landon to get the scoop on what went into his process of making the latest entry in the highly successful juggernaut franchise. Read on!
“The support of the horror community is essential,” says Landon of films like Paranormal Activity and lower budget features in general. “I’m a horror fanatic and I’ve been going on websites forever. You really have to satisfy your base before you can worry about anything or anyone else.”
“At the end of the day, you can throw as many millions in advertising at a project as you want, but it’s word of mouth that really gets people excited. The success of the first movie especially was a result of the kind of support that the websites gave it.”
“A good portion of these movies are created in the editing room,” Landon adds, talking about the creation of the Paranormal Activity films. “We shoot A LOT of stuff and inevitably always end up taking a good portion of stuff out. There’s just something that happens during the editing process because we are sifting through so much footage. Our editor, Greg Plotkin, who’s going to direct Paranormal Activity 5, has worked on every movie; and he’s become of the master of really being able to distill the essential parts of every scene. He literally has created a style of editing which enables him to make a scare in a cut, which I think is fascinating.”
“A good example of that is there’s a scene in The Marked Ones in which Oscar has just come out of the trap door and he takes off and then Jesse is looking around the apartment and then we go into that bathroom and there’s a shower curtain that moves, and Plotkin stays on it for the longest time and all of a sudden it’s being pushed open. It’s a time cut, but it’s so effective at creating this automatic jump scare.”
Landon continues, “I always try to keep the number of takes to a minimum. There were even times when we only did one take because I felt like we got it. But because we don’t have traditional coverage, we would sometimes shoot some things handheld and sometimes I would just put a camera down and let it run. Sometimes a scene will start out as a static shot and then jump to a handheld shot because we’ve covered it two ways. This particular franchise is a bit like working on a weekly television show as we make them back-to-back without a break. The pace is similar, too. We’re always racing against the clock to finish these movies. We had a little bit more time with The Marked Ones, which was really nice.”
“Every time we start a new movie and new people come in like directors of photography, my speech to them is that you have to ‘unlearn’ your good habits,” says Landon about working on a found footage movie as opposed to the more traditional film. “We’re in the business of making things look bad so the sloppier it is, the more believable it seems. It’s really interesting – you have to do things like not over-light the set so things seem more realistic or even not framing shots correctly. It’s a really weird process but also enables you to find beauty in completely random places. Like there’s a shot in the movie where Hector and Jesse are shooting hoops on the basketball court, and I finally got to set the camera down. The sun was setting and we got a really cool flare on the lens. It’s a really pretty shot. We shot this really beautiful sequence in a church which will be on the DVD. The shot was really cinematic, but the studio objected because it was literally too cinematic. I love found footage because of the intimacy that you have with the characters and the closeness that you have with the audience, but on the flipside I’m a big fan of the more traditional style of filmmaking as well.”
“It’s really hard to scare people,” says Landon. “There are tropes that are tried and true which illicit a certain response, and there are definitely primal fears which you can play upon. It’s very rare that I write something in which I try and write a movie around, like a scare. They usually come as an extension of whatever the story is. As I’m writing I try and put myself in my own little movie theatre so whatever is getting a response from me I hope will get the same response from the audience. This is the kind of stuff that creeps me out and scares me.”
“The whole idea of when we were playing with this character Anna, who was a Bruja, a witch… I found it really eerie that she had created a space for herself under this building where she went to practice her rituals and that she had been sneaking into Jesse’s apartment and taking things to use for her nefarious creepy stuff. That scared me. Being down in that space and having all the hanging plastic which was obstructing the view as the camera pushed through… those are the things to me that are visually scary.”
“Another thing we practice a lot is misdirection. Getting to play with that is a lot of fun. Success from that comes from years and years and years of watching horror movies.”
“Families are families and friendships are friendships,” Landon says of the relatability of The Marked Ones‘ characters, which are playing very well with audiences. “When you nail those elements, the other stuff just falls into place. The success of the relationships within the film is the direct result of chemistry. When we were casting the movie, I knew it was gonna come down to direct chemistry, and we had this one killer day when we had a lot of actors coming in and there wasn’t a lot of time to audition them all so we had to start pairing them up. By total happenstance we paired up Jorge and Andrew, who play Hector and Jesse, who did their scene together for the first time. Literally as soon as they finished, I turned to our casting director and said, ‘We’re done.’ We knew it right away. You could feel their chemistry. There’s not a moment in the movie in which you don’t believe that these guys aren’t best friends. That was key.”
The game SIMON plays a big part in The Marked Ones and Landon spoke a bit about its usage in the film.
“We were having a conversation when we were developing the movie where we felt like it would be interesting to have Jesse be able to interact with this force that was following him and trying to possess him. I randomly came up with an idea to use a toy as the means of communication. I didn’t want to do a Ouija board scene, but I knew I could do a version of one with SIMON. The actors were going to find themselves in a Ouija situation without opting to be in one, and I thought that was really cool. I had remote control of the device from another room so the actors never knew which I was going to answer. They never knew how the scene was going to play out so that harkens back to the improv aspect of how these movies are made. Besides, it was fun to be the demon! SIMON is an iconic game, and we got lucky that they let us use it.”
Written and directed by Christopher Landon, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones stars Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratts, and Eddie J. Fernandez. Look for it in theatres NOW!
After being “marked,” Jesse begins to be pursued by mysterious forces while his family and friends try to save him.
Pray all you want. It won’t save you. But you can follow Paranormal Activity on Twitter (@TweetYourScream) for more upcoming announcements, as always keep an eye on the official Paranormal Activity Facebook page, and check out official Paranormal Activity on Instragram!
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