Back in 1999, The Blair Witch Project tore up the horror scene and launched the found footage sub-genre, which has since gone on to spawn many horror films and franchises. However, a certain generation was not introduced to found footage through Blair Witch, but through the Paranormal Activity films. The original Paranormal Activity followed Katie and Micah, a couple forced to confront their haunted surroundings when Micah begins filming strange events in their house. The movie mimicked many aspects of Blair Witch's production style, including its predecessor's ability to exponentially recoup its own budget. The original Paranormal Activity was made for $15,000, and went on to make over $193 million at the box office.
What fans of the film may not know, however, is just how closely its production process mirrored that of Blair Witch. Now, over a decade after its 2006 production, director Oren Peli sheds some light on how his crew got ready to make Paranormal Activity -- namely, how they chose their two leads and allowed them to help shape the film.
In a video uploaded to YouTube and posted on Twitter, Peli shares raw footage from the Paranormal Activity audition process, as well as the film's casting call. He highlights the call's insistence that "No script will be provided at any stage of production" and "All dialogue will be ad-libbed," meaning the actors' "natural ability to improvise will be crucial." The video then plays two solo tapes from both Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat's auditions, before showing clips of the two of them auditioning together at callbacks. In each audition situation, much like in the actual filming environment, neither actor is told what to say. Check out how both leads ran with their scant material, including some moments that made it into the real Paranormal Activity, above.
The film's outlined script and improvised dialogue mirror those of The Blair Witch Project, although, unlike the latter, Paranormal Activity was filmed out of order to meet scheduling requirements. This means that both Featherston and Sloat did not have the luxury of providing genuine reactions to much of the material, unlike the actors on the Blair Witch set. You can see many similarities between the audition material and material that made it into the final cut of the film. Both leads have since gone on to have cameo roles in the films' many sequels, while director Peli works as a prolific producer.
This footage shows just how raw these performances were, and they showcase both Featherston and Sloat's creativity. The two are essentially generating major plot points out of thin air, and, while some of their examples rely on old horror movie tropes, their sparse style contributes to the overall ethos of the film. Featherston especially acts as the heart of the film, as her role as Micah's pleading girlfriend becomes more and more urgent throughout the callback audition (and throughout the film itself). This is awesome footage to see, even so long after the original film's release. It shows just what independent filmmaking can do, even with a genre as demanding as horror.
Though found footage has since oversaturated the genre, this is a great glimpse into the potential of indie horror and raw performances. Here's hoping that the next Paranormal Activity comes along soon, and that Featherston, Sloat, and Peli all get to re-prove their chops in other films for years to come.
Source: Oren Peli
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