'Paranormal Activity 3': Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost talk the idea behind the freaky fan-cam
Considering how well the first two Paranormal Activity movies performed at the box office on Halloween over the past two years, it’s safe to assume that a fair number of you caught Paranormal Activity 3 last night. Trés scary, right?
We’re already on the record as big fans of the whole film, but when it comes to standout individual scenes, we’re especially big fans of the fan! So we caught up with Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, the directors of the hit horror sequel, to talk about the scene that has everyone screaming. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)
In order to videotape both the downstairs living room and the kitchen, a character named Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) mounts a camcorder on the base of an oscillating fan, and all night long, the fan slowly shifts from one room to the other. “It turns out to be the perfect horror movie camera technique,” says Henry Joost. “No one’s controlling the camera, so every time it pans away, you’re like ‘No!’ You know something’s going to happen when it’s panning away.”
He adds, “Have you seen that video on YouTube of a guy filming his cat, and he’s hiding around the corner, and every time he pokes out, the cat gets a little closer, but you never see it moving closer? It’s very, very funny.”
The filmmakers employed a similar technique in Paranormal Activity 3. In one of the scariest sequences in the film, the fan-cam very gradually reveals a ghostly white sheet creeping up on an unassuming babysitter. Each time the camera pans away from the teenager, viewers are left to wonder how much closer the sheet may have moved. Perhaps it would have been less scary, though, if audiences could have seen peeked beneath the shroud. “I’m kneeling under the sheet,” explains Schulman, who jokes, “I’m very, very small.”
While the fan technique is currently blowing audiences away, interestingly, it wasn’t always a part of the film. “We thought, ‘What would we do if we had to video tape a living room and a kitchen at the same time and could only afford one video camera?'” Schulman explains. “We considered putting a camera on a choo-choo train and sending it around the room!” Obviously, that thought didn’t make the cut.
The idea to mount the camera on an oscillating fan ultimately came when the directors found the house they would shoot in in North Ridge, Calif. “We spent a long time finding the perfect ’80s house,” says Schulman. “This house was built in 1984, and it hadn’t been renovated since. And we hadn’t really written the script until we found the house, so the pan-cam, and the placement of the camera, and the little closet upstairs –that scare hole — it’s all based on the location.”
A second inspiration came from the classic film Rosemary’s Baby. “There is this moment,” Schulman explains, “where, very famously, Ruth Gordon is looking at Mia Farrow in the other room on the telephone, and you can’t see Mia Farrow, but you can see the phone cord pulled, extended to the left just out of frame. I’d always heard these stories that the audience would lean to the left and try to peer around the door frame and see her. If you film it right, you can get the audience to physically adjust in their seats, and we knew we wanted to make an interactive movie, so we thought, ‘Can we come up with a camera technique that will get people to try to see beyond the frame?'”
If the leaning torsos and giddy screams in my theater were any indication, the duo certainly succeeded. Joost and Schulman tell EW that if the opportunity arises, they’d love the chance to direct another Paranormal Activity film. “If the audience wants more, we’d love to do it again!”
What do you say, readers? Were you impressed by the panning fan-cam? Would you like to see Joost and Schulman direct Paranormal Activity 4? (Which, to be clear, hasn’t officially been announced, but considering the film has already earned $80.9 million against a $5 million budget, should be greenlit any day now…)
Grady on Twitter: @EWGradySmith
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Paranormal Activity 3