Interview: Oren Peli

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Although Oren Peli is not exactly a household name, he is a figure who holds much sway in the horror genre. Having taken over the Hallowe’en slot with his Paranormal Activity franchise he’s turned his hand to producing films such as Insidious. Dark Side spoke to him about his most recent film, Chernobyl Diaries,  in which six tourists visit the town of Pripyat where the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor used to live, only to find that not all is at it seems.

You’ve written and produced Chernobyl Diaries -why did you choose not to direct it too?

At  the time I was discussing the idea with my friend and producing partner Brian Witten, I told him that I will not be able to commit to directing it because my schedule was too hectic.  We decided that if we move forward with the project, we’ll find someone else to hire as a director.

What’s your criteria for choosing directors for the projects that you produce?

It’s a combination of several factors.  They have to have the technical skills, the understanding of the story, the ability to work with actors, and we have to like them and get along!

I understand that you came across footage online of Pripyat as inspiration. Do you find the internet a source for strong ideas?

In this particular case, that was how I learned about Pripyat and Chernobyl, but in general, yes, I am an internet-geek and spend a lot of time on the internet keeping up with current events, studying various subjects, doing research, etc.

Your films are low budget.  Do you find that an advantage over big budget features?

I think that sometimes the limitations of low-budget forces you to focus on things like the plot, the characters, and come up with creative solutions to problems instead of throwing money at the problem.

Paranormal Activity has become a successful franchise. Insidious is going to have a sequel too. When you’re researching your subjects do you set out with an intention to make a franchise?

Never. I always focus on one movie at a time and hope that it’s successful.

What is it about the horror genre that you like so much?

I think that when done right, horror can be a lot of fun.  It’s very rewarding to watch a movie in a theatre with an audience and experience their shared reactions of screaming, sighing, laughing at the same moments.

Your films are based more on suspense than gore. Is that deliberate?

Very much so.  Although gore can be shocking visually, for me, I find that slower building suspense ends up being more effective to create scares.

Chernobyl Diaries opened against Men in Black 3. Do you think it suffered because of that?

Who knows?  Although we did always know that MIB 3 would open the same weekend, the real surprise was that Avengers was still making a killing at the box office that weekend.

What’s the future for ‘found footage’ films?

I don’t know, but I’m eager to find out.  There are smart and creative people coming up with all sorts of cool new twists on it.

‘Chernobyl Diaries’ is out on DVD and Blu-ray from October 22nd

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