EXCL: OREN PELI TALKS “THE RIVER”: PART ONE
The Oren Peli-produced TV show The River, about a team of camera-equipped adventurers documenting their attempted rescue of a beloved nature show TV host (Bruce Greenwood), debuts tonight, and The DLB recently had the chance to talk to Peli (best known as the director of Paranoral Activity) about it:
What is your background as a horror fan?
I’m not specifically a horror fan. I like any good movie or TV show, so I do like some of the horror movies that are more like the slow burn ones, stuff like Rosemary’s Baby and The Others, Sixth Sense. Not so much the slasher horror movies. So that’s the kind of stuff I’m usually drawn to.
How important was your executive producer Steven Spielberg’s name to getting The River made?
So just because it is Steven Spielberg and because he’s been so supportive on Paranormal Activity – without him, probably nothing would have come out of Paranormal Activity – then I took it very seriously. And then when we came up with the idea and started taking it to networks, just the idea that Steven Spielberg is involved adds a lot of weight and credibility, so it opens a lot of doors to having him involved.
On the creative level, even like from the very first time that we pitched the idea for the show to him, he’s instantly firing off ideas. Like one of the main moments in the pilot is something he pitched to us just off the top of his head and made suggestions about how to make changes to the cast of characters. Since then, for the development, he’s been involved in the casting, he’s been giving notes on the pilot and other scripts. So he’s been much more involved than I thought someone as busy as him would be.
Tell me about working with Jaume Collet-Sera. Why was he chosen to direct the pilot?
Well, it was a combination of having to find someone we felt very confident in their ability to kind of get up to speed really quickly, because the schedule is so tight. And he started in commercials, and the movies he did, we just felt confident that he’d get it done.
And also he has a background in horror. He’s done Orphan, so we knew he’d get that aspect done.
Did you give him any tips about filming within the found footage genre?
It was a very collaborative process between everyone involved in the writers and the producers, but, yeah, we all had to figure out… It was new even for me because we weren’t just doing a typical found footage where it’s kind of like a homemade video. Here we’re dealing with basically a professional crew using professional equipment because we were very conscious about trying not to offend the sensibilities of the home viewer with shaky camera.
So we wanted to make sure we kind of cover our bases and we have a way to explain why everything looks really beautiful because we also want to highlight the exotic beauty of the Amazon which can be beautiful and scary at the same time. But we also wanted to kind of maintain the authenticity of the thing.
This show is higher budgeted than, say, Paranormal Activity. Is there any room for improvisation like in the Paranormal films?
I think in theory there is, but practically speaking, like in the Paranormal Activity movies, we have weeks to do shoots and reshoots and experiment, and I’m sure they told you how so many things were shot and reshot again and again. TV, especially when you’re dealing with a very expensive production, you have to get it done. So in most cases there wasn’t so much improvisation, there was dialogue written. But sometimes we gave the actors some latitude.
But I think where a lot of the improvisation came from was in the actual action. We would give them a lot more freedom to movie around. We would tell them, ‘Don’t even worry so much about the camera. You’re in this general area and this is what happens, and there could be ten or more cameras rolling at the same time, so you won’t even know which camera to act to. So they’re just going about their business, getting immersed in the scene, and they know that some or more cameras are capturing it. So they’re not worried about acting for the camera.
Look for more from Oren Peli next week.