In the documentary UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, filmmaker Joe Bandelli takes a deep dive into the making of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity and how a simple concept was able to spawn close to a half a billion-dollar franchise. The documentary features first-time-ever interviews with cast and crew, never-before-seen footage from the movies, and a preview of the seventh installment in the franchise, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: NEXT OF KIN (which is currently streaming on Paramount+).
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew had the chance to speak with UNKNOWN DIMENSION‘s director Joe Bandelli as well as producers Rachel Belofsky, Anthony Masi, and Nate Ragon, where they discussed everything from how the documentary came together, the impact Paranormal Activity has had on each person involved in the project, and who they were unable to get for the newly released documentary.
I’m a huge fan of the Paranormal Activity franchise and UNKNOWN DIMENSION really dug into how a simple concept unfolded into a worldwide phenomenon. That being said, how did this documentary come together?
Anthony Masi: It actually started with Nate’s kid who was eight years old named Channing. Tell her, Nate.
Nate Ragon: He’s a big horror fan and he watches horror movies with me. I introduced him to the original Paranormal Activity and he loved it, but he started asking questions after we watched it like, well, how did they make the footprint show up, and how did they do this, and how did they do that? And I was like, I have no idea. There are no bonus features. No one has really talked about how it was made. The only thing that’s ever been said is that it was made for like $15,000, and isn’t that amazing, but there’s never been any details about it. So I called Anthony that night and was like, you know, there are no bonus features on any of the six Paranormal Activity films.
Anthony Masi: That’s what surprised me because you know, all these franchises are covered extensively so I was shocked to find out there were no bonus features. So I was like, this actually sounds really cool because my company has done one for Halloween, Scream, Psycho, Friday the 13th. So, I called my friend Rachel because Rachel’s film festival, Screamfest, discovered Paranormal Activity.
Rachel, when you first saw Paranormal Activity, did you instantly know this film was going to be something special?
Rachel Belofsky: We did. I probably didn’t know it was going to be as huge in the box office success as it was, but I definitely knew there was something there. That’s why we took it over to CCA where we screened it and were like, you guys have got to see this.
For you Joe, you’ve been a part of the found footage world for quite some time, having produced all three Hell House LLC films, which are downright terrifying. What interested you in this subgenre of horror?
Joe Bandelli: I always joke that I got into found footage because I never was a huge fan of found footage, but Paranormal Activity was always kind of the elite for me. Like, that was the one to hold everything up to. I got involved because I was working on one of the Hell House films and I had Nate on set with me and Nate started discussing what was going on with it. And he’s like, I think you would like to do this. And I was like, yes, I would love to do this [Laughs]. And then, he tossed my name over to Anthony and Rachel, and we started chatting. My whole thing and the thing that I kind of pitched to Anthony, Rachel, and Nate, in the beginning, was that I didn’t want this to be a bonus feature-type documentary. I didn’t want it to be a, hey fans, check out how cool this stuff is, even though there is a lot of that in there, I wanted to tell some form of narrative., I always thought that Oren’s story and the whole, for lack of a better word or expression, rags to riches story is sort of the story to follow and see. One of the things that are really cool about the Paranormal Activity franchise, in general, is most other franchises when they get big and they turn into a billion-dollar franchise, it’s mostly the cast who it’s like, oh my god, their careers have changed and now they’re going on to do hundred million dollar movies. But with Paranormal Activity, it was the crew. It was the filmmakers. Christopher Landon got a chance. Blumhouse got created. Oren Peli, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, like all these people kind of built their careers that are sort of the foundations in the world today. So I was very keen on telling that story. It was such a great experience.
I was impressed to see how many cast members throughout the six films were included in UNKNOWN DIMENSION. Was there anyone you wanted to get but weren’t able to?
Anthony Masi: We desperately tried to get Steven Spielberg because he has that – in the documentary, there’s this little story about how he gets locked in his room, and we tried for a year or more but, he’s Steven Spielberg [Laughs]. Typically in these documentaries, there are two or three people you can’t get because they’re just busy or they’re famous or whatever. But here, I think we were very happy. At least I was very happy with who we got.
Joe Bandelli: Yeah, we got a lot of the people. When I first started this, I had sort of a wishlist of people that were put together that I kind of threw everyone’s way and we got most of those people. Originally, we tried to get everyone, but as Anthony just said, we can’t really get everyone, but I think we got the key people to actually tell the full story.
Anthony Masi: The first thing that we did, I called Rachel and I said, we can’t do this without Oren, Katie [Featherston], and Micah [Sloat] and so Rachel, in like 10 minutes, got back to me [Laughs].
Rachel Belofsky: I emailed Oren and he was on board, and then Katie and Micah, I shot them an email and they were like, sure!
Anthony Masi: We had the holy trinity of interviewees. Then, once we had them committed to doing the interview, we were like, okay, all the movies are with one studio. There’s no music in them, which saves on licensing costs tremendously, and the crews were really small. There had been no bonus features so it felt like this was waiting to happen.
When it comes to the Paranormal Activity franchise, which film, not including the first one, is your favorite?
Joe Bandelli: I think Paranormal Activity 3 always stands up as the best movie in the franchise because of the kids and because of going in the 80s and doing the backstory. But I will say that, from doing this documentary and rewatching and going back through everything, I think the next one after that is probably the fifth, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. I think that one’s a very, very underappreciated one.
Anthony Masi: Love The Marked Ones. The grandmother, when she started singing in the kitchen I fell in love with her and I fell in love with the kids. I really loved them so much. And, to be honest, it was really nice to see a non-white, non-upper class family. It was just very refreshing. I think they were trying to reboot and refresh it and go in another direction, and so part five is my favorite for sure.
Rachel Belofsky: The Marked Ones because it was very different. And the chemistry between the cast was really great.
Nate Ragon: Yeah, I would also go with The Marked Ones for the same reasons. I think cause it was the first one that didn’t have a number attached to it so it was kind of treated like a spinoff rather than part five. So you weren’t really sure what to expect. And usually, spinoffs aren’t as good as the films that they follow, but it surprised me. I’d put it up there as the best one other than the original.
And lastly to whoever would like to answer, can you talk about the impact Paranormal Activity has had on your lives?
Joe Bandelli: Working in this industry, there’s a lot of young filmmakers and up-and-coming filmmakers. There’s a lot of things that you learn about the right way to do things, the wrong way to do things. The more you get experienced and the more you start doing more projects, you start learning different methods of how to do things. I think what impacted me the most was Oren didn’t follow any of those rules. Oren didn’t do something that was a model or something that had to have a first, second, and third act. He didn’t follow that format. He followed the format that he thought would work best. I think in an age of digital and streaming services and all these other things, I think it’s refreshing as a filmmaker to see something like that and be like, oh, you don’t have to replicate or try to do something else. You can be original.
It is interesting to see because even though the movie was good and even though Oren was so original with his idea and Katie and Micah were so incredible, it was still interesting and impactful to see that they still needed to catch some pretty good breaks. They still needed to get lucky here and there. They sent it to a ton of festivals and Rachel was the only one that was like, Hey, I’m going to give this a shot. They sent it out to studios and producers Steven Schneider was the first person to be like, oh, this is interesting, let me send this off to people. They were throwing everything at the wall and like one thing was sticking and then every time something good would happen then it would be six months of nothing happening.
One of the things I always tell people when I’m talking about filmmaking is a lot of times it’s not who’s the best, who’s the most passionate, who’s the most driven. It’s how long you stay in the game and how long you don’t quit. And I think that’s the big thing that made an impression on me. Never give up, never quit and just keep pushing forward because someone somewhere is going to like something that you do.
Rachel Belofsky: Going back on Oren, he did have the passion and he had the belief in his project. He had other offers after the festival to go straight to DVD or whatever, they were decent offers but he really believed in his gut that this was a theatrical film. So the fact that he stood his ground and wanted to fight for that is commendable and brave and it paid off for him. He had the conviction to go for it which is an inspiration.
Anthony Masi: This is a filmmaking documentary. We tell you what the stories are, but these are movies that shouldn’t have stories [Laughs]. It’s surveillance footage. There is no plot, so it’s astonishing that there are now seven movies. It’s just watching footage they recorded themselves. If you’re a filmmaker, you’re going to love this documentary. You’ll be so inspired to see what’s possible.
UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is now streaming on Paramount+ along with the next installment in the franchise, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: NEXT OF KIN. You can read our review of NEXT OF KIN here.
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