Exclusive Interview: Christopher Landon on Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
After a year without a Paranormal Activity sequel, we get to start the new year off with not quite Paranormal Activity 5 (that’s still coming), but a spinoff. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones picks up with new characters Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz), as Jesse is afflicted with the same curse that has plagued Katie (Katie Featherston in the original and sequels).
Christopher Landon, who wrote the previous three sequels, wrote and directed The Marked Ones. We got to speak with him by phone on the day his film opened, although really it had begun playing at late night shows the night before.
CraveOnline: I actually spoke to you after a screening of your film Burning Palms right after Paranormal Activity 2. At that time you said you wouldn’t be working on Paranormal 3. How did we get here where you’ve also written 3, 4 and wrote and directed The Marked Ones?
Christopher Landon: [Laughs] Yeah, famous last words, right? I think it was one of those things where I don’t think any of us ever anticipated the franchise carrying out this long, so I think it’s been a little bit of a surprise to all of us but at the same time, we’ve had so much fun making these movies that we couldn’t help ourselves really.
Was giving you The Marked Ones to direct the only way to keep you writing the scripts?
No, it wasn’t. Look, I think it was more a product of I had been on set for all the other movies and I’d worked so closely with the directors and the actors and the crew that it really just seemed like a natural direction to go in and the obvious choice in some ways. Also, I was kind of champing at the bit. I really wanted to do one of these.
Could you have held out for Paranormal Activity 5?
I honestly was much, much, much more interested in doing something different. I felt like especially after Paranormal 4, we needed to shake things up a bit. I had several conversations with the studio about that so I was much more eager to take a left turn than to continue on.
So when Oren Peli said he wanted to do a Paranormal Activity film for the Latin audience, did that become your assignment?
You know, it wasn’t an assignment and it actually didn’t really come up that way. We had a screening, and this is how long ago we started talking about this, we had one of our test screenings of Paranormal 3. There was a Latina girl in our focus group. She was probably about 15 years old and she was so versed in the franchise. The way that she talked about things as if they were real, and we loved her fire. So that’s what kind of got the conversation going, and then as I started to peek into the culture and look at stuff, it just became so clear to me that it was such an obvious extension of the franchise. The culture itself lends itself in the right way to our movies. I think that’s what really got all of our juices flowing.
Is it bad that I kind of wanted it to be completely stereotypically Latin when I first heard about it?
[Laughs] No, it’s not bad. It’s funny though because initially I was a hair nervous that I’m going to be the gringo writing and directing this very culturally specific movie, but then as I started really getting into the thick of it, you realize you’re really just telling a story about a family and you really are just telling a story about best friends. That’s, I think, the emotional anchor of the film, that it really is a story about friendship.
You realize that people are people so I ended up feeling really, really comfortable about it but at the same time, I think we as filmmakers and as the producers and the studio and everybody, we very consciously wanted to really shy away from things that felt really stereotypical. We wanted this to be a movie that everyone could relate to and not fall into that trap of “Oh, we’re making a Latino movie” because we want to make a movie for everybody.
Sure, and I don’t think anyone is going to not see this because it’s Mexican characters. They’re not even Spanish speaking except for the grandmother.
Yeah, exactly. That was something else that when I was writing the script, I carefully designed characters, for instance you brought up the grandmother. She’s kind of the touchstone to sort of the culture. She only speaks Spanish and then you have Jesse kind of in the middle, who is bilingual. Then you go to the other end of the spectrum with Hector, his best friend who doesn’t speak any Spanish.
This was something that I encountered over and over and over again and have encountered over the years with friends of mine who are Latino. You meet some that speak Spanish and some that don’t. I feel like that’s very real, but it was also a fun way to allow us to translate things to the audience sometimes because that’s what Hector really represents in the movie. He kind of represents the audience in a lot of ways.
Except for the person you met who specifically inspired this, could you also have spinoffs featuring black families, Asian families and all cultures?
Absolutely. I think there’s possibilities in all of that. It’s something that we’re keeping under wraps because we don’t want to give too much away about where the franchise is going, but we really wanted to start setting up this idea that this isn’t something that is just happening to one family. It’s happening all over the world. That’s not just to open up our possibilities to expand the franchise, but also to really set up I think a much, much bigger idea about where the storyline is going.
How formally scripted was The Marked Ones, where some of the other sequels have been in flux during production?
I think that’s our process. To a certain degree we workshop stuff but at the same time, I do write full scripts. I think that’s one of the big misconceptions about how we do this stuff. I think a lot of people think, “Oh, they write kind of summaries and then they just improvise everything and they figure it all out.” It’s all pretty calculated. In this case, we had our moments where we started to shift direction here and there throughout the process. Inevitably, because of the flexibility of our crew and our schedule and how we operate in general, because we’re so quick and lightweight and easy and functional that way, we tend to shoot a lot of stuff.
Sometimes even set pieces that don’t ultimately make it into the movie, sometimes it’s a funny thing, the whole marketing thing where sometimes we’ll show bits and pieces of things that aren’t in the movie but put them in the trailer. Usually more often than not that stuff ends up making it into an extended cut on DVD, but the real purpose and function of that is not to frustrate our fans or frustrate the audience. Really, we’re trying so desperately to withhold the best parts of the movie so that we don’t show them in the trailer. That’s always the struggle with these movies. We don’t want to put all of our best stuff in the trailer. We want people to go see the movie and get scared and not anticipate stuff. It’s kind of our trick and sometimes I think it might annoy people but I think it’s for a much greater good which is to preserve the experience of seeing the movie.