Posted by: el1en | October 15, 2009

Bed, Bath and the Great Beyond

SAN DIEGO

Skip to next paragraph

Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

SCARE TACTIC Oren Peli, director of the horror film “Paranormal Activity,” shot most of it in his bedroom, replacing a mattress on the floor with this bed.

THERE are many things that can strike fear in a grown man’s heart — strange, unexplained noises in the night, the feeling that someone is whispering in your ear when no one is about — things that did seem to happen in the suburban home of the first-time director Oren Peli and that inspired his very low-budget movie “Paranormal Activity,” which totters this very moment on the precipice of pop-cult sensation. But the one that seems to make Mr. Peli most uncomfortable is the suggestion that he and the girlfriend with whom he lived when those strange goings-on took place should do an interview together.

“We’ve been broken up for two years,” Mr. Peli says. “It would be kind of weird.”

Ahhh, the complexities that ensue when art follows the paranormal and so much hangs on the marketing. Let us pause for a moment and invoke the sacred words “The Blair Witch Project” — although with “Paranormal Activity” No. 5 at the box office last weekend, the incantation may no longer be necessary.

The film deals with a young couple who move into a new home and encounter Strange Goings-On. Katie, who enjoys beading, is open to the idea of spirits; Micah, a day trader, is a skeptic who sets up a video camera in the bedroom to find out what is really happening.

Mr. Peli, a 39-year-old former day trader and Web designer, thought about setting up a video camera in the bedroom of his home here, after moving in several years ago, when he and his then-girlfriend, Toni Taylor, who enjoyed making beaded jewelry, were troubled by strange sounds. But it seemed like a better idea to make a movie about it.

He shot the film in his home in seven days, for a cost he estimates at $10,000, not including the requisite home improvement, which we shall deal with later. The two unknowns who played Katie and Micah, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat (apparently the film was so low-budget they could not even afford new names), were each paid $500.

In a review last weekend, the New York Times film critic A. O. Scott called the movie a “crudely made, half-clever little frightener” with “a measure of ingenuity.” But the most withering criticism, to anyone with a shred of decorative self-respect, was Mr. Scott’s opinion that the house was “nondescript.”

In fact, its white stucco exterior has a certain Southern California charm, although it is identical to those of the other houses in the development. Inside, it is instantly evident that this is the home of a bachelor indie filmmaker: There’s a six-foot cardboard advertisement for “Paranormal Activity” to the left as you walk in; three computers and packages of Oreos and pretzels on the breakfast counter; and a den with a 73-inch Mitsubishi TV.

Mr. Peli, barefoot, in jeans and a shirt that might trace its paternity to soccer, is a low-key, friendly host, apologizing for constantly checking his messages and taking calls throughout the interview — he is in preproduction for another film, he explains.

He makes coffee, shares Oreos and runs through his bio, which includes growing up in Israel, where he was a computer geek who dropped out of high school at 16. At 17, he created a computer program with a friend, which brought in $120,000 and allowed them to go to the United States.

He lived first in Los Angeles, then moved to San Diego, where he worked in Web design. In 1999, when he was 29, he met Ms. Taylor, then 25, who set up phone systems for businesses. Neither believed in ghosts or an afterlife, though Ms. Taylor, like the woman in the movie, was more spiritually inclined. By January 2003, they were a serious couple looking for a place to raise a family, and they moved into this four-bedroom house.

What did it cost?

“Half a mil,” the former day trader says.

The noises started the first night he and Ms. Taylor were in the house.

“Toni grabs me and says, ‘There’s someone in the house,’ ” Mr. Peli says. “It ended up being the ice maker.”

Then things that were not as easily explained started happening. A large plastic container of detergent that weighed at least five pounds, and had been on a deep shelf, was found the next morning across the room. The couple began to feel vibrations in bed, and yet when they checked the United States Geological Survey site for earthquakes, there hadn’t been any. Oddest of all was Ms. Taylor’s persistent feeling that someone was whispering in her ear. Mr. Peli, who never heard any whispering, considered wiring the house to find the source, but decided against it.

Next Article in Home & Garden (2 of 14) » A version of this article appeared in print on October 15, 2009, on page D1 of the New York edition.

(Page 2 of 2)

Instead, he began writing a treatment for the film, bought a $3,000 Sony Fx1 camera and a computer for editing and, like any director, started framing the shots. Most of the action takes place in the bedroom, where the couple slept on a mattress on the floor. It was immediately apparent to Mr. Peli that this would be neither cool nor appealing in a film. He searched for an appropriate bed, finally settling on a carved wood piece, for either $1,400 or $1,600. He also realized that the wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the house would have to go.

Skip to next paragraph

Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

ART AND LIFE Toni Taylor, above, and Oren Peli, top, split up before the release of “Paranormal Activity,” a film based on strange noises and unexplained experiences they had at home, particularly in the bedroom.

“It made the house look really bad — like an apartment, not like a house, ” he says. He paused, concerned about giving away too much of the plot.

Generalize, he is directed.

“Hardwood floors are easier to slide things or people on,” he says. “And there are sounds. Footsteps on hardwood definitely sound more menacing than on carpet.”

The hardwood floors cost between $25,000 and $30,000, Mr. Peli says; he also spent $7,000 to replace the wall along the stairs with a banister.

Mr. Peli and Ms. Taylor broke up in 2007, soon after the film, in which Ms. Taylor is credited as a producer, made its debut at the Screamfest Festival in Los Angeles. They remain friends, and Ms. Taylor has attended several screenings.

When she moved out, the strange sounds stopped, Mr. Peli says, but says Ms. Taylor still hears them. And so, after seeing Mr. Peli, it was time to talk to Ms. Taylor, who lives a half-hour away.

Ms. Taylor, who is blond with an air of soft and wounded vulnerability, is renting the back half of a modern home in a wooded grove. The one-bedroom apartment, with a vaulted ceiling and a large, elaborate tub that juts into a garden, has a dreamier and far more interesting vibe than Mr. Peli’s house.

It once belonged to a film producer and his girlfriend, a Las Vegas showgirl, Ms. Taylor says. She also says she believes her landlady’s mother died there; her landlady insisted on having a psychic do a cleansing ceremony.

Ms. Taylor herself seems psychically jumpy. When a soap dish falls from the bathroom wall shortly after a reporter arrives, she finds it significant. That’s weird, she says. Why would that happen now?

There has been a major loss in her life recently — a very close friend named Brian died in May after minor surgery. While Mr. Peli is the new talent everyone wants to meet, Ms. Taylor is in a place of mourning.

Their breakup seems to be a tender subject, but Ms. Taylor speaks fondly of their first date, in a more carefree time.

“He rolled up in a little red Miata, wearing a leather jacket. He tells me, ‘The only thing I worry about is am I going to drive with the top down or am I going to the Jacuzzi?’ ” she says. “I worry about everything.”

Is she still in love with him?

Who wouldn’t love Oren, Ms. Taylor says. He is so decent and smart.

But to the subjects at hand, ghosts and spirits. Ms. Taylor confirms that she does not believe in them, but she did feel as if someone was whispering into her ear when she moved into the house in which “Paranormal Activity” was filmed. It wasn’t as it was in the film, where the woman’s hair blows across her face whenever a spirit is near, but Ms. Taylor says that she could certainly feel something on her face. And in her new place, she says, there have been many more strange occurrences.

Her friend Brian would sometimes spend the night, she says, and on the four-month anniversary of his death, she came home to find the sheets on his side of the bed pulled down. Also, towels had been rumpled, and she never leaves towels rumpled. And a gift from Brian, a Smashing Pumpkins CD box that she had placed in a drawer, had been moved to a shelf beside a card he had given her.

On another occasion, she had seen the hem of the curtain on the garden door suspended in the air as if someone were holding it.

That could have been air from the bottom of the window, no?

“No way,” Ms. Taylor says. “Wind is fluffy. This just kept it up there.”

The talk turns to friends and loss. Grief can confuse the mind, the reporter suggests. You can forget something as simple as the person you were standing next to at a funeral. Isn’t it possible that one might have, uncharacteristically, mussed some towels and forgotten to straighten them, or removed a gift from a drawer and put it on a shelf?

“It’s a nice explanation,” Ms. Taylor says. “But that box was definitely in a drawer, no place else. And when I came home, it was out.”

There is more talk of the death of friends, of the pain of never having had the chance to say goodbye. Then the reporter, finally out of words, departs, leaving Ms. Taylor with the saddest of specters, the ghost of a friend that never goes away.

Next Article in Home & Garden (2 of 14) » A version of this article appeared in print on October 15, 2009, on page D1 of the New York edition.

Posted via web from Bad Monkeys

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: