Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost were first introduced to Hollywood after their documentary, "Catfish," made a splash at Sundance last year.
Since the two had a habit of filming even mundane events in their daily lives, the documentary -- which followed the complex relationship of Schulman's brother Yaniv and a family in rural Michigan -- actually played out in real time, and the dramatic payoff was tense and unsettling.
But it was these same qualities that led others to question the film's authenticity. When one audience member at a Sundance Q&A suggested that the directors had inserted fictional elements into the film, Schulman grew defensive. If "Catfish" was a fake, Schulman argued, then that would make his brother the "next Marlon Brando." If it were a work of fiction, he added, then it meant he and Joost were the greatest writers in Hollywood.
The director was clearly embellishing, but maybe he was on to something. The voyeuristic point-of-view camera work, as well as the film's minuscule budget and inherent commentary on the frightening mysteries of social media, made both Schulman and Joost the latest Filmmakers To Watch in Hollywood.
It also landed them their newest project. "Paranormal Activity 3," the latest installment of the popular horror franchise, hits theaters Friday with Schulman and Joost at the helm. And considering that series' now-patented style of using handheld personal camcorders to guide the slow-building action, the film might just be the perfect fit for their aesthetic.
Co-director Schulman spoke to The Huffington Post about why this "Paranormal Activity" film will be different, MTV's plans to turn "Catfish" into a TV show and why they'll never stop filming their own lives, no matter what.
Can you talk about how you and Joost took the reins of this new "Paranormal Activity" film?
"Catfish" had a lot to do with it. Paramount were big fans and we had been on their radar. When we first interviewed with the president of Paramount, he actually said, "If you tell me right now that 'Catfish' is fake, you've got the job." And we just went real silent. And then I said, "I'm sorry, I can't tell you that." Because it was real.
Do you think he just wanted to know because it had been driving him crazy?
I think he figured that if we could create that authenticity dramatically, then we could do it again for this. Ultimately, we convinced them of exactly that. "Catfish" is completely real, but I think we have a knack for identifying the authentic moments in home video, and it plays like a narrative.
There's no script for "Paranormal" films, correct? Do you outline the story, or just kind of discover things as you go along?
It's very improv heavy. There's this great writer, Chris Landon, who's working on the script while we're shooting it, and it would shape-shift every day. He sees what we're doing, and he would write new scenes and then we would shoot them an hour later. I think we shot like 800 pages of script.
Is that how all the other films have operated?
Yeah, I think that style [of shooting] works really well for the 'Paranormal' movies. It's this very open, creative environment. You try so many different things and see what feels authentic and what feels terrifying. Those two things need to happen simultaneously. We're also hoping it's funny. When we gave our initial pitch to the studio one of the first things we said was, "It's got to be different, and it's got to be funny."
You guys certainly made a mark for yourselves stylistically with "Catfish" -- that kind of DIY aesthetic, sort of like a "mumblecore" documentary, but it never felt aimless. Do you want to keep making films in that style?
I would say that the story will dictate the style of the film for the rest of our careers. We want to try every genre. But right now we definitely believe that the DIY aspects of POV filming can be more dramatic than mumblecore, more accessible, a little more mainstream. Every day we're still filming ourselves. We've got our HD cameras in our pockets. You know, if we had to make a documentary about the making of a franchise movie, we've got the footage. I'm sure it would be tough to release it, but...
So even now, you film everything you do? What are you hoping will happen?
I think there's a few things playing at once. One, it's a compulsive record of your life. The same way Buckminster Fuller would keep a record every 15 minutes of his life -- a note, diary entry, a receipt. You could say it's this grand narcissism that the whole world is experiencing. I mean, we're all recording our lives, every day, in some way. The flip side is: it's a "just in case." Just in case something happens. And that's the way "Catfish" played out. I was filming Nev "just in case" and then we went back in time and had all this footage that I didn't even realize I had kept.
You just sold a "Catfish" TV show to MTV. Can you talk about how that show will work?
People contact [Yaniv] all the time now. He gets these really long, confessional emails. They say, "I'm in love with this person, but we've never met, what should I do," you know? So for the show, he's going to go around the country discovering other similar stories, sort of leading one side of the story to meet the other.
Mainstream films still seem to still have this very obsolete view of how we use the Internet every day. Sometimes it doesn't seem as though Hollywood knows how to integrate film and social media, or how to portray social media in films. Do you want to try to integrate the two more?
Hollywood is sort of this really large organism that is very slow to adjust. Social networking is still pretty new, but we were able to adjust to it pretty quickly. Part of that was because it was only three of us making a movie with no rules, no executives, no budget. I think what Hollywood's having trouble recognizing is social networking doesn't have to be just some "good" or "bad" character, it can just be a perspective. If you think about it, everyone has a constant diary right now. All the time.
What are you working on now?
Henry and I are writing a really tight New York thriller. It's basically about two young people falling in love. And the truth is: you'd be lying if you didn't see that they were already recording half the story themselves. Cell phones, chat videos, wall posts. We'll still have that omniscient viewpoint, but the characters themselves will cover it on their own. I don't think Hollywood trusts, like, a cell phone camera to lead a scene. But take a look at YouTube. Nowadays you can watch a tiny video of grainy cell phone footage and the world is riveted.