Interview: Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli Talks About His TV Show The River


Today, press attending ABC’s TCA panel got a sneak peek at and heard from the creative of The River, a new series coming Dreamworks Television.  Following the panel, our man on the scene, Scott Huver, caught up to series creator, Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), for a brief Q&A.

Set on the Amazon, The River stars Bruce Greenwood, Joe Anderson, Paul Blackthorne, Paulina Gaitan, Leslie Hope, Eloise Mumford, Shaun Parkes and Thomas Kretschmann and begins Tuesday, February 7.  Described as more like The X-Files and less like Lost, the show concerns the search for a famed explorer lost in the Amazon.

Akin to Paranormal Activity, the story is told documentary, or, “found footage” style.

Attending Reporter: Scott Huver

Question: What’s been the most surprising thing about developing the idea for television?

Oren Peli: Probably just the fact that it actually happens because every step of the way, you know, we had the idea and then we’d talk to DreamWorks and they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, we love the idea. Lets pitch it.’ Then we’d pitch it to ABC and they’re like, ‘We love the idea. Lets get a script done.’ We get the script done and it was like, ‘Okay, lets do a pilot.’ Every step of the way we couldn’t really believe that it was going to go all the way to actually becoming a show. Now we have a show and we’ll see how the audience receives it. But it’s gone much further than I ever dreamed it would go for basically a first try at TV.

Question: You have to wait and see how audiences respond to it, but how big is the mythology getting in your head?

Peli: What we’ve shot so far, the first eight episodes are actually really cool. Every week have a very exciting scare of the week, but we also advance the story of the search for Emmet Cole, the missing nature host. During some sort of the conclusion at the end of the first season, I’m not saying what it is, I’m not saying if it’s good or bad, but there’s going to be some sort of resolution. If we’re lucky enough to have future seasons we do have some sort of a roadmap where we know where to go, but for now we’ve just been concentrating on the first season and wanting to make it a complete season on it’s own. But we do know where to go if we’re going to go further ahead beyond that. 

Question: Have you thought about cast members you’re going to bring it?

Peli: Well, like I said, no one is set for the Amazon and you do want to create a real sense of danger in the sense that people will die. Now, we actually love all these people so we don’t want to kill them off just for the sake of killing them off. I’m guessing that most of them will stay, but beyond that we’re not going to speculate. 

Question: Any real life scares during the production, almost accidents or disasters?

Peli: Well, whenever you shoot on a boat, on a river, sometimes you’ll have people falling into the river. There’s some stuff happening, and you might want to ask Leslie [Hope] about it, in the last few episodes in an abandoned children’s mental facility. The locals say that it’s haunted and some of the crew didn’t want to be there. Actually, Thomas Kretschmann who’s our tough German guy, claims that something bit him and was not behind him when he broke his leg. So, we had some stuff. 

Question: Can you tell me more about Bruce Greenwood’s involvement? Does his character becoming an increasing presence as each episode goes on? How did you lure him in?

Peli: Well, basically even though he doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the early episodes he’s sort of like the driving force of the show. That’s why everyone is there. None of them would be there if it wasn’t for Bruce. The great thing about the format of the show is that they’ve been on the Undiscovered Country, that’s our show within the show, for – I don’t know – fifteen or twenty years. So, whenever we went to do any kind of flashbacks there’s the show and ???Lincoln’s life and Lena have been filmed ever since they were kids. So, now it’s gotten to all the footage and there’s flashbacks. So, even though he’s not physically there his presence is there and you can always use footage, get it from the [?] or more recent footage, footage that we’ve just discovered from right around the time that he disappeared. So, there’s definitely going to be some Bruce in the show and just about the right amount to keep you intrigued. Like I said, there’s going to be some resolution towards the end and so there’s going to be more Bruce towards the end of the season. 

Question: You talked about not wanting this show to be incredibly graphic since it’s television, but where’s the line? How far do you want to go?

Peli: Well, our overall philosophy is that we don’t want to have to rely on the gory images to create a scare. There may be some situations where something bad happens to someone and there may be a little visual image of something, but that’s not going to be our meat. That’s not going to be what we go for. What we go for and my philosophy is always that the scariest moment at the dentist is the moment before you get the shot. The shot itself is not what hurts. It’s just sitting there, waiting for that moment and that’s really what we’re trying to do, to create those kinds of moments where you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s something out there. There’s something stalking you in the jungle. You can hear it. You can feel it. You can smell it. You don’t know what it is. You don’t know when its going to strike and you don’t know how to defend yourself against it. It’s sort of like the invisible predator or the unknown force. There are many different ways that we’re actually drawing from local folklore. There are so many amazing legends and we’re using a lot of them as our sort of basic storylines for some of the episodes. That’s going to be the main thing, and we feel like if there’s going to be gore that’s meant to shock people then we’re not doing our job right. That’s not what’s supposed to be the scary thing.

Question: Did it feel difficult to cram all this story in such few episodes?

Peli: To some degree it did feel like an advantage simply because of the fact that we had less…in a way it made it feel like a very compact season. So, we did cram a lot of stuff into it which actually made it become good. We ended up having a lot of good stuff and every episode becomes very rich, both in terms of the scares, but also in the way that we got to develop the characters and the relationship. So, we did feel like we crammed a lot of stuff into a smaller season. 

Question: Why do you think that horror is doing so well on television right now?

Peli: I don’t know. I think that horror in general is fairly popular. It’s definitely popular in movies, in film and there was just not a lot of good horror on TV. So, whenever there’s a good horror on TV people rush to it.