'The River’ co-creator Oren Peli was buoyed by frightening encounter with Steven Spielberg
Famed director saw screener of Peli's 'Paranormal Activity' and was scared to deathComments
By Ethan Sacks / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 8:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 8:00 AM
From left, Thomas Kretschmann, Eloise Mumford, Paulina Gaitan and Leslie Hope in ‘The River’
The fastest way to get a job making a horror series for television is to scare the heck out of Steven Spielberg.
That’s what “The River” co-creator Oren Peli discovered just over two years ago when he was an unknown director struggling to find a distributor for his film “Paranormal Activity” — shot in his own bedroom for $18,000.
Spielberg got a hold of a screener of the found footage thriller about an invisible demon tormenting a couple in their home whose devilry is caught on camera.
But the “Jaws” director was so terrified watching it home alone that he stopped the DVD and waited until the morning to finish.
“I was brand new to films, I was barely figuring out what I was doing when ‘Paranormal Activity’ was being released,” Peli says, “and I was meeting Steven Spielberg, who was my idol, and he’s saying, ‘There's nothing like “Paranormal” on TV. We should do a TV show together along those ideas.’
“I still hadn’t figured out the movie world and I knew nothing about TV, but Steven Spielberg says let’s do a TV show together, so you say, ‘All right, I’ll start thinking of ideas.’”
Two years later, Peli and co-creator Michael Perry found themselves in Puerto Rico watching the pilot of their idea, “The River,” being filmed.
Shot in Peli's trademark “found footage” style, the series, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC, revolves around the search for TV personality Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) after his disappearance inside the rainforest.
When his emergency beacon suddenly appears six months later, his wife (Leslie Hope) and estranged son (Joe Anderson) mount an expedition — with extra cameras, naturally — to find him. What they will find and when they will find it, though, is the mystery behind the mystery.
“The thing that scares me is a place like the Amazon - which is the size of the continental U.S. and mostly unexplored and has a different ecosystem, there are so many things in there that can kill you,” says Peli. “Every episode stands on its own as a mini horror movie.”
Another mystery, though, is whether the show can reach its ultimate destination. It averaged a robust 8.2 million viewers for the first of its two-hour debut — but 20% of the audience abandoned ship in the second hour.
To make it easy for new viewers to jump on each week, Peli says the show will not be a new “Lost,” despite the equivalent of plenty of smoke monsters.
In the meantime, they’re enjoying the ride.
“You’re stranded almost in an alien planet, you have no way to communicate with the outside world, there’s nobody there to help you, and you’re there alone against the elements,” says Peli, presumably talking about the plight of the fictional characters, and not the difficulty of navigating the serialized drama. “Add in the supernatural and it’s very creepy.”