“By trade, I am a software programmer, so I never really had any experience with movies before” Oren Peli told Moviefone in 2009. “I never even made shorts or anything like that.”
The idea for “Paranormal Activity” began when Peli moved from his apartment into a detached house in “a very quiet, suburban neighborhood.” He’d been used to hearing the sounds of his neighbors through the walls, so the silence of the suburbs drew his attention to every little sound in the house. “I’m sure most of it was natural sounds of the house settling,” said Peli. “But every once in a while you would hear things that would be weird and you couldn’t figure out where they are.”
Peli got the idea of setting up cameras around the house to try and catch whatever was making the noises, and that idea became the premise for “Paranormal Activity.” It was shot in Peli’s own home, with a crew made up of Peli himself (as screenwriter, director, cinematographer, editor, and set decorator), his best friend since childhood, Amir Zbeda, and Peli’s then-girlfriend, Toni Taylor, who became “a reluctant helper” since the film was, after all, being shot in her home. Peli also hired a make-up artist, Crystal Cartwright, since make-up was the only thing he couldn’t figure out how to do himself. The core cast was made up of just two actors: Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat.
The film was shot on a production budget of around $15,000, though beforehand Peli spent upwards of $30,000 renovating the house to be suitable for a haunting. Most of that went on replacing carpeted floors with hardwood floors (“Hardwood floors are easier to slide things or people on,” he explained in an interview with the New York Times).