Slamdance 2015 Interview: Perry Blackshear

If my interview with writer/ director/ editor/ cinematographer etc, Perry Blackshear had a theme song, it would be ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. Despite being labelled a D.I.Y. filmmaker, Perry takes every opportunity to state how he couldn’t have done it without his main collaborators: the cast of They Look Like People (MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, and Margaret Ying Drake). Indeed acting is pretty much the only thing Perry didn’t do in the film, but as you will see in the interview below (and in the picture above), this has nothing to do with ego as he is always quick to point elsewhere when delegating credit. The theme of friendship being essential for one’s survival is not one commonly found in the psychological thriller genre, but that’s very much what his film is about. They Look Like People screens at the San Fran Indie Film Fest this week.

Dork Shelf: What is They Look Like People about? 

Perry Blackshear: They Look Like People is a story about love and nightmares. It’s this heartfelt indie drama wrapped up in a psychological horror film. The story is about two best friends, one starts seeing people around him turn into what he thinks are evil monsters. He spends the movie trying to figure out if this is real or not and if he should be protecting his friend from what he thinks is a war that’s going to happen or from himself because he’s becoming dangerous. 

DS: Where did this idea originate?

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PS: Many years ago I had a really good friend of mine who was going through a really dark time. He started to think people were spying on him and his computer. He started to think the same thing, that people were turning evil. Years later I went through a really bad patch myself and I sort of started to see what he meant. I think when you’re going through really hard times you ascribe all these really negative intentions to everybody, including people that you’re close to and you start seeing everybody as the enemy. That was what I wanted to make a movie about. 

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DS: What was the driving force behind getting this film made? 

PS: The reason the movie got made in the first place is because I had these old actor friends in L.A., Evan (Dumouchel) and MacLeod (Andrews), and they just said that we needed to make a movie so I bought them plane tickets three months in advance and we didn’t even have a script. We were gonna make a movie no matter what and that was what started it. Then we had to look around and see what we had. We didn’t have very much money but we had some really helpful friends and one apartment and a basement and a street. It could have been a really difficult shoot if we weren’t so close and we didn’t trust each other. It got very difficult on set but we were able to work through it together and still have a really great time.

DS: Did you always know how the movie would end? 

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PS: I did not. The movie started as more of, I don’t want to say a genre piece, but it started more with an intention of just to make a cool movie but because the set was so intimate and the actors were my friends, it became extremely personal accidentally. We couldn’t help putting ourselves in the movie a lot, and the ending came out of that.

DS: Did you draw on any other films for inspiration? 

PS: I was watching a whole bunch of movies at the time. Take Shelter was an inspiration, I think that film is amazing. It’s extremely tense but also very compassionate and I think deals with a difficult subject in a really great way. There’s one scene in Take Shelter where he tries to go get help for his own mental instability while also going and buying stuff for his shelter in the same trip. I thought that was a very complicated character. The other big inspiration was actually a movie called Fish Tank, which is a totally different movie but the last 30 minutes or so jackknifes into a totally different direction, at least I thought so when I was watching it. I had such a rush watching that. When you watch a lot of movies you begin to feel the rhythm of them, but when they violate the rhythm that you’ve imagined it’s really pretty exhilarating and I tried to take what I could from that. 

DS: What was it like to watch it with an audience for the first time? 

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PS: It was amazing. You spend years in an editing room by yourself and you forget sometimes that movies exist because of the audience. It was wonderful. It was really fun watching people react to stuff that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s a very different experience from watching it with just little groups of one or two. There’s something that happens in a crowd in a dark room that’s pretty magic. 

DS: This was a very D.I.Y. film, right down to the special effects. Was that difficult to learn? 

PS: I used to know After Effects when I was in High School but I wasn’t very good at it anymore. We thought about getting a visual effects artist but it was very very expensive and we didn’t quite know what we wanted to I just ended up fooling around for about a month, looking at online tutorials, which are great by the way, I recommend them. There’s not very much stuff in the movie but we wanted to give just a little bit to let people see what it’s like through Wyatt’s eyes. 

DS: What’s On Your Dork Shelf? 

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PS: I collect stones from Ireland, the smooth kind. Otherwise, I actually have magic cards still, that I hide and are taken out only in emergencies. 

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