I really hope that it doesn’t mention Megashark vs. Giant Octopus on Jack Perez’s eventual gravestone, but it would be just wrong to leave it out of his obituary. Perez has done time on these low-budget, low-smarts monster movies, and done his best to make them work. There’s a nobility in this.
And then he’s also made truly independent films that he cares about, believes in, and most importantly, feels very connected to.
One of these films, Some Guy Who Kills People, is released across the UK on DVD and Blu-ray today, so I took some time to call up Perez and speak to him about the realities of being a properly, bona fide indie filmmaker in the US today. What he gave me was a brilliant window into the world of schlocky, gimmicky “movie of the week” fare, and what a nice guy like him is doing with projects like that in the first place.
And, of course, we also talked about Some Guy and what made that one actually work out.
Here’s some of what Perez had to tell me, starting with his connection to the Some Guy Who Kills People screenplay.
When I read the script, it struck a chord in me personally. That’s really what I gauge, if I have my choice – which I often don’t have because I work when I can work and sometimes the projects, I’m not personally connected to them. But when I read this script, it connected with me personally. I didn’t think of it so much as entertainment, or having a moral dimension, as much as I was just connecting personally.
And I identified particularly the character of Ken, that Kevin Corrigan plays. I strongly identified with someone who carries the scars of being bullied. Like most geeks, of which I consider myself one, I was pretty severely bullied and I’ve spent many nights fantasising about how I would despatch these bullies in clever and extreme ways. I think there’s still a part of me that carries some resentment and anger. And while most people have said this is a serial killer story, it isn’t really – he’s a revenge killer.
Regardless of whatever film it is I’m making, making any film is an opportunity, whether you connect with it intimately or not so I value the opportunity to make anything that I don’t have to pay for myself. The difference isn’t in how much of myself I put into the film, because I end up breaking my back on a dumb movie as much as on a movie that’s important to me because once I get there I don’t see anyway to do it other than make the best film I can make. Of course, you’re hampered by the original material and additionally hampered by the fact that you’re not connected deeply, but it’s like being an actor asked to play a part they don’t personally identify with. You can fake it. Anyone can play a cop, a lawyer, a person with a drug problem. A good actor might even make it look believable. I find it to be a similar case when I’m directing a project that just isn’t the movie I’m dying to make.
But it is a hell of a lot easier to make a movie I am connected to because every choice feels like it’s coming from an authentic place. Everything. Whatever lens I choose, whatever composition I elect, how I choose to move the camera, every choice with regard to blocking, set design, the colour of the walls, the colour of the shirts that characters are going to wear – all of those things come from a secure place. It doesn’t come from a place where I’m thinking “I’ll do this because it will be cool.” If you understand the material, the choices and images come much more freely but when you’re not deeply connected with you end up manufacturing things that you think will do the job.
And on a project I’m connected to, a lot less of the decisions would be handed down to me.
Let’s look at Megashark vs. Giant Octopus. That movie came to me and I took it out of desperation. I had been planning to make a movie that was more personal to me for almost two years and just as I was about to cast it, we got hit with the whole economic meltdown and the company went into self destruct. I got a phone call that said “There’s no movie anymore” and I knew I would starve and lose my house. In desperation, I called the Megashark producers because I knew them from a couple of years before when, in a similar situation I had done another picture for them. They said “We have this monster thing with a squid – can you do that?” and I said “yes, absolutely” even though the plumber who comes to fix your kitchen sink makes more money than I did on that movie. It didn’t matter. I needed money.
They had already pre-cast, and Deborah Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas came with the title of the movie. They didn’t have a script, but they had Gibson and Lamas.
I was constantly fighting with the producers to be able to acknowledge that this film was ridiculous. I love monster movies and I was raised on Godzilla, Ray Harryhausen and atomic mutation moves from the fifties, so it was easy to make Megashark vs. Giant Octopus, but I knew that it was so low budget and was so obviously silly in so many ways it was necessary to let the audience know that I was in on the joke. But every time I did that, the producers would look me in the eye and say “You can’t do any of that irony stuff, this is a serious movie.” They had no idea how ridiculous, and even ridiculous in a fun way this movie could be. They thought they were making Avatar on two bucks. I found myself trying to sneak in as many things as I could so the more discrimination viewer might say “This guy isn’t Ed Wood. He must know something.”
The editing was completely taken away from me and they padded it for time, added ridiculous flash frames and inserts that don’t make sense. If anything they made something that was kind of dopey into something that felt like a porno. That’s why I took pseudonyms on that movie. Still, because people’s memories are so short these days I quickly became The Guy Who Did Megashark and nobody cared about anything else.
But Some Guy Who Kills People was the exact opposite experience. John Landis, who was our executive producer, knew that he either had to trust me or do it himself. So he went off to make his own movie and said “If you need me, I’ll be there for you. Show me the cut and I’ll give you some ideas that, if you like them, you can use them.”
It’s hard enough making a movie but then you have all these people trying to piss on it, for ego reasons, or just throwing their weight around. That’s why most movies suck – there’s a forced jumble of decisions that don’t necessarily serve the movie, it’s just a huge stew of people putting their two cents in saying “I can because I’m the boss.” Landis was completely the opposite. Nothing was forced on me at all, and I was able to make the best movie I could make. I was compromised on budget, and didn’t necessarily have all of the equipment I would want, or the time, but best of all, I also didn’t have somebody telling me how to cut it or how to shoot it. I would take that autonomy over a huge budget any day of the week.
I thought the script for Some Guy was so great, like a Swiss watch. My director’s pass was just to make it shootable. Stuff like “This location here, it can’t happen as written in a convenience store but it can in this abandoned pool.” The only thing I did enhance were the murder scenes. In the script they were the least detailed. There’s a scene in a drive in movie theatre that was quite nondescript, and the location was something inesssential – an alleyway or something – so the drive in was something I put in. It offered so many visual opportunities.
I see the problem with the title because there’s a world of horror movies that are sort of one-note jokes and I think people could make the wrong association here and think this title is more of a gag. But I would defend the title. I felt it summed up the attitude that the movie needed. Even though it’s a mix or horror, comedy and drama, it’s not precious. We had a few other producers come on and suggest things like Blade or Slice or something typical but they really didn’t get the combination of tones.
My future will probably have both kinds of films in it, Megashark and Some Guy Who Kills People. It’s this back and forth where, in order to stay alive and keep working, you do have to work like an actor – not every part is the one you’re dying to play, not every part is going to be Hamlet. I’m just finishing another movie which is a SyFy channel original. It’s definitely a cut above Megashark vs. Giant Octopus, it’s a bigger budget and I managed to get Barry Bostwick, who I became friends with on Some Guy, to play an ageing, Tom Jones-like, Las Vegas lounge singer. He’s great and that’s one of the inspired notes in it. It’s a big, supernatural disaster movie. I love Earthquake and The Towering Inferno and I was able to channel my love of those movies.
But meanwhile, while I finish that for the paycheck, Some Guy’s screenwriter Ryan Levin and I are developing my next thing. I think we’re lucky to have found each other and even though I write, I’m a lover of fine writing and he wrote a much better version of Some Guy than I ever could and, conversely, he feels that I directed it better, even though he does direct. It was a meeting of minds. Our next collaboration is what keeps me going. It’s where we’ll have the freedom to make the movie we want to make.
Thanks again to Perez for taking the time to talk to me. Some Guy Who Kills people is available on UK DVD, Blu-ray and download from today and has been out in the US for a few weeks now. While I can’t see a US Blu-ray right now, it’s worth noting the UK one is listed as being Region Free.