Some Guys Who Kills People, described as “part slasher, part comedy - wholly brilliant” has been wowing audiences at UK Film Festivals for the past twelve months. The film’s director Jack Perez, a graduate of New York University’s Department of Film and Television, has been working in the film and TV industry for over 20 years, his earliest break seeing him hired by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert and working on the long-running Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess series. Whilst he attained a certain notoriety with the cult classic Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus his more legitimate work has included his revisionary private eye tale The Big Empty which competed at the AFI international Film Festival and the blackly comic thriller La Cucaracha which won the Best Feature Award at the Austin Film festival. As Some Guy Who Kills People finally arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, Starburst took the opportunity to talk to Jack Perez about his career and the film which was very clearly a labour or love…
Starburst: So what brought the director of Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus and Monster Island (MTV stop-motion homage movie featuring Adam West as Dr Harryhausen) to something as wildly different as Some Guy Who Kills People?
Jack Perez: I think it was the combination of the depth of character in the script coupled with the fact that it’s a thriller with a really wicked streak of black comedy which made it feel like a piece I could really relate to. Kevin Corrigan’s character (Ken) is very close to my heart even thought I didn’t write him. Like most geeks I was severely bullied as a kid and I’m sure there’s a certain part of me which still isn’t over it - although of course I wasn’t tortured in the way Ken was! But I was very much a loner so that sort of character connected with me straight away and I liked the fact that it was couched in this very eccentric world but it never felt ‘affected’; that’s my big pet peeve in any sort of script, regardless of genre, when characters are written to try to sound cool or be cool. Some Guy felt like it’s in a very unique, authentic place with people I’m interested in and I wanted to explore that. I felt that so much of my stuff in previous years had been limited either by the content itself or the powers-that-be insisting that the movie be something or another. In other movies I’ve done which have just been work-for-hire I was just trying to find things in them which would appeal to me and Some Guy was one of those opportunities where the whole thing just hit me, it was like I was the one who needed to make this. I felt driven to do it as if I was sick from making too much junk in the past.
Do you think that there’s a stigma attached to being known for… shall we say… slightly schlockier movies?
I think so. It’s weird because it had been several years between La Cucaracha and The Big Empty and Mega-Shark but because of the way the world is right now when Mega-Shark came out it was so popular on the internet it became this big pop culture thing and suddenly that’s who I was, I was “the Mega-Shark guy” - but really it’s the most frivolous thing I’ve ever done. I’m a huge fan of monster movies in general - Godzilla, Kong, Ray Harryhausen, the 1950s atomic mutation films - I grew up on all of them so Mega-Shark was easy to make but I was so hampered by the budget and the people that were making it and the time we had to do it. It really was a sub-Roger Corman schedule, just crank the movie out in twelve days and hope for the best. The producers really treated it like a sausage factory. I had no control over the editorial process beyond my first cut which barely resembles what came out. By the time they’d padded it for time and put in all manner of inserts it really resembled a porno movie it was so monkeyed-with editorially. There are a few things in that movie which communicate what I was going for - one is the famous sequence where the mega-shark jumps out of the ocean and bites the 747 but I always say that when I was making it I was afraid people would think of me as this new Ed Wood. I love Ed Wood but I didn’t want to be perceived as someone who was not self-aware so I kept writing scenes which were so absurd that any discriminating viewer would say ‘okay, this guy knows what he’s doing, he’s not literally Ed Wood but he’s commenting on it whenever he can’. But at every turn the producers were saying to me ‘be careful with that irony and sarcasm stuff, this is supposed to be serious.’ They really thought they were making a serious movie and all I was trying to do was say ‘look, no way’ is this going to be serious, it’s ridiculous!’ and the irony was that after the movie came out and everyone saw how silly it was they were saying ‘ha ha, we’re in on the joke’ but until that point they really thought they were making Avatar! So I was really worried that people would just know me as this goofy shlock guy which is why I was really happy that Some Guy came along because it was the sort of film I needed to do creatively but also a way to say ‘look, you haven’t seen my other movies, you’ve only seen Mega-Shark and that’s not who I am!’
So presumably you feel more of a sense of ownership over Some Guy?
Absolutely. Some Guy is just the opposite of something like Mega-Shark where the piece resonated for me and ultimately Ryan Levin, who wrote the script, and I made the film we wanted to see. There was no one going in there and messing with the cut or the music choices or any of the details that allow a filmmaker to take possession of a movie. It was the movie I wanted to make and it was ’unmessed-with’ which I think is key because you can shoot the greatest movie in the world and then someone can take it and cut it into something else entirely. If you don’t control the editorial process what you’re trying to get across is likely not to come across.
Would you say that Some Guy is the sort of film which nowadays can only come from the indie sector?
I think so. As the years go by the more the studio industry becomes just that - an industry. It’s not about content, it’s about the size of the profit. I remember hearing a story where Martin Scorsese went into the studios to pitch a project and was told ‘We know it’ll make money, Marty, we’re just not interested in making that sort of money!’ So now it’s not even about if your movie will make money it’s about whether you’ll make Avengers money! If you’re not promising that, if you’re not mixing genres or basing it on a toy or a TV show the risk of being financed by a studio is slim - unless you’re the Coen brothers.
How would you describe Some Guy Who Kills People?
It depends who’s selling it. Some people sell it as a comedy, some strictly as a horror film. I think even if you say it’s a comedy/horror that in and of itself is limiting because people think of something like Scary Movie or something which is a little broader whereas this is fundamentally a drama with thriller and comic components. What made me want to do it is the fact that I bought into these characters as real people in a real situation so that’s how I approached it. Although it’s funny all over the place it has horror scenes and suspense/thriller scenes all of which I played absolutely straight but at its heart it’s a character piece and you have to believe that these people are real. I felt the movie was honest from moment-to-moment even though it changed tone from moment-to-moment. When it came to the violence I opted to go for a slightly more theatrical approach - I wouldn’t say it was comic because people get killed and there’s blood and gore but I definitely went for a more hyperbolic bent because I felt that if I went for something like Zodiac it’d be off-putting and I didn’t want it to be too naturalistic because I thought that’d be a harder fit with the lighter aspects but I definitely wanted to show the blood and the decapitation!
How important is it to get the right cast together for a film like Some Guy?
It’s essential. You never end up getting entirely the right people because that’s usually the way it rolls and even if you have a huge amount of money - which I’ve never had - where you can throw it at an actor and say ‘I must have you, Harrison Ford’, I’ve never been able to get everybody that’s ideal for an ensemble piece but in this case it was that very rare situation where the right people wanted to do the movie at the right time. I came in just as casting was about to begin and I suggested Kevin Corrigan because we were friends and we’d always wanted to work together and he really connected with the father/daughter relationship stuff because he’s a relatively young father himself so he signed on straight away. At that point we started to audition and virtually everybody came in - Barry Bostwick, Karen Black, Lucy Davis. It was a real surprise because I had no idea they were coming in because for the most part if I’d known they were coming I’d have just said ‘don’t come in, you’re great, we’ll cast you!’ It was strange being in a casting room and suddenly all these terrific actors came in and they wanted to do the movie even though they weren’t getting paid a lot of money to do it. They just responded to the material.
Barry Bostwick is terrific as the laconic Sheriff.
The character in the script is definitely an eccentric; I’ve often referred to him as a sort of ‘Andy Griffith on acid!’ He’s not the typical bumbling comical local Sheriff, he’s got a lot to him, he’s not an idiot even though he’s clearly nuts in some ways. Barry came in and he just added to the whole thing and he just inhabited that guy and made all those eccentricities real. Somebody else would have missed so many layers but Barry just filled it in and I think everybody did the same thing with their characters.
John Landis is credited as Executive Producer. How involved was he in the actual making of the movie?
I learned that he had been involved in some of the script development. He was interested in actually directing it himself and had spent a couple of weeks with Ryan Levin suggesting changes and adding his own ideas and Ryan had made those revisions and then John went off to make Burke and Hare because it was a project he’d been trying to get going which was a much bigger movie and a pet project of his. So when he left it was up to him and Ryan to find someone who could direct the movie which was now going to be a much smaller movie because as soon as Landis left most of the money went with him so he said ‘okay, I’ll stay on as executive producer and I’ll be there if you guys need me but essentially go and make the movie while I go and make mine.’ When it was over we sent him the cut and he really liked it which was a great thrill for us because obviously we’re huge fans of his. He offered a few notes which we implemented and that was basically it. Usually exec producers have a gun to your head to get you to make changes you don’t really want to make but he was the coolest producer you could possibly have and the biggest thrill for us was him just saying ‘guys, this is great’ - it was a bit like wanting to please your parents! He could have watched it and said ‘hmmm, it would have been better if I’d directed it’ but he was genuinely enthusiastic and positive.
Low budget movies obviously work to a tighter production schedule. Was there anything you had to compromise on in realising the script?
There was one thing I think that Ryan and I would have liked in the final scene where the Sheriff breaks in, having figured everything out, and wrestles the killer to the ground or against a wall and pulls a gun on him. In Ryan’s script it was a very elaborate fight scene, like something from a Bourne film with this weird comic aspect to it where there was real violence but a real comedy to the fighting. As I’d done second unit on Hercules and Xena I was accustomed to this sort of stuff and I was all ready to shoot it but we had literally just three hours to shoot the whole scene including all the dialogue before the fight even begins. I talked to all the producers and said that we either had to add another day to the schedule or we needed to revise the material so we have a scene that works and the decision was made that we just didn’t have the money there so we had to change it into a much more abbreviated fight. I think that’s the thing I’d probably change if I could but if you don’t know it’s missing I don’t think it damages the movie. I look at the movie and I’m extremely pleased about how it comes together as a whole and I didn’t feel I was unduly compromised and certainly not forced to do something I didn’t want to do.
How involved are you, as a director, in the visual stuff, effects and props etc?
I’m super-interested! I teach directing when I’m not directing myself and I tell my students that directing can be the most hands-on experience or it can be entirely deferential so you can either defer all the creative decisions to the department heads or you can be all over it and I think that makes the difference. That’s how I learned to do it and that’s what I enjoy. So when it comes to doing, for example, the decapitation sequence hopefully someone will come up with the solution as to how to do it and this is where I got back to my old Super 8 experiences as a kid where you had to figure it out for yourself. A lot of these practical, in-camera non-CGI techniques were things I’d learnt when I was making my own movies in Film School and when I was doing Xena and Hercules. I also try to plan everything from an editorial perspective so I know how best to ‘sell’ a particular effect and I know how it’s going to cut together and that’s generally how I approach filmmaking. I sort of back into it from an editorial perspective and the only way to get good stuff on a tight schedule is to know exactly what you want going in because you don’t have time to experiment, you need to commit to a way a scene is going to be shot, shoot it, move on and hopefully it works. I love the idea of seeing working on the day you’re shooting it, getting it done and being finished with it. I’m working on a movie now which has something like 3000 CGI shots and I feel in a way like I’ve shot the movie and yet I haven’t because I still have to manage these things that other people are doing whereas actually there on set I can see it, control it, move on. I definitely prefer the practical side, I think it feels more authentic. I’m sure that as the digital age moves on digital effects will be accepted as ‘more authentic’ or realistic but having experienced the other side I weigh the digital stuff against the practical and I always end up preferring the practical.
What would like the audience to take away from Some Guy Who Kills People?
I hope it affects them on an emotional level. I hope they care about the characters and I think that it doing so I hope it resonates with them for that reason, that it doesn’t feel like it was just there to shock you or make you chuckle. I hope they go away feeling as if they’ve watched something that happened to actual real people. I just want it to resonate with people, that’s my thing and I guess that’s why I look at a handful of my films and think that those are the ones that are really important. The least expensive thing to do is create characters that people will invest in. I always look at Jaws and if you were to weigh it on its effects, they’re certainly not what makes it work but you’re so invested in the characters than when the painfully fake shark eats Robert Shaw you’re totally going with and you buy into it. I think that sort of thing is absent from movies these days because the economic demands of the industry don’t lend itself to it.
So where does Jack Perez go next?
I’m currently doing a work-for-hire sci-fi disaster movie where Las Vegas gets knocked down by a supernatural sandstorm! I managed to get Barry Bostwick into it which is the one thing I’m excited about! He plays a sort of ageing Tom Jones! It’s definitely of the ‘other’ type of film I make but having Barry in it makes it worthwhile but that said it has some fun things in it but really I’m looking forward to the next thing I can do with Ryan Levin. We’re looking for a follow-up to Some Guy - not a ‘sequel’ but a movie we can do together because we sort of found each other accidentally and we have a couple of cool ideas that we’re working on.
Some Guy Who Kills People is out now on DVD/Blu-ray.