Alex Ross Perry
New York-based filmmaker whose latest feature film, “Listen Up Philip” premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim. His films, including “Impolex” (2009) and “The Color Wheel” (2009), have all been made with director of photography Sean Price Williams, and are often influenced by contemporary literature.
The title of Alex Ross Perry’s 2009 film, which takes the audience on the journey of an American WWII solider trying to find the last two undetonated German rockets after the war. The mission was known as “Operation Paperclip”.
THE COLOR WHEEL
Alex Ross Perry’s first major feature that explores the road trip relationship of two siblings (JR and Colin) at wit’s end. Perry plays Colin (the younger brother) in the film.
Writer, actor, and director Alex Ross Perry got his start in New York’s legendary video store, Kim’s Video, when he was a student at NYU. His first feature film, “Impolex,” premiered at the CineVegas Film Festival in 2009 and won the award for Best Foreign Film and Best Foreign Actor at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival in Australia. “The Color Wheel,” his second feature film, also won critical praise. But with “Listen Up Phillip,” Perry steps onto a bigger stage, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, winning at the Locarno Film Festival, and getting theatrical distribution in all the major cities.
David Grillo: It’s been a very big year for you. You won the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival, and only a year ago “The Color Wheel” was critically praised as “a big film disguised as a small one.” What has this experience been like with “Listen Up Phillip” blowing up this year?
Alex Ross Perry: You know it’s interesting because “Color Wheel” was a movie that had a very long drawn out life from the time it premiered at a festival to the time I was at the Independent Spirit Awards. It was two years total, whereas “Listen Up Phillip” came out in theaters just a year and a week from the day after we wrapped filming. Just that difference and being on a trajectory where things move quickly is very nice.
DG: What’s also really nice, I’d imagine, is that you’ve worked with the same people with both films.
ARP: Yeah and that’s the best part of making any film. That’s the thing about making a “bigger” film like “Listen Up Phillip” and feeling comfortable with it; I’m working with the same cinematographer and five or six of the actors are my friends. I was making a “big” movie with great actors I’d never worked with before, but everyone else was a close friend of mine. It put it right in my comfort zone.
SEAN PRICE WILLIAMS
American cinematographer known for his work in three of Perry’s films – “Listen Up Phillip,” “The Color Wheel” and “Impolex” – as well as the indie hits “Fake It So Real,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” and “Yeast and Frownland.”
DG: I’m a big fan of Sean Price Williams. What was it like working with him early on in your career and would you say this the most ambitious visual film you’ve made together so far?
ARP: Well, this is the only film that we’ve made where we’ve had enough resources both within our own means and also from having other departments like a production design team and a costume design team so that we could actually create and execute an entire aesthetic. The movie looks a certain way and has this aesthetic, which is mostly the cinematography, but having all these other talented departments doing excellent work makes the entire movie look much bigger and different than the other movies we’ve made together. It’s really a credit to everyone else’s contributions.
DG: I’m also a fan of your performance in “The Color Wheel” was that something out of necessity or will you do it again?
ARP: No, it was out of necessity. I couldn’t imagine who at that time would ever want to be in a movie for me or even help me make a movie, so I had to do as many things as possible and I really didn’t like it. I think every minute of “Listen Up Phillip” is alive with good directing of actors and good camera and that’s only because I was able to just sit back and comfortably put all this work in the hands of others. If I let that be my only job and both the images and the performances are Sean’s responsibility and the responsibility of a great actor, then I’m free to really do work that I am proud of.
An American actress and producer and native of Los Angeles best known for her award winning performance in the AMC series “Mad Men.”
An American actor and Los Angeles native best known for his critically acclaimed work in Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” (1998). He has also starred in other Wes Anderson (writer and director) films, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) and “Moonrise Kingdom.” In addition to his film work, he has appeared in a number of TV shows and starred in HBO’s “Bored To Death” comedy series (2009-2011). He is also the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola.
A native of Wales, Pryce is a prolific actor critically known for his performance in Terry Gilliam’s film, “Brazil” (1985). More recently he has worked on both “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006).
“I think both The Color Wheel
and Listen Up Phillip are
dramatic movies that have funny
characters in them or happen to
have jokes, which is different
to making an outright comedy.”
— Alex Ross Perry
DG: What was it like working with actors like Jonathan Pryce, Elizabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman? The performances are all great and special, given how uncompromising the characters are and how much of the film relies on the characters’ interior dialogue. What did the actors bring to the table and to the characters?
ARP: Well, that’s the thing about working with actors whose work I like and respect. I realize why they’re great and why having people like this is better than doing it yourself, because they have their own ideas and they have a million of those ideas. So with Jonathan, Jason and Elizabeth, I was able to sit back and give them the script and what they bring to the scene and what they come up with is so different than what’s on the page and yet it’s exactly what I want. That’s because they’re incredible at what they do. This is just another example of how “Listen Up Phillip” was the film where I got to learn how much can happen when you trust people who are great at what they do to take what you tell them the rest of the way.
DG: Right, it must be a real step forward from “The Color Wheel” as besides its limited resources you had to take a lot of risks making that film. Your films seem to set audiences up for an ironic comedy, but then gives them something really straight. It’s almost a classical approach to comedy like we haven’t seen in a while. Is this a risk when making a comedy these days?
ARP: You know, it’s interesting that you see them as comedy, because I think both “The Color Wheel” and “Listen Up Phillip” are dramatic movies that have funny characters in them or happen to have jokes, which is different to making an outright comedy. I wanted to do a movie that’s a drama with humor in it so I can give people a dramatic and enriching emotional experience, without it being a long arduous sad experience. It’s lubricated with some comedy.
DG: Do you see yourself making a wide variety of films after this one?
ARP: Ideally, I’ve always said that the dream would be to have a movie in each section of the video store.
DG: How do you find this range when you’re writing a film and later directing the actors? There are literary references and interesting narrative choices; there is always a lot going on in your films. How do you keep it all together?
ARP: I don’t really know. If there’s a tone then it’s probably what comes the most natural to me and when it’s there it feels real. It’s the way I would like to tell any given story. But you know the movie I just did has much less comedy and light heartedness than anything else I’ve ever done.