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Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #9: Alex Ross Perry Examines Narcissists and New Yorkers in 'Listen Up Philip'

By Indiewire | Indiewire January 12, 2014 at 12:10PM

Alex Ross Perry graduated from NYU in 2006 and worked at Kim's Video in Manhattan for three years. He made his first film "Implotex" in 2009. His second film, "The Color Wheel," played in theaters in America and France in 2012 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Referring to "The Color Wheel," Perry says it was a film "that many people responded quite positively to." He also told us, "Sometimes I feel very lucky."
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Alex Ross Perry

Alex Ross Perry graduated from NYU in 2006 and worked at Kim's Video in Manhattan for three years. He made his first film "Implotex" in 2009. His second film, "The Color Wheel," played in theaters in America and France in 2012 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Referring to "The Color Wheel," Perry says it was a film "that many people responded quite positively to." He also told us, "Sometimes I feel very lucky." 

What it's about: "The miseries and mistakes made by a newly successful writer and all the ways in which his poor decision-making affects the other people in his life."

What it's really about: "Success, betrayal and the triumph of reality over the human spirit. 'Listen Up Philip' is about how nothing ever happens to just one person. True narcissists will be unaware of the negative affects their behavior has on the people left in their wake; they will simply move forward thinking only of themselves. The film follows this progression from character to character as a way of observing the miasma of misery that can be caused by a charismatic, talented and intelligent individual."


Biggest challenge: "This film has sort of been a dream from start to finish, so I will never have much to say about it being challenging. I guess if I had to pick something it would be the whip speed timeline we have been on with this film. But then it would sound like I am complaining that we get to have a reason to finish it so quickly, which I am not."

Any films inspire you? "Yeah of course - plenty of things since I watch a lot of movies. But by the time you get on set it pretty much has to be distilled to just what I need to make this thing at the moment. The fun part of this film was having many talented department heads working expertly on one specific aspect. I made sure the production designer watched 'Rich Kids'  (1979) and 'Heart' (1987) in order to make sure that our New York doesn't overstep the Golden Age that I fetishize the most. Then the cinematographer can watch 'Husbands and Wives' (1992) for camera operating and lighting ideas while I watch 'We Won't Grow Old Together' (1972) with actors, and contemplate the misery and torment of artistic struggle."

Cameras used: "We shot this on an Aaton, just like both of my previous films. They were both regular 16mm but this was Super 16mm so we had to rent a different camera, but still an Aaton!"

Did you crowdfund? "No. I guess we just didn't need to."

Hopes for Sundance audience take-away: "I hope that people respond to some of the stranger risks I feel like we have taken with this film. A lot of films that people get the chance to see at festivals (my own previous work included) follow a very traditional structure or, in some cases, are made in a very polished way that hits the eye the way your average film at the multiplex might. With 'Listen Up Philip,' I have done neither of those things. The structure of the film is pretty radical and may be perplexing to some and the visual syntax in which you see these actors is perhaps going to seem strange and unfamiliar. I'd hope that people find this intriguing - or at least tolerable."
 

What's next? "It took about a year to make this movie and that was with a pre-existing, finished and strong script. Since I do not have another one of those at the moment, I imagine it might take a moment for me to gear up again for my 18th-century cryptozoology epic or my 60s French pop musical."

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2014 festival. For profiles go HERE.

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Listen Up Philip, Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers