With the character of Cory, Ott used footage Zacharia had made himself to help guide his narrative. Ott had given him a camera before he started shooting, and told him to wake up every morning and just say whatever was on his mind into it.
"Talk about your mom, talk about your brother... whatever you're thinking," Ott would say to him. "And then I just started texting him questions like, 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' Or, 'What's the worst thing you've ever done?' Stuff like that. And he would answer those, but often go off on these rants that were way more interesting than what I actually asked him... I don't always know if he's performing or just being himself. And how that blurs together is what I like about it."
Ott and Okatsuka had written an entire script but started throwing things out when they began shooting.
"There were a lot of times where we had a scene written but what ended up happening was totally different than what was in the script," Ott said. This allowed Zacharia to bring the same kind of 'is he acting?' energy to some of the scenes.
The ambiguity of Zacharia's relationship to his performance creates some incredibly naturalistic moments, particularly when the topic is whether or not Cory the character is gay. It's a point of interest for both the other characters and Cory himself, who at one point gives a unexpectedly profound monologue about what it means to "act gay" and why people think he might be. The fact that it's somewhat unclear whether it's Cory the actor or Cory the character speaking makes it all the more remarkable.
"He's a friend," Ott said. "We talk once a week on the phone. But there's so much about him I don't know. So a lot of it was just putting him in situations and trying to figure it out."
Another element of "Pearblossom" that bucks convention, even by indie standards, is its festival plan, in that Ott doesn't seem to care about having one. Coming off of the accolades "Littlerock" received, it seems entirely reasonable for him to aim for a Sundance or a SXSW berth, but instead, "Pearblossom" had its world premiere in Vienna, a festival Ott holds close to his heart.
"I've met so many filmmakers who have this whole plan," Ott said. "And at the end of the day, I feel like people are going to like your movie or they're not.... There's also something to me about loyalty. Vienna was the first place that ever played my film outside the U.S. They've been super supportive of me. This is my fourth time here. And I like the idea of being involved with the people that helped me out and got me started. Same with Rachel [Rosen, of the San Francisco Film Society]. I feel lucky people like that cared about me at a time when no one else did."
Check out "Pearblossom" all over the film-festival circuit in the next few months, with Denver the next stop.