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Creating a Unique Thematic and Visual World: “The Perfect Sleep” Director Jeremy Alter

Creating a Unique Thematic and Visual World: "The Perfect Sleep" Director Jeremy Alter

In director Jeremy Alter’s film, “The Perfect Sleep,” a man with no name returns to the violent, brutal domain of assassins he left ten years before – back when they dubbed him The Mad Monk for his disregard for his own life and his intense devotion to one woman, Porphyria; a beautiful, luminescent woman; the girl he grew up with; the love of his life; the one thing he has ever wanted; the one thing he can never have.

There is no discernible reason for him to come back to this ruthless city, save one. She still lives here, she is in danger, and he – a man gifted in the art of killing – may be the only one who can save her. Waiting for him are deadly men who would like nothing more than to see him die a painful death. Standing at their forefront is the formidable Nikolai, the man who raised him and just might be his father.

To protect Porphyria, this unnamed man will return to a life of torment and torture. He will face off against the father figure he turned his back on so many years ago. He will revisit this existence full of people imprisoned by their desire, their history, and their very blood; a world where the only thing keeping you from happiness is yourself, the world of The Perfect Sleep. The film opens this weekend in Los Angeles…

Please introduce yourself…

My name is Jeremy Alter. I was born in New York but spent the majority of my childhood in South Florida. After graduating from high school, I attended UCLA. While there, I began to work in film. I worked my way up to a location manager and have location managed many feature films including “Sideways” and “Anchorman.” I’ve recently made the jump to producing and directing. I co-produced David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” and numerous music videos. I just directed a video for New Found Glory, an acoustic music video for Chris Cornell and a stylized interview with U2. I am the producer and director of a film called “The Perfect Sleep” which is being released in Los Angeles on March 13, in New York on March 27, and dates to follow in Dallas, Portland and Chicago.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking?

I have always loved films. Since I was a child, I remember my father taking me to the movies virtually every weekend. Watching movies for me was an event. Prior to owning a VCR, I would anticipate certain films to be aired on TV each year My love and interest for films has never waned and when I first stepped foot on a set while I was still in college, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I worked for two years in film for free just so I could get my “foot in the door.” The more I was exposed to filmmaking, the more I wanted to produce and direct. I have worked in various capacities on over 50 feature films of all kinds. This has given me the good fortune to both learn what should and should not be done on sets.

How did the idea for “The Perfect Sleep” come about?

The project came about when, some years back, Anton Pardoe (the film’s writer) and I were frustrated trying to get a couple projects past the development stage. We had previously done an award winning short film and we were now more than ready to make a feature. Anton proposed trying to do an eye-catching genre film that would cost next to no money Intent on writing something to serve that purpose, Anton asked me what locations would be optimal for cost effectiveness. At that time, there was a state funded incentive called “Film California First” whereby location fees for certain government owned properties were reimbursed to film companies along with some permit fees and manpower.

I put together a list of good, inexpensive locations and other general concepts to keep costs of a potential film down. Anton then went off into writing mode and a short time later (actually a little over a week or two), the first draft of “The Perfect Sleep” was born. It ended up being just a little bit more ambitious than what we originally discussed; and, of course, by the time we got to making the movie, the Film California First program had dried up.

Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…

I wanted to create a unique world both thematically and visually. To achieve that goal, I wanted to employ some of Los Angeles’ most intriguing locations, places that would stand out. Influence-wise, along with some of the classic noir films, one of my visual influences was a Seijun Suzuki film called “Branded to Kill.” I took screen captures from the film and pasted them around my office for inspiration. Visually, I always wanted a dark, grand scale featuring large spaces with little amounts of set dressing or actors, making for a sort of epic starkness. I wanted to indulge a look I like to call “pools of light.” Take a large area and employ lights judiciously to give the frame maximum atmosphere. I also wanted to get the most qualified and most talented crew possible despite being an independent film. It would not bother me at all to be one of the least experienced people on set.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution?

Raising the money has always been the most difficult part. To me, actual production comes very easy. I’ve worked on enough movies and been in enough crazy situations that production comes very naturally to me. Securing distribution has also been exceedingly difficult. We have a stylizied noirish world populated with the tragic characters found in the writing of Dostoesky…with martial arts and a lot of other layers. We do not have big “stars” and the film has voice-over and flashbacks and more than a few literary references. The film does not exactly fit into the “high concept” model, but I do think it is very entertaining and provocative if you come to it with an open mind.

How did the financing and for the film come together?

Well, very fortunately, we met a gentleman named Keith Kjarval who is one of the founders of a production company called Unified Pictures. We were talking to him about a horror film we had the remake rights to when he asked us if we had a project that was a little more cost-efficient. After we handed him “The Perfect Sleep,” things actually started to evolve very quickly; which is one of the benefits of dealing with companies committed to helping filmmakers make the movies they want to make. Casting proceeded the old-fashioned way in many respects as we auditioned actors and had a great time meeting with many, many talented people. In fact, we were so impressed by certain auditions, that Anton, on a few instances, expanded or even wrote a new role specifically for a few actors.

Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?

I love producing and directing and want to continue to do so. I would love to learn more about lighting. Lighting is so essential to a film’s look. It may be sacrilegious to say, but to me a well lit DV set can look better than a poorly lit 35 mm set. I would also like to learn more about the technical workings of camera. I know how to set a nice frame but I am not as technically adept as I would like.

What is your next project?

Our next project could be one of two scripts:

“A Convocation of Wyrms” is an original horror tale I am slated to direct. On its surface, the story features a group of disparate people winding up in a very scary and very unusual mansion with some very strange residents. It combines the lush elegance of the Hammer productions with some Lovecraftian horror and some scary folklore and some modern effects. It’s a wild ride with some really great characters.

The other project is called “Suggestion” and I love this script. It’s a wild action/suspense/horror/thriller project that showcases what happens when an unexceptional fellow named Gordon Bailey wakes up to find his loving wife is now trying to kill him. When he finds out she’s not the only one looking to murder him, things get really interesting. It’s fast and funny and thoughtful and if I had to do the Hollywood comparative thing, I guess I’d say it has a kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Shaun of the Dead vibe.

On the off chance there is anyone in this economy looking for impressive tax deductions and nurturing a powerful desire to finance smart, innovative film projects, please get in touch with me.

What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?

When I was younger, independent film often meant films which were not necessarily star driven or box office-infatuated; films that pushed the envelope a bit; films which often showcased the voices of new talent. These were the films being discovered at film festivals. Now, it seems like independent film can cover a whole range of films. Labels like that can get you running in circles. By definition, “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” are independent films and certainly they have an independent spirit, but they have decent budgets and “name” actors and “name” directors that some purists might not consider independent. It’s not for me to decide, but I will say I consider this a tough time for independent films of the old-fashioned kind. Both festivals and independent companies seem very beholden to getting name talent; in fact, it seems many companies in the independent world are just mini-studios that have to protect their bottom line just as conservatively. After all, the movie that won Best Picture this year was at one time in danger of going straight to video.

What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?

Don’t go to market screenings of your own film. Acquisition buyers are strange animals They come into your screening late or leave early and never want to show how they really feel about a film. It’s a horrible thing to have to endure.

Educate yourself about all aspects of the game, stay focused and don’t be dissuaded from your beliefs. Most people in Hollywood are conditioned to tell you why something cannot be done; they present themselves very confidently as experts and will explicitly declare what’s wrong with your script or your film, why you can’t do this or why things are not done that way. Fuck that. You do need to be sensible and realistic, but if we had followed all the rules, “The Perfect Sleep” wouldn’t exist. I interviewed a bunch DPs before hiring Charles Papert. I showed them where I wanted to shoot and what look I wanted to achieve. Most of the DP’s told me I was crazy and they didn’t know how they could do it with the limited resources we had. Charles was a talent who said “Let’s see what we can do” instead of “We’ll never be able to pull that off.”

Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.

Making “The Perfect Sleep” was incredibly challenging. There have been so many ups and downs, great moments and brutal times, trying to get this film finalized. I have many proud moments, but the fact it is opening in theatres right now is not too shabby. In addition to that, I have to say it was also pretty cool to be announced at the world premiere in Venice as one of the producers of David Lynch’s “Inland Empire.”

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