FUTURES | “The Color Wheel” Director Alex Ross Perry Says Kim’s Video Was Better Than NYU

FUTURES | "The Color Wheel" Director Alex Ross Perry Says Kim's Video Was Better Than NYU

Age: 26

Hometown: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Why He’s on Our Radar: Perry’s sophomore feature is “The Color Wheel,” a black-and-white, 16mm comedy built on awkward laughs. Screening this Sunday at the BAM Cinemafest in its New York premiere, it debuted at the Sarasota Film Festival and won an award for Best Feature at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.

Perry stars with Carlen Altman (“You Won’t Miss Me;” Altman is also a co-writer), as Colin and JR, a brother and sister who endure a road trip that highlights their awkward relationship and all the ways their lives haven’t turned out as planned. Perry describes the film as an exploration of “siblings who grew up under the same roof… People that grew up sharing a bathroom, sat at the dinner table together, and now they’re at completely different wavelengths.”

More About Him: While an undergraduate in NYU’s Film & TV program, Perry worked full time at Kim’s Video. Years at the job led him to make some of his best friends and collaborators, many of whom worked on both of his features.

An image from Alex Ross Perry’s “The Color Wheel.”

What’s Next: Perry is working hard on the festival circuit to promote (and hopefully sell) “The Color Wheel.” He’s currently working on an omnibus of three erotic thrillers with Zach Clark (“Modern Love is Automatic,” “Vacation!”) and the DP of “The Color Wheel,” Sean Price Williams.

indieWIRE Asks: How did you get your start in filmmaking?

There was a weekly news program that aired all week long in a loop in Bryn Mawr. It was local community news and they always needed shooters to film talent shows and stuff. When I was a junior, a couple of my friends and I started a weekly comedy show where we showed short videos made by students in video production courses in school. In junior year, I became news director. I had a video camera at home that I played with, shooting s-video — editing VCR to VCR was heaven. What else would I want to do other than this?

And from high school you went to NYU?

Yeah and NYU, it’s fine and cool, but it’s not the greatest thing anyone can ever do to expose themselves to making movies or being a creative or insightful person. It is valuable having access to all the things New York movie culture can give you. In addition to going to school, I felt like I needed to work at Kim’s. I felt it was a necessary supplementary education. The only way I could get a job was to work full time. At NYU, I was realizing, “I’m not learning about movies here. I’m learning about them at Film Forum.” I’d go to class and think, “You people don’t know about movies, I don’t see you at Anthology.”

I did quickly realize, though, especially through working at Kim’s that I don’t know everything and that acting like I know everything was a pathetic routine. The people at Kim’s did know close to everything. On my first movie, the crew is half to two thirds Kim’s people. My DP is the guy who got me a job at Kim’s. All three of the actors were people I worked with at Kim’s. The guy who did the score I know from NYU. All my real honest personal collaborative relationships were from people I stood behind the counter with. I’ve actually lost a disappointing amount of contact with the NYU people. They just ended up on different paths. I tried to engage them. They just weren’t around or they didn’t support it or they didn’t support me. This mutual dream I thought we shared wasn’t there. All the great Kim’s people were interested in sharing that future with me.

And this film? Was it a lot of people from Kim’s?

This one was more people that I met at festivals, which became my new Kim’s creative pool to pull from. Rather than we worked together behind the counter, we ended up connecting at two or three festivals. Carlen I met when she was at a stand-up comedy night that my friend hosts called Giggles. She had just finished shooting “You Won’t Miss Me,” but it wasn’t done yet.

How was the writing process? The film has a very distinct feel and you co-wrote it with Carlen.

The first question we always get in Q&As was how much of it is scripted. It’s almost 100% scripted. It’s really close to the script. I spent a couple months with pens and paper trying to figure out, who are these characters? What are their backgrounds? What is the arc? How can we build to that in a way that is obvious and believable? It wasn’t scene by scene, but beat by beat. At some point, they need to be pushed together. I sat down for two months and wrote a first draft, and gave it to Carlen. She rewrote all of her character’s lines, especially scenes that she’s in alone, because I was writing it like I talk. She tailored it to her own sensibilities and through months of rehearsal.

And how does it feel to be bringing the film home?

Well, almost a year ago we wrapped production, so it feels like a long time coming, and screening at BAM is big. It feels like a gigantic measure of success. And I love that place — I went to see “400 Blows” on my alone there on my 25th birthday.

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