SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Jackie Perez: My name is Jackie Perez and I LOVE horror. I’m first and foremost a screenwriter and direct whenever I get the chance. I lived in Los Angeles for the past 5 years, but I just moved around the world to Bahrain which has been quite the change! I used to be a nuclear engineer in the Navy before I discovered my passion for screenwriting. I love writing genre features and had my first contest win last year at Screamfest. I also work remotely as a grants manager for STEM, creative, and veteran non-profits.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker?
Jackie Perez: Movies had always been my escape growing up but it wasn’t until I was studying at MIT for undergrad that I realized filmmaking was an actual career option. Of course by then I was already well underway into an environmental engineering degree. I heard Eli Roth speak at a preview screening of Hostel in late 2005 and he answered a question from an audience member about the necessity of going to film school to “make it.” Roth answered that it didn’t make a difference if you went to film school or not, that the difference was hard work and perseverance, that he graduated with an entire class of wannabe filmmakers but he was there with a movie on the big screen because he did the crappy jobs, got experience, and kept at it. I was hooked. I was self-taught and wrote and directed three short films before graduation. When I got out of the Navy, my first stop was Hollywood.
I drove to LA with no connections and gave myself 2 years to figure things out. I started-out at unpaid internships at a production company and management company where I asked tons of questions learning the basics, and then landed assistant jobs Creative Artists Agency and Justin Lin’s Perfect Storm Entertainment. The entire time I was trying new things, meeting new people, and learning the ropes of the industry. I fell in love with screenwriting when I participated in the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Project and decided to earn my Masters of Fine Arts in Television and Screenwriting through Stephens College. For me, getting an advanced degree was the right decision because I wanted to immerse myself in writing and form a network of professional writing peers that I didn’t have working on the development side of things. I did a low-residency program so I could continue working full time and filming my own projects. Making my first short with professional actors and a real budget was eye-opening! I am self-taught through and through and am constantly learning, trying to go a little bigger and further outside my comfort zone each time. I’m first and foremost a screenwriter and want to build a career as such, but I love the thrill of directing. I know there’s a feature somewhere in my future and after Beachworld, I’m confident enough and ready to take it on.
SKSM: When did you make Beachworld Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?
Jackie Perez: I’d been developing the script for over a year but things kept getting in the way of nailing down production dates like grad school finals and wedding planning. Once the honeymoon was over, the holidays hit and by the time 2018 rolled around it was now or never because I had the big overseas move looming on the horizon. My producer Brian Campeau (OneNinth Media) and I set a date and the train started moving.
It turns out we were incredibly lucky with the date we chose to shoot on location at the Glamis Sand Dunes. The day before it was extremely windy and no good for drone shots, and the day after the temperature jumped into the mid-90s and it would have been way too hot. I was really worried because we were shooting around Spring Break and didn’t know how tracked up the dunes would be from buggies, but we caught the perfect day in late March. It was still hot, but wind was manageable, the Alexa camera didn’t get damaged from any sand, and no one got sun burned or passed out. The camera kept shutting down so we lost almost an hour switching out batteries until we figured out a fix. Our DP Sarah Phillips did an amazing job.
We shot one day on location on the Glamis Sand Dunes and finished up with two days at Pollution Studios in Los Angeles. As for cost, it was the biggest budget I’ve ever worked with which was awesome, but we were stuffing 20 lbs of film in a 10 lb bag so there were plenty of challenges to overcome, favors to ask, and incredibly talented people who worked for way below their normal rates.
SKSM: How come you picked Beachworld to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?
Jackie Perez: I read all of the available Dollar Baby stories and chose Beachworld because of my proximity to the largest dunes in CA. It was a tough love decision because Grey Matter is my favorite King short story but the snowy setting was something I didn’t want to compromise on and it’s so much trickier working with child actors because of union rules.
When I first read the story, I was drawn to the isolation theme. My longest time out to sea when I was in the Navy was 84 days in between port calls on deployment. When you are crossing the Pacific Ocean without a ship in sight or on radar, the empty vastness is both serene and terrifying. I was wrapping up my MFA and I had never written an adaptation but I knew I wanted to put my personal stamp on the story. There are quite a few changes that were made for either creative and budgetary reasons and as a huge horror fan, I had to make it bloody.
It took me quite some time to figure out how I wanted to approach the story, but once I made a specific character decision, a lightbulb went off and everything else clicked into place. I’m really excited to hear what people think, especially those who are familiar with the source material because I wrote a very different ending,
SKSM: How did you find out that King sold the movie rights to some of his stories for just $1? Was it just a wild guess or did you know it before you sent him the check?
Jackie Perez: I was at a bbq of my friend who helped produce my last two shorts and he introduced me to another big Stephen King fan who had just gotten the rights to Strawberry Spring and I was like “WHAT? Tell me everything!” I was actually angry with myself for not knowing about Dollar Babies being such a big fan and all, but the timing was perfect because I wouldn’t have been ready as a filmmaker if I had tried to make this earlier and the final product just wouldn’t have been as good. I sent in my pitch with some of the changes I wanted to make and got the OK. I think it’s such an amazing way to give back to the emerging film community and I am forever thankful for the opportunity.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Jackie Perez: Really the most special part about it was being able to come together with my friends to make something I loved and have them all supporting me and bringing my vision to life. It was extremely bittersweet knowing I’d be moving but so many of my friendships deepened because of this project and I just feel so lucky to have found those friendships in the first place during my time in Los Angeles.
SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe a internet/dvd release would be possible?
Jackie Perez: My goal is to get it out to as many Stephen King and horror/sci-fi fans as possible within the boundaries of the option contract. We’ll definitely share a trailer (our teaser is out) and with a strong festival showing I’m hoping a lot of fans get to watch. Everyone who is interested can sign up for updates on our website and we’ll keep them updated on when/how/where they can watch.
SKSM: What “good or bad” reviews have you received on your film?
Jackie Perez: So far so good! We’re really close to locking picture and still have to finish sound design, music, and VFX so hardly anyone outside of the production has seen it but the feedback has been really positive, especially with respect to the final scene.
SKSM: Do you plan to screen the movie at a particular festival?
Jackie Perez: We haven’t started submitting it to festivals yet since we’re still in post-production, but I would love to see it screen at Screamfest this year. Last year I was on my honeymoon in New Zealand during the festival when I found out I won an award. I mean, the honeymoon was great and all but I was so bummed to miss out on the fest! It’d be great to fly back and experience it with the cast and crew of Beachworld since they are all in LA. Another film festival I’d love to have it screen at is Citizen Jane which is all about achieving gender parity in film and telling womens’ stories. There are so many amazing female-forward and genre film festivals we want to submit to! We’ll share festival and screening updates on our Facebook page and website.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations?
Jackie Perez: I’m a huge Stephen King fan and my love for his work literally started in the womb when my mom read IT, Christine, and The Stand when she was pregnant. My favorite adaptation hands down is Misery. Kathy Bates is magnificent and it’s one of the rare books that you can read back to back with the film and still cringe even knowing what is coming next. I would have expected nothing less from William Goldman adapting.
My all-time favorite King book is The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I’d LOVE to get Mr. King’s permission to adapt that into a screenplay, moving from the isolation of Beachworld to the isolation of the Maine woods. The stories I write explore the choices we make and the people we become when shit hits the fan. We either step up, shut down, or go insane. The story of survival against the odds is one of pure human instinct. Resilience against fear and the unknown is universal.
I do have to mention this: only 2 of the almost 71 feature film adaptations of King’s works credit women as writers (co-writers). I want to be the one that turns that dismal 3% stat to a slightly less dismal 4% and watch it go up and up from there. I want to also point out only 2 adapted features have been directed by women. It was inspiring seeing Bridget Carpenter helm 11.22.63 but I don’t think I have to run through the rest of the television stats and the adaptations and remakes in development to prove that women are grossly underrepresented in the King to Film and TV world. Which is quite disheartening for me because he writes such amazing, complex women. I hope he’ll consider my pitch to adapt Trisha McFarland’s story for the big screen and I hope Hollywood starts hiring more women to lead these projects.
SKSM: Did you have any personal contact with King during the making of the movie? Has he seen it (and if so, what did he think about it)?
Jackie Perez: No, but I’ll be taping a special message to go with the film when I send it to him.
SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick -at least- one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?
Jackie Perez: I’m taking things one step at a time but of course I’d love to work on another Stephen King project! (See above!)
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Jackie Perez: I’m finishing up a horror feature script called Thicker Than Water which is inspired by the Mexican legend of the Lechuza, an ancient shape-shifting woman that has sold her soul to Satan in exchange for dark magical powers. The proof of concept short script was a semi-finalist in the NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) short film incubator.
SKSM: What one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Jackie Perez: People are always surprised by the whole MIT/nuclear engineer to horror screenwriter career shift. What can I say, I dream big.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
My personal website is www.jackierageperez.com
SKSM: Would you like to add anything else?
Jackie Perez: Oscar, thank you for your support of independent film and the Stephen King Dollar Baby community!!