INTERVIEW: DANNY PEREZ PART 1
Danny Perez isn’t exactly a household name but his films and video work have amassed a big enough following to be considered “cult.” Maintaining a psychedelic visual approach Perez seamlessly blends dramatics, comedy and true horror in his work, which he admits, is “a confusing sensation for mainstream audiences.” 2020 has been a tumultuous year but amidst the pandemic and protests, this year also marks the 10 year anniversary of Danny Perez’s debut film ODDSAC. To commemorate this milestone, FEAR FOREVER‘s Jordan Randall sat down with Danny Perez to reflect on the project that made him both an indie filmmaking hero as well as a Hollywood outcast.
Danny Perez (DP): Toronto holds a special place in my heart; I’ve had some good times there. As an East-Coaster, Toronto is kind of like a more tolerable New York. It has all the good stuff… there’s good people, there’s diversity, there’s really good food. The winters are fucking brutal though.
Fear Forever (FF): You guys spent some time in Sudbury, Ontario while filming ANTIBIRTH.
DP: Yeah, it was pretty brutal.
FF: I would assume all the snow we see in the film is real and not visual effects.
DP: Yeah that was real snow, it was harsh. I’m from the East Coast so I’m not unfamiliar with winter and snow but I’d never been in like negative 20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) type shit. I appreciate it as far as it adding the texture and having it add to the landscape but it definitely didn’t make things easier.
FF: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess?
DP: Totally. That one took a couple years off of my life for sure.
FF: So, ODDSAC… 10 years later. It doesn’t feel like it was 10 years ago!
DP: Yeah, it’s a testament to “time flies” and how stupid we are when we’re young as far as being like, “TEN YEARS OH MY GOD” and now we’re like, yeah 10 years goes by very quickly. I still remember being 11 or 12 and summer felt like this magical, endless freedom and 3 months felt like ‘YEAH, FUCK YEAH.” And then when September came and school kicked in it was so dramatic and so intense it was like, “NOOOOO, THE END OF AN ERA!” Now I’m just like “summer? Psh, I’ll get through that shit, I’ll watch a couple of shows, whatever you know?” That’s the brutal irony of life I guess.
FF: Time just speeds up exponentially, I guess.
DP: Remember when Kobe Bryant was a big deal?
FF: This year is the fastest year yet and it’s been filled with so many bad events.
DP: Yeah it’s been challenging for sure, man. I just try and remind myself that there are a lot of people that have it really fucking rough right now. I’m fortunate that I can work from home. I mean, my lifestyle hasn’t really changed that much. But I’ve been drawing a lot more since the quarantine hit and I’ve been enjoying that. I do need to watch more films though. All the way through. I’ve definitely become a victim of 21st century attention spans.
FF: I think everyone’s experiencing that in lockdown. Streaming services have so many different selections it’s easy to get decision fatigue and choose something that you don’t really want to watch only to realize this 30 minutes into the film before turning it off and watching something else.
DP: You just hit it right on the head.
FF: ODDSAC is such an interesting film, there’s so much in it in terms of tone and genre. People label it as a horror film but also as an abstract or experimental film… what is it to you?
DP: The naïve idealist in me calls it a “movie.” I’d like to think of it as a movie. You’re correct as far as seeing a lot of different genres and even a lot of different little nods to different things and techniques. At the time I made it as a love letter to the weirdo’s hanging out in their parents’ basement watching movies. I don’t know what that’s like now for kids or if that experience exists in some shape or form. I remember watching all kinds of “out there” movies and horror movies with my friends and it was a blast. It was fucking awesome. I wanted to make something that kind of contributed to that experience but also at the same time I’m not so dumb to think I was making “HALLOWEEN” or “THE GOONIES.” I knew ODDSAC was experimental and kind of avant-garde. But that was part of the reason I wanted to do it and 10 years later I still am trying to find my voice or find out how I can approach traditional narratives with these more experimental devices. Ideally people will be able to see ODDSAC in the future as like the teenager coming out of the closet screaming his head off being like, “GOD DAMN IT! MLAHHH!” And ANTIBIRTH was like “ok I’m going to hide that teenager in the closet but he’s gonna be banging on the door the whole time.” Maybe the next movie will be like that teenager’s a bitter middle-aged guy fucking hating his life. And that’s a very pessimistic view but you know, I ramble… Anyway, I just call ODDSAC a movie. I know that’s a naïve opinion because if you told your friends, “hey let’s watch a movie!” and you put ODDSAC on within twelve minutes they’ll be like “what the fuck man, get out of here” or… they’ll be really psyched. That’s definitely something I had reinforced a lot when I first came to L.A. I spent 4 years in Philadelphia sitting in my apartment editing ODDSAC and working back and forth with ANIMAL COLLECTIVE. I kinda ran out of opportunities or stuff I could do in Philly so I went to Los Angeles like thousands before and after me, just a guy/girl with ideas hoping to make it… blah, blah, blah. I was feeling pretty confident; I had done some film festivals, interviews and experience with ODDSAC. But you go to L.A. with that shit… just to knock myself down a little bit to show you that I certainly realize the place of work like this in the context of a more traditional film world… The door was open because I’d been to SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL and ANIMAL COLLECTIVE were popular… But the second they saw my work and the second they actually looked at ODDSAC they were just like, “oh… no, no, no.” They’d tell me, “I can’t even show this to my boss” or “No, you can’t work here, even though you’re obviously very capable.” So that was a tough pill to swallow, in terms of how the more mainstream world views such work. That doesn’t kill my passion and love and natural affinity for films and work like this. My wife of 20 years who I was with making ODDSAC and ANTIBIRTH, she kind of put it super precisely the other day. I’m going to digress for a moment… but believe me its going to be brilliant… I’m going to circle back to this point. In the wake of all the racial protests and such going on, we’ve been having some uncomfortable conversations with family members and so forth. I come from a very conservative, Catholic, Cuban-American family. To my parents’ credit they are very progressive and very liberal for being as Catholic as they are. I was telling my wife that I grew up in the church in a very conservative upbringing and she was like, “well yeah, that’s why you make the work you make. That’s why you were attracted to that shit when you were a kid… because you were rebelling.” And that’s true, every time I went to the video store… the cult section or the midnight section, that’s what always drew my eye like, “oh, what the fuck is this creature on the box?” I think it’s how you’re raised and your experiences infuse what shit you like to watch and what you like to do. There are all kinds of Catholic shit in ODDSAC. I knew that at the time but if you watch it now, it’s all over it. I was an alter boy, I passed out the first time I served Mass, I had to get dragged behind the church. There’s all kinds of processional imagery throughout ODDSAC. Those are the elements for me that make it a kind of personal film.
FF: I know a bit about the process of making ODDSAC. I know that it was a pretty tight-knit collaboration with the band ANIMAL COLLECTIVE. Am I correct that they made “temp” score for it; you then made visuals to those sounds, then erased the “temp” score and had them make new sounds for the visuals?
FF: Has something like that ever been done before? Were you guys the first people to do something like this?
DP: I don’t know. I’d never like to presume that I’m the first to do anything in this saturated age we live in. Whenever I’ve tried to propose that technique on other projects the studios were like “fuck no.” On ANTIBIRTH I wanted to have members of GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR playing strings. I was going to have members of ANIMAL COLLECTIVE doing vocals. I wanted to make this whole super group and do that process again. The studios told me that I had three days to mix, two days to get the score together, etc. I get it, the reason is: they hear that process and think it’s going to cost a lot of money. And I’m like, “Motherfucker, I’m not talking about money… I’m talking about doing something interesting… Everyone’s down, they’ll find ways to do it.” As far as how ODDSAC was, it took a really long time. It was also really fun and really exciting. I’m a fan of the band also, first and foremost. I’m lucky that I’m friends with them and value our friendship still. We’re still making stuff together. But I would get these weekly, sometimes monthly emails with new temp tracks and new pieces of music and that was enough to keep me going for 4 years. As a fan I was just excited, it really turned me on. I really dug the music and I considered it a privilege to have this little window into getting these demo versions of stuff. The back and forth went on for about 3 years. There is a whole alternate version of the opening sequence that’s much more different sonically to what’s there now. We had a couple sessions in studios where I was editing stuff on-the-fly there. That whole “urban cream” sequence in the middle… for the record, I always wanted to be much shorter but they were like “NO, NO IT HAS TO BE THIS LONG.” That was an example of something we tweaked all the way until the end. I also like to think of ODDSAC as this thing that encompasses a good 4 or 5 years of my life. We shot it, but then there was 4 years of editing and working on the music. There was stuff in the movie that literally wasn’t made until that last week when we were in a studio and I just plopped it into a timeline. So it really is smorgasbord of stuff. Also just learning the programs that I was using. If I were to do it now, I could make ODDSAC in two months with my knowledge of the programs. But it was me hanging out with my dog figuring out what looked cool and what didn’t.
FF: So you’re sitting on a bunch of different versions of ODDSAC. Do you have any plans to show the world some of the other renditions or cuts of the film?
DP: To be honest I’ve never thought of that. I’m a little embarrassed; everything’s been collecting dust in hard drives in the file cabinet for 10 years now. I certainly would love to do something live with the band where I’m mixing and breaking down the video into parts that I can mix live. We talked about trying to do something along those lines before everything you know, has gone the way it has. Both the band and I are proud of it existing as it’s own thing. The music hasn’t been released separately and no one has, not that we’re in grave danger of this, but no one has taken the video and used it for visuals on some other thing. I really like the fact that it’s a stand-alone object even though DVDs are a thing of the past now. I think for now we’re content with it being one for the weirdo’s.
FF: So I guess there’s no intention to put out a 4K restoration or BluRay release?
DP: I would like to. It’s not off the table, I’ll say that. You didn’t give me the idea.
FF: If you do it, you should include some of the various cuts as bonus features.
DP: There’s definitely some sweet behind the scenes footage. One thing I wanted to speak to about ODDSAC to me that is very important… which is where we shot it. It was this place called Wings’ Castle in Milbrook, New York. My friend, Charlie Wing who worked on the movie was like, “you know my dad [Peter Wing] owns this castle and he’s kind of an outsider artist and he rents it out as an Air B&B and you guys can shoot here. There’s a vineyard down the way, they have a pond where you can shoot the sad Dracula sequence…” I just want to give a shout out to Peter Wing basically, this guy let us into his home and onto his property to do something free. He since has passed on and ODDSAC would literally not be possible without the Wing family. Beyond just letting us shoot there, that whole fire procession, he’s like “shit you guys are going to burn down a bunch of grass” so he mowed down a bunch of the grass for us for free so we could do the fire procession. Years after that he would go on YouTube and defend me as far as in the comments, against people were talking shit against the trippy visuals or whatever. I really appreciate that and still do as far as being able to make work like this. A big reason I’ve been able to make any work since ODDSAC as far as music videos or when I shoot visuals for PANDA BEAR or my own personal projects is because people are fans of the work. I don’t take that as like “oh I’m so cool, people want to work with me.” I’m very grateful for that because I can’t do this by myself. It takes a lot of people to pull this shit off, no matter how cynical and pessimistic I might be to be like, “mehh, fuck everyone” and “I don’t make art for the audience.” What the past 10 years has shown me is there is stuff that resonates with people even if it’s really out there and I am grateful for the support it has brought me over the years. I try to throw people a bone or pay people as much as I can on my no budget things as a form of common courtesy. I might not have gotten a big Hollywood agent or a big Hollywood deal but chances are if I want to do a shoot or something of my own I can put some feelers out and get a handful of people to help me for free. And that’s pretty badass, I’m grateful.