Vegan Filmmaker Series: Interview with Director Alex Ross Perry
Alex Ross Perry was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1984. He attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and worked at Kim’s Video in Manhattan. He made his first film IMPOLEX, in 2009. His second film, THE COLOR WHEEL, was distributed theatrically in America and France in 2012 and nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. He lives in Brooklyn.
Tell us a little about your movie, LISTEN UP PHILIP. How exciting was it to get the Sundance call?
Listen Up Philip is a New York movie about a miserable guy whose life is changing for the better and the spiral of success they everybody else in his life gets wrapped up in. Jason Schwartzman plays a novelist whose impending second book is giving him anxiety, causing his girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) to suffer. He befriends and is invited to stay in the country with one of his heroes, played by Jonathan Pryce.
The call was very stressful and confusing. I had just been shopping for the ingredients to make potato leek soup and was very excited about it. My girlfriend and I stopped at our local video store because we were wanting to watch either Clear and Present Danger or Patriot Games. While in the store I got the call. So all I really was focused on was the soup and the video. I told the programmer I’d have to call him back, which he later said nobody else ever said to him.
How long have you been vegan? What made you choose the lifestyle?
I became vegan in 2002, pretty much exactly when I went to college. Starting at the beginning of that summer, after graduating high school, I went to a lot of graduation party BBQ’s and at the time, about two thirds of my friends were vegetarian. I immediately came to quite like the vegetarian options and as the summer went on, I became more bold about exploring them. When I went to college, the closest dining hall to my dorm had an all-vegetarian half for every meal so it seemed easy. Immediately I felt better at all times, specifically after eating. I wouldn’t feel full as long and felt healthier. I wasn’t by any means overweight at this point but between August and Thanksgiving I lost an additional ten pounds just by slightly adjusting my diet.
What challenges did you face on this film being vegan?
Zero! That is the benefit of surrounding yourself with vegan producers. Jason Schwartzman is also vegan so even if people wouldn’t care about pleasing the director, we couldn’t fail to provide him with options. If anything, the challenges were that I was constantly being tempted with too much food when I needed to keep my energy up to work. Many vegan companies donated to craft services so we had about three kinds of jerky, peanut butter cups, cookies and the like available at all times.
We interviewed your producers James M. Johnston and David Lowery last year, how did you all meet?
I met both of them at film festivals in 2011, James at Sarasota and David at Maryland two weeks later, where James was as well. I was told to ask James for places to eat in Sarasota when word got out that I was famished and then in Baltimore it became clear that him and David were my best bets if I wanted to have other people with whom to seek out excellent food.
Was it challenging to find vegan options where you were shooting? What were some of your favorite meals on set?
No, because of the aforementioned craft service donations and also, we shot in Brooklyn mostly. And our caterer, when we had them, was instructed to provide options. At first they were weak, ‘scrambled’ tofu that was more like marinated and lightly sautéed, but soon there were vegan pancakes appearing with increasing frequency. We had a scene in the film where two characters eat buffalo wings and one of the actresses is vegetarian so we got way more wings than we could possibly need, mostly so I could eat a bunch when we wrapped. The scene was later cut from the movie. When we wrapped Jason got several dozen vegan donuts from Dunwell, and I think I ate six.
How many vegan people overall worked on your movie? Did anyone go vegan after working on your movie?
I think just two producers, Jason, myself and our camera loader Shawn Bannon were the only vegans, with at least a dozen or more vegetarians. The rest of the crew resented having to hear us talk about our special food all the time.
Your previous film THE COLOR WHEEL toured the fest circuit, what festival did you find most vegan friendly?
As I learned when I met David, the Maryland Film Festival (in addition to being my favorite festival in terms of films, people, comfort, and so on) is doubtless a vegan food mecca. I actually did a detox for two weeks before going last time just to eat about four meals a day while there. Within ten minutes of the theater where everything screens are an all vegan soul food place, a diner with a huge vegetarian/vegan menu and a bar that is open all night that serves vegan nachos, pizza, meatball subs, etc and also the festival always has a free taco booth for filmmakers.
Runner up is the Starz Denver Film Festival, for two restaurants: City O City and Watercourse. They are owned by the same people and are a diner/fine dining version of one another. Both are out of this world. Brunch, open until about 2, comically large portions, these places are remarkable.
What movies are you excited to see in 2014?
The Trip to Italy was already my number one of 2014 so I am excited to see it at Sundance. Others are probably the same as anyone else: Inherent Vice, Grand Budapest Hotel….I don’t really know what is out there for this year yet aside from blockbusters.