Georgetown Film Maker Achieving a Lifelong Dream (by giving us nightmares!)
JJ Perez has been watching scary movies since he was a little boy and just recently released his very own horror film; written, filmed and premiered right here in Georgetown. He is completely self-taught and, while he started the day as a gifted writer, he is happy to be learning the skills and the craft as he moves forward in his career.
Perez has been making short films since high school and for a time was frustrated with the complexities of making detail, technology and creativity all come together. “It’s harder than people think. A five-minute clip can take days of filming and editing. I lost the passion for a while because experiencing failure was so emotional and draining. But last October I went to see a new film by my favorite indie director and I got to talk to him. It was super inspirational to have a mentor tell me to never give up. A week later I just sat down and wrote the story. We filmed for 23 nights last March and we are hoping to get a screening at the Georgetown Film Festival (April 5-7) so everyone in Georgetown can enjoy a story created in our own backyard.”
The story of “Beneath” begins with a group of cultists who performed rituals in an underground cavern in the 1960s to summon a demonic force. Years after the cult events, tour guides found out about the curse and decided to have a look for themselves. True to the genre, bloody frights ensued. But to give full credit, the movie includes plenty of terror; i.e., the fear of what is about to happen, horror; the squirmy reaction you have after it happens, and plenty of comic relief throughout. “We have some deep scenes but I didn’t want it to be dark from start to finish so there is a great balance of horror and humor.”
He does emphasize that the movie is really for 17-plus audiences (bloody scenes and language) but is just for fun. “There is just one demon that stays in the cave and awakens for 21 days every ten years unless summoned. But there is no back story at all; it is not a real name or based on any mythical characters or historical events. I even made up the language used during the ritual scene. I just like scary movies.”
Perez is the writer, director and producer and, after getting great feedback and reviews from his preview audiences, he is already thinking about a sequel.
It is not a coincidence that the movie setting is our very own Inner Space Caverns in Georgetown. Perez is a popular employee and tour guide there and if you have visited the caverns lately, you will recognize most of his cast are also employees and tour guides. “Being a tour guide is like being a performer in a way. We all follow a script and add jokes and asides to entertain on our tours. My cast really nailed it, even the dramatic scenes, because they are natural performers.”
Perez says filming in the caves wasn’t scary, although the cast and crew occasionally thought they heard something, but people love to be scared and that was kind of the point. “Working and filming here was a great marriage. The caverns’ owner is very protective of the cave and although a few big production companies have asked, there aren’t any films like ours. The employees already have great respect for the caves so the management has a lot of trust with us.”
Perez says the cast and crew all enjoyed filming, although it wasn’t without challenges and they all learned the hard way. “There was a lot of running and hitting heads, scrapes and falls. But considering we had cast members running in near dark. And then there’s me, a camera, light and sound all running backwards in tandem with a 50-pound battery, to capture the action. It is also very humid in the caves. It’s about 72 degrees all the time but there is 98% humidity. We came out at midnight pretty sweaty and smelly.”
The final product includes a full score by a friend who performs with the Spazmatics, for whom Perez works as a band tech. Perez also helped create and modify sound effects himself; e.g., cutting wet, sliced bread sounds a lot like a knife cutting a finger.
Perez says the reaction of his first screening was a “high” and he can’t wait to do it again. “I was so excited and relieved to hear the audience laughing at my jokes and enjoying the scares. I am hoping we will be able to do a special screening on the scene at Inner Space at some point.”
He is thrilled that the hard work has paid off and can’t wait to show it to bigger audiences. “I want to talk about it and discuss the reactions with fans. We are even getting attention from tourists because our movie poster is hanging at Inner Space at the top of the tour.”
Fans and potential fans can see the official trailer on their Facebook and Instagram pages (BeneathCaveFilm). Updates will be coming soon about festival screenings, awards and release dates for the full feature on blue-ray or iTunes. (The official DVD will be a great addition to JJ’s current collection of more than 4500 movies.)
GTXFF: Georgetown Film Festival April 5
The first annual Georgetown Film Festival is a great opportunity for local film makers to see their projects on the big screen for audiences of 100 or more. There will be celebrity guests as well.
Perez says he is very happy with the final result and is submitting the film to a lot of other festivals across the state. “This is how indie films get noticed and get attention. Film makers enter their projects and judges screen them to decide on their festival lineups. The great thing is that celebrities, directors and producers often attend and give advice. People like me can hope that someone important will see my movie and want to share it with a bigger audience.”
FilmFreeway.com says the mission of GTXFF is to inform and educate professional and aspiring artists on various aspects of and how to navigate the moving image industry to further their creative pursuits.