Filed in: Direction, Featured
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Perfect Sleep: Location Manager Jeremy Alter Moves to Director’s Chair

April 16, 2009 | By

When one considers “traditional” below-the-line avenues to directing, it’s usually editing or cinematography — or lately, visual effects supervising — that come to mind as usual routes to that storied above-the-line perch.

For Jeremy Alter, whose The Perfect Sleep is currently in release, it was location managing.

“I’ve always loved films,” he recounts. “By the time I flew out to UCLA to go to school there, I had a fairly good idea that directing and producing films would be my life’s pursuit.”

It was something he kept pursuing while building a name for himself in locations, eventually teaming up with Sleep‘s writer and star, Anton Pardoe — who had the bulk of his credits as an assistant location manager.

“The project came about when, some years back, Anton and I were frustrated trying to get a couple projects past the development stage. We had previously done an award winning short film and we were now more than ready to make a feature. We talked about doing a hard hitting genre film for next to no money that could really stand out. Intent on writing something to serve that purpose, Anton asked me what locations would be optimal for cost effectiveness. At that time, there was a state funded incentive called optical channel ‘Film CA First’ whereby location fees for certain government owned properties were reimbursed to film companies along with some permit fees and manpower, (so) I put together a list of good, inexpensive locations and other general concepts to keep costs of a potential film down. Anton then went off into writing mode and a short time later, The Perfect Sleep was born.”

The film –quite practically — was written around the available locations. But knowing your locations was no guarantee against bumps in the road:

“We then found that trying to raise even a small amount of money was incredibly difficult and ended up getting the remake rights to an old horror film and began to package that project. Eventually, that script garnered some attention and a new company called Unified Pictures loved the script but said that they didn’t have access to the amount of money we were looking for but did we have any lower budget films ready to go?

Enter The Perfect Sleep, back from the dead, and Unified Pictures to the rescue.”

But the film no longer had the built-in rebates it once did, since “the Film CA First’ program had dried up and we had to break virtually every rule on how to make a low budget film. We had elaborate stunt scenes, very challenging/expensive locations, children actors, period cars and wardrobe, and enough ambition to sink two ships. The only reason we were able to get through a shoot like this was because I had worked below the line on nearly 40 features and was fortunate enough to convince many overly qualified professionals to lend me their time and expertise.”

Among those colleagues was “first hire” Clayton Harley, “production designer extrordinaire. I met Clayton on Anchorman which he production designed and I location managed. He read the script and thankfully agreed to do the film. We then worked together to try and find the right DP for the project. This turned out to be a very difficult task as I had very high aspirations visually but was limited in our budget. Eventually, I called Charles Papert — he and I worked together on additional photography for a Disney film called Mr. 3000 — and he thankfully came on board. My line producer was Jay Sedrish who had worked with me on a New Line film a few years back.

“Our gaffer was Rafael Sanchez, who I had worked with on Sideways and The Million Dollar Hotel, and he brought his crew as well as Key Grip Ray Garcia. Similarily, my transportation coordinator, Charlie Ramirez also worked with me on Sideways. I had worked with my first and second A.D.s, Chris and Michelle Edmonds, on a film called 11:14.”

And what about his location manager? That’d be “Jun Lin, an old friend and locations compatriot.” Rounding out the rest of the crew, his stunt coordinator Jeremy Fitzgerald “came to me as a recommendation from Scott Rogers. Finally, my costume designer Kristen Anacker had been through all the fun and madness with me previously on our short film. I was and am extremely lucky that I have worked with so many talented, generous crew members!”

That generosity was needed in a shoot which Alter jokingly concedes had an “unstated mission to make things as difficult as possible for ourselves,” which included shooting “in some very large spaces. We were able to make up for what we lacked in manpower and equipment with a clear idea of what I wanted the film to look like and some very talented people like Charles, Rafael, and Ray Garcia made the look happen. Those men really took this film to another level. Thanks to their efforts (and those of many other fantastic crew members), we were able to get a look that I believe matches films with 100 times our budget.”

The “unstated mission” aspects also covered a wide swath of local geography: “We ended up covering a lot of ground filming from Palm Springs and Camarillo to San Pedro and many other places in between. My locations experience paid off in a big way as I had enough relationships that I was able to secure some of the amazing locations where we shot despite our relative lack of funds. Ken Johnson at La Center Studios/Hollywood Locations, Eric Bender from the Bradbury Building, and Peg and Joaquin at Unreel Locations were very supportive of the film.”

But Alter also concedes an ever-so-slight drawback, with his locations experience, which he surmises “probably hurt a little in that I was all too aware of situations where the property reps were not pleased when we were going late into the night, only this time I had a million other things to worry about in addition to that.”

The million other things paid off: At the time of our interview, the film was opening in L.A. and then going wide to New York, Chicago, Portland and Dallas.

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