James M. Perry, a native of Maryland, is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, director, and cinematographer. His motivations stem from the desire to express thoughts through storytelling. Thriving on diversity and delivering fresh perspectives, his experience engages with audiences and promotes positive conversations on entrepreneurship while consistently impacting communities and the entertainment industry. Perry’s current production Invisible War debuts March 2019 with screenings at two AMC Theaters, one of the largest movie exhibition companies worldwide, in Pennsylvania and New York. Another highly anticipated 2019 production from the filmmaker is The Devil’s Dance.
During our recent interview, he shared the creativity and inspiration behind his latest films and his journey in the film industry.
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?
Yes, moments in time I can never forget. I would say June 6th, 2016, is when it all really started for me. Early that day I watched the film The Talented Mr. Ripley by director Anthony Minghella. I had actually seen this movie many times, but for some reason watching it that day paired with other experiences sealed it. Traveling from Baltimore, MD to New York City on this day changed everything for me. While in the subway waiting for the train on 42nd street, I found myself watching everyone around me, shopping and commuting. I started to think about what type of stories these random people could have if I were to write about them. Later that same day in Brooklyn, I began thinking of scenes to the point that I found myself scouting for locations for a project that didn’t even exist yet. From there, I started doing my homework on becoming a better filmmaker. It was the inspiration to want to learn more and create, similar to how I felt sitting inside theaters watching movies from famous director Christopher Nolan and hearing music from Trent Reznor and composer Hans Zimmer. It was these experiences and others when I knew I wanted to make filmmaking my life.
What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film techniques?
One of the most critical lessons learned in my career has been the plan of execution.
As an artist we have so many ideas, from the script to casting the actors, to the postproduction…it all becomes one painting and every choice made will play a major role on how that painting will look, sound and feel.
Were there ever any challenging moments for getting your work recognized at Film Festivals?
Yes. Deadlines, the submission process, and quality standards can be a challenge I believe for most filmmakers.
What are personal attributes that make for a good filmmaker, and what do you do to foster them?
Having the willingness to be open to learning and staying optimistic are very important. Filmmaking requires you to be able to work with diverse individuals. When working with so many different types of people and personalities, anything can happen on set and at any point during production. Knowing this, you have to be prepared and focused.
What films have you created that have become the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
A film that will always be with me is ‘Feels Like Euphoria.’ It was this project where I learned and identified what type of storyteller I wanted to be. Soon after, I began to apply more craftsmanship to build more developed characters and tell a more cohesive narrative story. In fact, what I learned from that film is what I use today.
Tell me about your soon to be released film, “Invisible War.”
Invisible War is a story that follows a US State Attorney who must work with a murder suspect who was a victim of a home invasion. The victim of the home invasion is a shrewd businesswoman named Robin Stonewall, portrayed by Baltimore native actress, Ambre Anderson. The character Stonewall wants the US State Attorney Jane Ortiz, portrayed by Colombian born actress, Lorena Sarria, to assist her in her vengeance after previously losing a case with Stonewall. The film is written by writer/producer Sharif McFadden, who brought the project to me after a screening at Prince Theater in Philadelphia. Executive Producer Richard Rodgers came on board and we built the project from there, from pre-production to our upcoming two-night screening at AMC Theater. I’m very appreciative of everyone from cast and crew who invested their time and talent to bring ‘Invisible War’ to life.
What motto do you live by daily?
My mantra is to keep growing and keep going. Outside of creating, I find progression important. You can never learn enough.
What inspired the title for your upcoming film, “The Devil’s Dance”?
The title of this film ‘The Devil’s Dance” came from the theme of facing our demons and dancing with the devil. The film follows former modern dancer, Tanya Brooks, who is now dancing with the devil after involving herself in the drug underworld. It also showcases various characters dealing with their own demons from anxiety and depression to Tanya’s sister Ruth, portrayed by actress, Imana Breaux, who deals with mental illness and drug use. Originally, the film was going to be the feature version of the short film titled The Hour Glass that I also did with Sharif McFadden. That film also screened in various film festivals, but after various rewrites to the characters and narrative, it was best to give it its own identity, thus The Devil’s Dance. This would also be my debut feature film as a writer and director. Principal of Photography begins this May. I’m looking forward to it.
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All images: Akio Evans