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IFH 556: Blockbuster Producing Techniques in Indie Films with Sunil Perkash

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Today on the show we have film producer Sunil Perkash. He’s responsible for blockbuster films like Salt starring Angelina Jolie, Premonition starring Sandra Bullock, and the Disney classic Enchanted just to name a few.

Sunil is an independent producer in Hollywood who holds a B.A. in economics and communications from Stanford University.  He began his career in 1992 working as the U.S. Production Coordinator on CRONOS, Guillemo Del Toro’s directorial debut.  He developed a number of projects at various major studios throughout his career including Second Defense with Arnold Kopelson, Exit Zero with Renny Harlin at New Line, Second Time Around at Dreamworks, Suburban Hero with Scott Rudin at Paramount, Al and Gene with Adam Shankman at Walt Disney Studios, amongst others.

In 1999, he produced  BLAST FROM THE PAST for New Line, starring Brendon Frasier, Alicia Silverstone, Sissy Spacek and Christopher Walken. He followed up with  PREMONITION for Sony, starring Sandy Bullock, which grossed more that 85 million worldwide.

Next, he produced Disney’s ENCHANTED which became a worldwide mega blockbuster grossing $340million  and received rave reviews and numerous awards, including multiple oscar and golden globe nominations. In 2009, he began principal photography on SALT, a vehicle originally developed for Tom Cruise, but transformed into a female lead for Angelina Jolie.  The film also became a worldwide blockbuster in summer of 2010, grossing $300mil!

The Wrap listed Sunil in their exclusive list “Producers Who Are Making a Mark on Hollywood” and Fade In Magazine named him one of the  prestigious ”Top 100 people to know in Hollywood.”

He is currently in post production on the big budged DISENCHANTED, a sequel to ENCHANTED for Disney Plus starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey. He is also in  preproduction on BACK HOME, a science fiction thriller to be directed by award winning director Ivan Mena with ICM on board to represent for festivals/sales.

Perkash is also developing a number of projects including a sequel to SALT at Sony with producer Lorenzo Dibonaventura, the Western biopic with award winning director Hughes William Thompson and Travel Back East written by Enchanted scribe Bill Kelly and to be directed by Alan Ritchson.

As the film landscape has changed Sunil has changed along with it. He decided to start producing independent films while he still worked and developed studio projects.

His latest indie film is Last Survivors.

Last Survivors takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where Troy (Stephen Moyer) raised his now grown son, Jake (Drew Van Acker), in a perfect wooded utopia thousands of miles away from the decayed cities. When Troy is severely wounded, Jake is forced to travel to the outside world to find life-saving medicine. Ordered to kill any humans he encounters, Jake defies his father by engaging in a forbidden relationship with a mysterious woman, Henrietta (Alicia Silverstone). As Jake continues this dangerous affair, Troy will do anything to get rid of Henrietta and protect the perfect utopia he created.

We discuss what is was like jumping from $100+ budgets to $1.5 million, how he attaches talent and how he packages his indie films for investors. Enjoy my conversation with Sunil Perkash. 

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
This episode is brought to you by Indie Film Hustle Academy, where filmmakers and screenwriters go to learn from Top Hollywood Industry Professionals. Learn more at ifhacademy.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Sunil Perkash how you doin Sunil?

Sunil Perkash 0:14
I'm doing great. How about you, Alex?

Alex Ferrari 0:16
I'm doing great, my friend, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really, I really appreciate it. I'm a fan of many of the films that you've done, and had been a part of, so I'm excited to kind of get into the weeds with you about this. Love it. So how, how and why did you get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Sunil Perkash 0:35
Oh, that's a wonderful question. I'm very early on, like, I mean, I came from India, when I was three with my immigrant parents, they were their doctors, we came to the early 70s. And really early on, like when I was seven, I saw Star Wars probably five times in the theater and I just loved it. And I just got had this incredible fascination for films both. You know, in the theater on television, I remember watching Gone With the Wind when I was like, nine years old on like, some arcade channel, UHF, or whatever it's called. And just going these movies like they transport you there, just so you know, they leave you like feeling better about yourself. They're so entertaining. And while my parents were always like, go be a doctor, my brother's a doctor. I was always like, I want to make movies. And my senior year when I was a undergraduate at Stanford, I saw dances of the wolves three times in the theater. And I just said to myself, I love this movie, it moves me so profoundly. I'm going to move to LA the day I graduate and see what happens. And that's why I decided to come into film.

Alex Ferrari 1:42
Do you know the story behind how that script got made?

Sunil Perkash 1:46
Dances of wolves?

Alex Ferrari 1:47
Yeah,

Sunil Perkash 1:47
I don't.

Alex Ferrari 1:48
It is a fascinating, I just heard Kevin Costner tell this story the other day, Kevin was saying that he had this friend of his, who was not in the business, who was staying with him. And he kept trying to get his scripts out and he was trying to help them and he just kept saying these get rejections and all of a sudden, he's like, you know, it's this town's problem is not mine. He started like, bad mouthing people that Kevin was like, you know, Kevin was opening the doors for him. And finally, the the Kevin like literally put hands on him and threw him against the wall. He's like, I need you to leave my house. He moved to Arizona somewhere and was working as a short order cook. Wow. But he'd worked on this script and left it behind. Is it Kevin? Have you read that script that left you know, I haven't read I'm not gonna read it. And it kept pounding until we finally read it it was Dances with Wolves.

Sunil Perkash 2:40
Love that. So much of it is like these weird you know, smiling on you to get a movie made it's it's such an impossible task in any which way possible.

Alex Ferrari 2:50
No, absolutely. And he went and he won the Oscar for both Kevin and one and, and the writer yet the Oscar for it was pretty. When I heard that. I was like, Man, that is just serendipity. And that's it.

Sunil Perkash 3:01
It's a great story and to make you know, it's an all time classic. You know, what a beautiful story.

Alex Ferrari 3:06
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Now, there's, um, when you first got started in the business you worked on as a production coordinator on Kronos, is that correct?

Sunil Perkash 3:17
Absolutely. There was a girl in my senior year dorm. She was a sophomore, her father knew a producer. He wasn't that prolific and he hasn't done a lot since either really nice guy. But he basically needed an assistant. So I moved to LA that was the only job I got. I didn't know anybody or anything. And he literally was, you know, working on this film Kronos. So I was driving when I was 21 years old, I was driving Giro del Toro, all over Los Angeles. Like, he was so passionate then to just you know, this is before obviously, any of it. And I learned a lot on working on that film for that year, I learned so much of this businesses, who you know, I have a lot of assistant friends who are assistants at the big agencies, and even the struggles that like my former boss and Guillermo were having even when the film was done, none of it was easy, but I just learned so much about like, you know, it's having a piece of material getting the financing back then it was a little bit more the studios and it sort of set me up I literally after a year of that job went off on my own to pursue finding material and doing it all the rest of my career was I'm going to do this on my own

Alex Ferrari 4:28
Now watching you know, get you on set obviously with with um Cronos?

Sunil Perkash 4:33
I wasn't they Sean Mexico, but we did prep here and we did post here so I was like, dealing with the dailies. I was very involved in every aspect of it, you know, and just is a young guy out of college just to see how a script would like come to life on screen and the dailies in the editing. what a what a just amazing experience for me, like very early on,

Alex Ferrari 4:53
Right. And Guillermo wasn't that much older than you at that point, was it?

Sunil Perkash 4:58
No, he wasn't that much older and This was his first movie, he worked your visual effects. Practical. Exactly. And that he was just really passionate, he loved food, he loved movies, like when I'd drive him around, we just talk about, like, all the movies he loved and hated. And I love the way like, I hated that, or I love that.

Alex Ferrari 5:20
That's awesome. Now, you know, you've done a lot in your career, is there any thing you wish you would have? Someone would have told you at the beginning of your career, that you're like, hey, this is gonna this is gonna be this are some some piece of advice that you wish you would have. It's interesting.

Sunil Perkash 5:36
Early on, I would take every class I could to meet people because I understood that like networking was something I knew nobody here. So through that process, I got some I met like, like I go to a seminar and pitching seminars at a high level exempt from Universal back then you'd write them a letter, they would, you know, meet with you three months later, you know, on their schedule. Not always. And that's where probably got some of the best advice, I would say, Nina Jacobson, who is, you know, she used to run Disney, she went on to produce Hunger Games, crazy. Asians, one of the most successful producers, formerly one of the highest level studio execs very early on, she said, to me, be the best at what you can be be better than everybody else differentiated. Why is what you're bringing me at Universal, she was a senior vice president universal, good to get me excited. We have deals with so many producers. So you know, we're getting almost everything we need, how do you break through the noise, and have something that actually, you know, excites us or excites me. And I took that advice back then really, really, really well. It worked very early on, I would almost say it's more middle of my career, as I started having a little bit of success. I probably didn't understand how important marketing and you know, media, like, you know, even social media, all of these outlets to help promote your movies and build your business. You know, it'd be more mid career thing about like, don't underestimate I know a lot of filmmakers who don't want to be on Instagram, be on Instagram, you shoot an interesting commercial, put it on your Instagram, you know, go follow as many people as you can there. You know, don't underestimate the internet, and promotion and media at my biggest events.

Alex Ferrari 7:21
So now when you were jumping from being a production coordinator, to being an EP, which I think your first movie was a blast from the past, but you were the first yep, you're right. I would love that movie. By the way. I remember watching that one. It was so so much. The great Christopher Walken and a great cast. They you know, the old saying is like it's easy to be a millionaire. It's just got to make that first million. It's easy to be a producer. It's just got to produce that first big thing. How did you get that first big break hasn't?

Sunil Perkash 7:51
What what I started doing after I left the job with my former boss and working on Kronos. I started meeting a lot of young writers, but in the meantime, and this was sort of a crucial thing. My system friends at the agencies were sending me 20 scripts a week this sold a paramount this sold to Disney. Tom Cruise came on to this. You know, Spielberg likes this script. They said Smeal read 1000 scripts over six months, and you'll get a sense and then find young writers and find something going to need to Jacobson's advice better than what you're reading that's already in the establishment. And I did that I'd literally for every night read probably 20 scripts, in height at cafes, and you got a sense of what Hollywood thought was a good script. And I back then met a bunch of young writers and I started developing scripts with them and just sending it to anyone who would read them. But very quickly. Again, Nina's advice is very good. I got really promising feedback like high level execs were saying this is really strong material. The first thing I sold was when I was 24. It was a script that Kurt Wimmer wrote called second defense to new line, Mike DeLuca. Back then bought it. I was partnered with Arnold Coulson. And then a year later an executive Mary parent really, really responded to this old script of mine, not old, two years old, called looking for Eve. And that ultimately became lost for the past. So I was I'd sold in chanted in 97. So I was doing very well setting up projects at the major studios, like some weren't getting made. But again, it was sort of this philosophy of, you know, what is the studio already have. So while I bring them something that they don't have, that they may be interested in, you know, it was always sort of, and BLAS was the first one that got greenlit with Brendan alessian. Yes, I mean, just watching Sissy and Chris Walken work back then two Oscar winners. It was it was amazing. I learned again, so much as on that set every day of production. All my movies I've developed either from scratch or very early on like it's I'm a creative producer first and foremost. Although through the years I've learned everything about physical production. You know, again, marketing your finished film is as important as making a good film.

Alex Ferrari 10:04
But you're more in in the sense of setting up with studios as opposed to doing independence or raising your own money about the early part of your career.

Sunil Perkash 10:11
In the early early part, it was all studio movies. You know, salt was Columbia Pictures. Again, that was an old script that I'd been around for about eight years, and we had no traction and through weird kind of confluence of events, I'd given it to Sony who I was and posted premonition and they loved it. And they loved it so much. They knew that if they put even a small offer on it, other people are going to start bidding on it. So they ended up buying it, I want to say for $2.8 million to the writer. Wow. And everything, you know, premonition was an independent film through Hyde Park. But we have Sony in for distribution early. So really function like a studio film. You know, it wasn't a way later in my career that I started doing independent film.

Alex Ferrari 11:00
Now, how did you find in chance, because we had bill on the bill on the website. We interviewed him a while ago, from enchanted. How did you get involved in that project because that's such a wonderful film.

Sunil Perkash 11:13
Bill and I developed that from ground up. It was it was actually I'm sure he told you the story that it started out as like a nun leaving a convent. And it wasn't working as a nun leaving a convent. And so somewhere it became, because the whole idea again, I love stories, somatic underpinnings. And we were really intrigued by this idea. Again, in the late 90s, it took a long time to get the film made. But it took the idea that there was no innocence left and kids and kind of a modern day Sound of Music, but it just wasn't clicking. And somewhere we realize like, what if it was a fairytale character. And again, this was a spec script we developed and sold to Disney. Ultimately, it was a fairy tale character, not a Disney princess. So once Disney obviously bought it into the many years, I'm sure Bill told you he was replaced early on. And then seven years later, we brought him back, went back to his draft and in four weeks, you know, there's the draft that was greenlit, and ultimately, the brilliant Kevin Lima heavenly miss such a brilliant director. He obviously brought his, you know, many specific little tweaks and all of that to it. But it was pretty much how it got made. And like all my with the exception of, you know, sequels, everything I do, I like to develop from ground up. Because if you have a creative point of view from the beginning, you can actually always sort of know what's right or wrong as you're going away on an instinctive level.

Alex Ferrari 12:37
And now and now the sequel for enchanted is is imposed right now, right?

Sunil Perkash 12:40
We shot the sequel in Ireland, and it's in post and it's for Disney plus and could not be, there's something just so humbling that something we created and had such a struggle to get made. Back then people thought it doesn't quite fit the family model, because it's really an adult romantic comedy, but it's not enough of an adult romantic comedy. In the original spec that we sold and five other studios did on it. She's actually hired as a stripper like we're a little race here, the spec that we wrote, you know, like, obviously, that has to be toned down now that you're Disney. But it's it's really humbling that the movie is a bonafide classic. You know, it's, it's, it's, I'm told by Disney and by just just you feel it out there. It's become a classic. And there's something just beautiful about that. That's why I came to make movies, you know?

Alex Ferrari 13:28
Yeah, I mean, my kids. I mean, we just showed it to our kids, I think probably less than a year ago. And and they're young, very young, and they are fascinated with it. They just loved love the music and love the characters. And Amy Adams is absolutely brilliant. You should have won an Oscar for that performance,

Sunil Perkash 13:44
She should have won an Oscar for that performance. And at day two of production, I was in New York for the production as well that I was like, she's gonna win an Oscar and everyone thought I was crazy. The thing about all of these, a lot of what I work on is it is newer talent. We fought very hard with Nina Jacobson, who then ran Disney who's lovely, and one of the most again, brilliant executive producers I've ever, you know, worked with. You know, Amy was an unknown she hadn't had her on or not yet for dooba Yeah, she was she was sort of an up and comer with a little bit of profile, but it really was a risk that I don't think a studio would take today. It just, you know, to to $80 million film, you know, resting on somebody who really is, you know, just freaking out in that kind of way. So it was fast that a smaller budget Sure, but it was you know, we were a big budget film back then. But and Nina loved her audition for Oscar not actually happened. I think I want to say like end of February and we shot in April. I was actually in Shreveport, shooting, shooting a premonition. And I that morning I was up because two hours ahead there. They announced that I was in the weight room going wow. Like this is unbelievable. I want to argue, and I'm not saying this is the case that the profile of putting a knee in our movie helped Junebug. Does that make sense? Of course it did. Of course, in the fall before that movie was released that sort of created a snowball effect.

Alex Ferrari 15:13
You see that with a lot of talent that you know, they have their little breakout and then they get put into a studio and just all the marketing and the everything that gets pushed into a studio movie, for it raises their profile I happen to Oh, God. Hunger Games I can't carry. I can't believe I can't remember her name. Jennifer LA. Yeah. Jennifer Lawrence. Yeah, with with that with a Winter's Bone. Like all of a sudden now. She, she was like, oh, wait a minute. And all that press went on to that little indie film? Yeah, it happens. No question. Now, you've worked with a lot of amazing directors. What is it that you look for as a producer in a director, caliber collaborator, as a director?

Sunil Perkash 15:52
I mean, today, and again, I've just made four indie films at 1,000,005 budgets. So the answer is going to be different than what it would have been probably five or six years ago. I want a director with a real vision, who's open to feedback, but also has strong opinions. You know, where it's a collaborative, give and take. But I, I really do want directors like I love working with Kevin Lima, He's my close friend on enchanted. I love working with Phillip Noyce on salt. He's another very close friend of mine, brilliant, brilliant man. You know, directors who come to the table, who bring something special and unique with their vision that I just could never come up with. You know, I don't, I don't want to work with directors where I'm the one, you know, and I've never had this where I'm the one providing a vision because I don't I'm the my favorite days of production, especially on location is, I don't even know if I should say this is it's going so well. And at four o'clock, Sunil can go back to the hotel worked out and then go, you know, either, you know, go to bed early or have a martini in the hotel.

Alex Ferrari 16:56
If you want a machine that's running so well that you don't have to be there unless you have to be

Sunil Perkash 17:01
And it's rarely that it usually is. Kevin Lima actually get disappointed when I would leave some days. I'm like, Kevin, there's nothing for me to do. It's running. I mean, it's just his musical number in Central Park. I don't need to watch every cake. It's perfect. Like,

Alex Ferrari 17:18
I'm good. I'll see. I'll see you tomorrow morning.

Sunil Perkash 17:21
I'll see you later. I think directors, the more it's been really fun from gumming, even Hugh Wilson, you know, the late Hugh Wilson was a good friend of mine, I love working with him on blast from the past. He Kevin and fill up our Veteran Experience talented directors, and I just learned so much from them. Like there's so many, you know, little tricks of the trade, so to speak, whereas the newer directors interesting to see they all kind of you know, I think there's no criticism fell into the same traps, if that makes sense. You know?

Alex Ferrari 17:55
Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, yeah, I've I mean, I've been directly for 20 odd years, and I completely understand things that I fell into before and, and now would never even look into, but those are things that just time happens. It happens in time that you just start doing that. And after speaking to so many of these, you know, legendary directors on the show, sometimes they'll just drop some nuggets. I'm like, Oh, my God, I never thought of how to direct an actor like that brought a pull up performance. Like that's amazing.

Sunil Perkash 18:21
It's Phillip Noyce always taught me something early on on salt, which is, it's not absolute. And how do I say this, like, you got to look at what the actor looks like, what their personality is, who they are as a person. And then you give the direction? You know, it's, it's, it's certain actors have a face where if they say something, just normal, it comes off too much. You know, like, it's a lot of different things. And I found that fascinating. I never have had a director explain that to me. You know, it's like, and it was fascinating, because I think a lot of directors think there's an absolute truth to performance. Whereas like, one of the things that I would say is, it's ultimately what cuts together and feels great for the story you're telling. The actor doesn't necessarily, like Phillip loved, sometimes saying to the actor, you know, be more charming. And the actors, like, the scene isn't charming. And you'd be like, still, I don't want them to be charming, but if they go charming, it'll make it perfect. You know, it's, it's finding what you need for editing versus an academic truth. And I find that really interesting. I'm a little Hitchcock that way to what makes the movie Good versus purity is where I'm at.

Alex Ferrari 19:35
Right, exactly. And you might push. I remember talking to John Sayles, and he was talking about giving the actors two different motivations quietly, and then let them have to battle it out without them knowing that they were battling it out.

Sunil Perkash 19:49
Yes, yes, absolutely. And, and then you go the flip side where Amy Adams was so good. I mean, she had audition for the role one of 500 girls who'd audition She was perfect. She was her audition was a homerun 10 out of 10, which is how we convince the studio, that she was that good every day. I've never seen like that character, it was just amazing. And Kevin was like, there's nothing to direct, it's outside of blocking, there's no, she's perfect, you know. So it's also knowing when to say nothing, you know, it's all of these different, you know, ways of sort of, whereas I, you know, how do I say it's like, I think the more veteran directors who all been burned in all aspects of making a movie, the one thing they care the most about is the movie wins. You know, I think I love, you know, I loved enthusiasm. Newer directors would always say to newer directors, make sure it's not about validation, make sure it's about the movie working, because ultimately, no one really cares how you feel. They care if the movie works succeeds. And all of the above, you know,

Alex Ferrari 20:53
Right. And sometimes you have to just get when you're a younger director, you're looking at more of like, the cool shot, or the ego is heading where as a veteran directors, like, I've already proven myself, I could everybody can make a really cool, cool shot. Let's tell the story properly, and let's make it for the best for the move for the film. Not so out of all your projects. You know, as a director, you know, there's always that day, that everything's falling apart, that you're losing the sun, the camera falls, the actor breaks or something happens was, is there a moment in your career that you can remember? And how did you as a producer overcome that moment?

Sunil Perkash 21:34
I mean, there's always tons of challenges, I would say, one of the biggest challenges is when on a set, people start to just rewrite the script, kind of willy nilly, you know, like, you'll be, and it's happened, the least on salt, because for a variety of reasons, but it definitely happens. And that's been always a challenge, because then you like, you change the stuff, and then it's not working. And then oftentimes, I've had to come in and say, we spent so much time on the script, why do we think in this moment, we're gonna come up with something better, you know, it's more problems like that, I'm trying to think like, like, chanted was a really, really smooth shoot, like, the bigger budget shoots, you know, because there's money behind you with the studio, it's not as horrible. I'm making my latest film in Montana, in the cold frigid mountains of beautiful Montana, here's a little bit of a freak out when like, you know, it's a whiteout snowstorm, by the way, we just shoot it. And I would be standing there in the middle of the freezing, so, but stuff like that would definitely you know, you have to handle it. And part of producing is also staying calm, and solving the problem with a creative bent. Because ultimately, you know, on the bigger movies, you can throw a little bit of money to solve a problem on a smaller movie, you really have to find it through your creativity.

Alex Ferrari 22:56
Now there are I mean, there are times in when you're working on projects, that actors or the the politics of the set or the crew, there's some element that's off, meaning that they're either acting up they had a bad day, egos get out of way, can you talk a bit how to handle that? What advice would you give on handling a situation of like, you know, set politics or things like that.

Sunil Perkash 23:22
There's always that politics. You know, anytime you have a group of people like this, you get a certain political highschool meats, hierarchy stuff going on. I think the best way is, honestly keep it about the creative first, within the budget, you have, you know, stay calm, you know, what are we trying to say? Let's get it done. You know, it should never be about the panic, because as a producer, you've got to sort of set the tone for we can make it work. No one, it's good. No one is bad. And don't let any of it get to you. Because there can be a lot of a lot of politics going on on the set in every which way possible.

Alex Ferrari 24:03
Now, when you were working with, like Christopher Walken, Sandy Bullock, you know, Angelina, as a producer, what kind of thrill is it to work with actors of that caliber, even a band at that caliber? Just being around them and seeing them work? I mean, not everybody gets that experience. What is it like working with them on that level?

Sunil Perkash 24:25
I mean, let me start by saying amazing beyond. I mean, it's, it's all of these are Oscar winning actors, you know, like, they're, I'm so fortunate to have worked with so many Oscar winning actors, and they're really, really good and really professional. Probably the thing I would say is that I had to learn was, remember, you're the producer of the movie and take yourself out of being a fanboy, and that they're a huge star. That's something that I think a lot of people including probably myself early in my career, you have a little bit of trouble with, you know, Phillip Noyce on salt would do this thing were often him and Andrew B talk when he called me over. And he would say, What do you think of that last take? And I would just like, by the time I got to salt, I was sort of prepared for this. I'll be very honest, sometimes, you know, they were disagreeing, but I didn't know who was thinking what and he wanted my honest opinion. And that's probably, to me really fascinating working with this cat caliber of actors and actresses. They just want it to be really good too. That's all you know, they're there, that the professionalism these movie stars bring to the table is unbelievable, just and how much they care. You know, Sandra Bullock cared so much Angie cared so much Amy cared so much, you know, Kristen, sissy, all of them. It's too intelligent for Leah, even. You know, it's it's. So when I meet actors today, when I see them care this much. And by the way, Alicia Silverstone cares, I just made a movie with her and Stephen Moyer and Drew vanacker, they care that much, it's it's fascinating. That's what you want, you know, they're not looking to be coddled, they're looking to be great,

Alex Ferrari 26:13
Right. And that's the key of working with actors of that caliber, they because at the end of the day, it is their face on the on the poster, it is their performance up there, and they want to make sure looks as best. They they're not paycheck actors, meaning that they don't just show up for a paycheck, they're there, because they really care about the work.

Sunil Perkash 26:31
Absolutely. And I think when you're younger or newer to the game, you want to kiss up to them. And it's the wrong thing to do, because you're actually creating a wall once. Most actors I know, well, who have celebrity and fame, the last thing they want in a professional setting is someone kissing up to them, you know, because again, they want it to be good. You know, they all know they're really good actors, they don't need a confidence. They've all you know, had a certain level of fame, and especially the Oscar winner. So that's, that's what was really and just watching each of their craft in a different way. You know, some actors are very instinctive, some are very much needing kind of an intellectual thing to back up what they do. Again, not Phillip Noyce was really big on very simple direction on set just more charming, a little bit, you know, keep it very simple, he would argue, workshop, the script up till production, and then just go as simple as possible, you know, get them there quickly. SEPs aren't the time to talk about when they were five years old, their parent abandoned them, and they never liked their stepmother. And, you know, the school, they went to force them to eat a food they were allergic to. Now, now do the same, you know, it's, again, there's no right or wrong. It's ultimately what works, you know, and I'll always say there's no right or wrong, it's always the opinion. And I think, going to your point of working with all these different actors through the years, you get develop an instinct where you're almost instinctively working with it, as opposed to anything else, you know?

Alex Ferrari 28:00
Very much. So now, you've just finished doing, do your new movie Last Survivor. And you just mentioned that you've done a bunch of films at a lower budget than you're normally used to. They're not all salt budgets, essentially.

Sunil Perkash 28:14
No! Probably a day or two days of salt. Two days of shooting salt his entire budget.

Alex Ferrari 28:20
Which, which, which is interesting, because I mean, you came up at a time when the studios were basically the only game in town really, and it wasn't, and they weren't making as many movies and a movie like blast them from the past would get made by a studio, which would never get paid by studios. Never Never in a million years, but

Sunil Perkash 28:38
I'm not sure any of them would today, to be honest, because they all had a risky factor. Even enchanted. As I was saying earlier. It's not quite a romantic comedy, right. That's what makes it a family film. It's like it's it's for everybody. Salt, you don't know if you're rooting for or against her, which was a bit of a challenge. Why it took me a minute to get that going. And, you know, again, I like those risks today studios, wouldn't that make salt an enchanted but for a third of the budget? It wouldn't be that nobody I feel wants to take a risk. I mean, salt had a massive budget, you know, north of, like, north of 100 100 million. Yeah, like a massive, massive budget and chanted, I think we you know, somewhere around 80 ish, 70 to 80,000. That is a big budget films back then. And this is obviously pre rebate. So they got some rebate back shooting in New York. The studios did. But yeah, um, by the early 2010, I'm like what I want to make, it's just not going to get made. Everything is changing. And like, it's very hard to get a movie made at a studio. We're developing and champions equal. We're developing assault sequel. You know, I had a pilot at ABC. I had a movie with Phillip Noyce, and Liam Hemsworth at relativity, and just nothing was getting made. I'm like, I'm sitting in meetings and more meetings and Talking in meetings and it got very sort of like frustrating. And I realized I know nothing about independent film. Maybe I should try it. I don't know. And, and that's sort of where I shifted. I still do the big ones. And I still have a bunch of big ones I want to do. But that's where 2016 I raised a million and a half and went off and made this charming little film gem called divorce party in Savannah and do like, independent film is like learning an entirely new different language. Oh, yeah. Like, you know, my third indie, we did a hair and makeup test in the hotel, little room at the downstairs in upstate New York, and almost a who cleans up after this, and everyone looks at me, and I, you know, found back. Like, I was so fascinated, there's just no infrastructure, you know, so you're, and I learned so much. Yeah, it's a completely in and, you know, that year in 2016, to end 2017, I then got to more made raised money. And I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't even understand what you do with distribution. I didn't understand any of it. But I learned so much. And that's a lot of my life. I love learning every day, you learn more. And so you know, every day as I get older, I get to know more of what I don't know. And I love learning how, you know, new things, you know, I sort of mastered the studio system. Now, it's really fun to, you know, do independent film.

Alex Ferrari 31:29
Right. And I imagine, yeah, I mean, coming down from like, you know, north of $100 million budget to who's cleaning up here? You are? Yeah, must have been a shock. But do you feel that there's, you know, the studios aren't doing what they used to. So the now I see a lot of producers like yourselves who did have early success within the studio system. And they're leveraging that success to get into independent projects. And even at the five to 10 to $15 million budgets. And at that budget, there have to be certain genres and certain stars attached to get to that point. But, you know, the $40 million movie is almost, it's almost an extinct, it's, I mean, that's a

Sunil Perkash 32:11
7 million dollar film today.

Alex Ferrari 32:13
Right! Exactly. So the $40 million movie today would have been probably the 80 to $100 million film, but it has to have Bruce Willis in it, or it has someone like that.

Sunil Perkash 32:25
Absolutely. It's just look, there's different forms of the independent world, there's the foreign sales driven, where you get your financing by putting a star, which a lot of it is, there's some room to play around, like, in ways that I think I've sort of learned, you know, all the big agencies have very, very successful independent departments now, where they rep independent films. My last film last survivors was represented by ICM spider vention was repped. By back then it was called endeavour content. They broken off from W me. And I even learned that that you know, having if you can get an agency to wrap your film one of the big agencies, it just changes where you're at, you know, it's it's a very in there too many independent films. It's almost like the spec script of 1995 is the independent film of 2022. It everyone seems to be making independent films. So there's just too many movies out there. So again, taking Nina Jacobs advice, how do you make something that breaks through the noise? And when it does, it feels really good? Because you took something with zero profile, you know, zero awareness around town. And you actually start to see it catch on. Yeah, it's just unbelievable, you know, without the marketing heft of a studio.

Alex Ferrari 33:47
I love I'm gonna steal that quote that night. The specs grip of 95 is like the independent film of today, because you're absolutely right before, it is impossible to make an independent film. That's why the mariachis and the clerks of the 90s was such a big deal. Like, Oh, you made a movie for 30,000. Yes, it was the beginnings of the shift. That yes, now anybody can make a movie for between five and you know, million dollars comfortably?

Sunil Perkash 34:10
Yeah, yeah. Cameras are cheap. You're not doing it on film anymore. So it's, it's, and there's no there's too many of them. Not saying it's easy to raise a million a million half. Yeah. Easy ever. It's always climbing Mount Everest with an anchor attached to a rock, always. But a lot of people can, you know, like, it's, you know, you get four or five people that believe in a filmmaker, you could probably and then you get the rebate. It's it's all doable. So there's just a lot of independent films, and I'm not sure the distributors, you know, a lot of the distributors that are very good will distribute these films, but the economics of these smaller films, it's very tough to make them make sense, you know, right. It's, it's very, very sort of, I don't even know what to say when like, a writer director will, you know, send me a script and say, Sunil, I know this isn't for you. But it's a lovely romantic comedy, over 24 hours of people who meet at a cafe quirky. And I raised 400,000. And you're just like, it's going to be very, very difficult to get to recoup unless it plays at a major festival. But you're not known. You're short, didn't put like, it's, it's, it's all I'm not. It's just weird thing that I always say like, it's impossible and doable at the same time. And going back to your What advice would I give, that is what I always remind people, it's totally doable, impossible, juxtaposed with, it's impossible. And remember that, and it's that thing, Linda said, in her book, don't ride a mule backwards, or a horse backwards, you know, look at the marketplace and understand how you're competing within that marketplace.

Alex Ferrari 35:45
I mean, I always give advice to filmmakers in regards to budgets, and I'm like, look, oh, I got a $3 million budget, I'm like, every dollar that you go over a million dollars in today's world, is it's it's gonna it to get it to recoup that money, not to make a profit, to recoup that money is so difficult. Adding stars helps certain things, how, but then you got to make sure your proper distribution channels, because if you go into the wrong distribution channel, you'll never get paid, and so on and so forth. So you're I mean, you've been playing in this field now for a little bit while you're still you're still dealing with the streamers and building other projects out there. Is there is there any advice you can give to filmmakers about how they can raise money at the What did you say like $1.5 million, because that's a sweet spot. That's a sweet spot kind of budget, depending on the genre and talent attached,

Sunil Perkash 36:33
I think you've got to put a lot of effort into making sure your project is unique, not just more of the same. I read way too many scripts sent to me by newer directors. It's not that they're bad. But they're sort of linear thrillers that you've seen before that really are a $10,000 $50,000 film, and they'll like look at No Country for Old Men, but that was the Coen Brothers, you know, like, it's quadruple standard. It's like, you know, what people who have established track records can do is not necessarily, and I'm not saying that in a bad way. But make sure your script is differentiated, elevated, I would probably say which I didn't fully get early on either my nd when I did this, but I've learned it now. Make sure it can play at some festivals, you know, don't try to compete with what the studios are doing. So don't try to make a million dollar visual effects film that competes with the Marvel movie because you're not going to win, you know, make it more we barely see the alien, you know, it's almost like two eyes. That's it really artistic. That would be my advice, and then that get a really good teaser, rip reel made or a teaser, shoot footage. But make sure it's really good because I get a lot that honestly, you're just okay, you know, they're good isn't good enough. And then, honestly, you got to get someone within the business, you got to get a cast someone attached. That's how you raise money, even on the indie level. You know, I've made three movies with an actor who I'm really love working with a guy named Drew vanacker, he was on Pretty Little Liars. The first film lifelike that, you know, we met with, we loved him, we put him on the financing was a little shaky. He laughs right now because he's like, he thought he came onto a finance home. But even these are always a little like, but once he was on, it was not that hard to raise it because there you know, it's a it's a huge show. And everyone's daughter, who we went to, it's like they're obsessed with it, and him. And so it was get a cast. And again, that budget was it was a million budget million two, somewhere in there. You know, a big amount of that budget came from the New York rebate. So when you're trying to just raise 600,000 It's not the hardest thing to get three people who want to get into film to put 200 200 200 with a cast, it's cast start with a piece of material and visual stuff, a visual reel that really excites people, you know, it's uh, it's probably for me the biggest. And again, I'm not trying to you know, anyone I know seeing this, I'm not talking about you, but I just get a lot of stuff. That's fine. It's good. It's,

Alex Ferrari 39:05
I mean, I think the conversation is like good is not good enough. Great is the beginning of the conversation. Yeah. And you're competing with other great. But that's, that's the start of the conversation. That's not the that's where the beginning is. And I mean, people understand that, like, Oh, this is a really good script. We've got piled, I've read 1000s of scripts. Yeah, that are good. I've read her good, great scripts that I'm like this put in this guy's hand or this guy's hand. As a director of put this cast in. That's an Oscar winning script. Like you did so good. I'm sure you've read those as well.

Sunil Perkash 39:36
Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, why is it unique? Because you do need agents and managers, you got to get a piece of tasks into it, in my humble opinion, before you're ever gonna really have money locked in. I mean, that's probably every independent film Toby every studio film to no one really makes the movie without knowing the cast unless it's an IP, like Hunger Games or Twilight or something.

Alex Ferrari 39:59
Right and there's There's a difference between backyard independent, like Richard Linklater says like, if you're gonna go make your backyard independent for five or 10, or $20,000. That's a whole other conversation, do whatever the hell you want at that, budget whatever the hell you want. Yeah, make art.

Sunil Perkash 40:15
It's, it's I, I know, lately, a lot of filmmakers, and especially after sort of last survivors, I'm getting a lot of indie filmmakers coming my way as well. And again, what I'm seeing is some of them make interesting first films. But again, they're micro budget films that played at festivals even. But their material thereafter, I just wished it was more differentiated from everything else. Never forget, the marketplace is probably my best advice. You know, I think it's very easy to get into this mode of, oh, you know, if you know, Chris Hemsworth read this, I know He loved it

Alex Ferrari 40:51
Will Smith joined forces, this will be an amazing movie

Sunil Perkash 40:55
I heard so many people tell me through the years, like Sunil, I know if Angelina read this, she would love it. And, um, I don't want to get into them, but you don't really know her, you know, her from interviews, you know, like, it's, she's a lovely, lovely person, but there's, you know, it's, it's a lot tougher to get cast, and get it going. And then once your movies done, make sure it's good. Once that's done, you know, make sure like, if you're not an editor, maybe don't edit your first film, you know, like, give up a little bit of the control. Like, you don't have to be debt directing, isn't dictating, it's making a great movie and know, when it's all your stuff. And their days, you're wrong admitted, you know, those are sort of my things I've observed.

Alex Ferrari 41:37
Now, tell me a little bit about, we've talked a little bit about your new movie, the last survivor, but how did you get that one off the ground. And I'd love that you brought back, Alicia from blast from the literally blasphemer in the class that she's now What a hell of a circle that you guys made.

Sunil Perkash 41:53
And it's um, it's such a hell of a circle. It's in what a pleasure to work with her. She's so good in the movie. And it's another script I developed from scratch with the writer. He was fascinated with preppers. And we sort of came up with this idea, which I thought was fascinating about like the idea of again, I'm giving a lot away here but a metaphorical apocalypse, you prepare yourself for that, without giving too much away about the movie. There's some reveals at the end of Act One. But it became a story about a father raising his son and a son's kind of affair with another survivalist living off the grid, and how that threatened a little utopia that we're creating. And the script always right away. Like the studio's really liked it. I had a lot of love the script at a very high level. But it was again at that time in 2017 1617. Somewhere there, this kind of genre film isn't really needed a studio unless like an eight a Guillermo del Toro wants to do it or someone really big, but you're not getting the biggest director in Hollywood, you do an unknown writer's first script. You know, that's an original script like that. So ultimately, I just finished by intervention, I really enjoyed a Dremel raise enthusiasm. I gave him a bunch of my things. He loved it. I gave it to Drew vanacker, he loved it. And that's where we sort of came together. And it was Alyssia UTA agent who thought is one of the best scripts he'd read, send it to her, had her meet, she loved it. I'd actually met Stephen Moyer at a table read on salt when it was Tom Cruise, it was a male before was a female. So they both really passionate and you know, we had a little ups and downs, the financing, then the pandemic put it on hold, but then it kind of came together. And we had a little window in December and I scotch tape the financing together as I put it, you know, and there we were in Montana, but I'll say I made three indie films. So on this one, it was like, you know, we were very aware of production value. And, you know, making sure we had everything we needed. We hired you know, Mr. Ray was great to work with he edited spy on his own. He was like, I don't think I should edit. This one. We got a veteran young guy that a veteran editor who just come off Palm Springs, you know, but really, really good editor who. And again, editing isn't what a lot of young directors think it is. It's never about the shot. It's about the story and the characters a Superman. And that's the problem. And again, Neil Travis, who won the Oscar for Dances with Wolves, edited one of the editors on premonition he would edit. Almost like playing a musical instrument. You just look at the footage, and there'd be not a rhyme or reason and you go to these things. And it would come together with a beautiful, lyrical way to tell the story. But it wasn't like thought like I like this shot and then I'm going to go to this shot. And that because he learned back on film, we get to figure it all out magically in your head. Otherwise you're slicing forever. That's what Bradley was and this movie was you know, we got you know, I jumped on a sword with a color correction with all these different people. To like, really make sure we made this movie. You know, it's a, it's a modestly budgeted film. And I learned from my other three films, look, they've all done okay, one sold a Lions Gate, the other to send a dime. But I wanted this one to impact knowing what I knew now versus then. And we were just, I mean, we're so fortunate to world premiere Fright Fest, they flipped over the movie, in Leicester Square in London, we played at Leeds International Film Festival vertical, a top boutique distributor came in, in a very, very real way and souped it up. And we're, you know, the cast loves it. Alyssia it's one of the great pleasures of my life to work with her again, she's one of the sweetest, most talented joys as his lawyer by the way, this was a cast and vanacker He and I, you know, we're good friends, we're doing a bunch of things together in the future. It was sort of a dream to see this cast common, you know, they all had triple bangers, little tiny trailers that you know, is not really enough for, you know, anybody that conditions tough shoot in the eye hole, you know, you know, there's a scene in a cop office where that was, you know, a empty building where there's no heat we were in 30 degrees indoors and I never got complaints from any of them. You know, it was beautiful to see them really roll their sleeves up to do an independent film. And that's another thing I would say is make sure you have a cast there who understands what they got into and gives it their all.

Alex Ferrari 46:32
Yeah, because if you if because if you've got someone like your elegant Alicia Silverstone who was you know, maybe she was used to Batman level budgets, and she shows up like what do I have a triple bank with? What's going on here? Like what why is my where's my latte? If you have someone like that, who's not aware of the situation they're going into. Why is it so cold? What's good, which happens if you don't do that properly you that kills your movie,

Sunil Perkash 46:55
It kills your movie, and even when the movie is finished, like they understand that like it all rests on us banding together and promoting it vanacker And Moyer actually went to the world premiere in London unless he was shooting are filming the need to Del Toro and Justin Timberlake so she could, but she did all the press back. You know, they were all so supportive, which is beautiful to see, you know, an indie film is like planning a dinner party with people you love. Like, if you put the love in it, you can get very far.

Alex Ferrari 47:22
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions I asked all my guests I think the first question you've answered the the advice that you would give a filmmaker we've talked we've talked about that a bunch. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Sunil Perkash 47:36
Let go of your ego. I mean, I've learned it years ago, but let go of your ego. It's a always remember humility. And, you know, you know, as long as people deserve it, just never make it about your ego.

Alex Ferrari 47:52
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Sunil Perkash 47:55
So many but you know, Dances with Wolves, Star Wars, Terms of Endearment, Titanic, Schindler's List, Color Purple rear window, I mean, that's, you know, I love moving movies. You know, I'm probably not the indie guy, although I love I love independent film, but like, with a little bit of a, you know what I'm saying? Like, I love world building as well.

Alex Ferrari 48:18
Right. And that's one thing you did with last survivor so beautifully. It's I mean, that does not look like a $1.5 million movie. I mean, the production value because you shot in Montana, and you have these Vasques looking things, it does add a tremendous amount to the lesson for everyone listening. Like if you can get into nature, it adds a lot of production value to your movie.

Sunil Perkash 48:37
It's Montana was, like, shoot there. It's beautiful. But we had a DP who really he came from Peru. And this is a good example of a minor thing where it's a brilliant DP Julian knew what he was doing. He needed this wanted this. He loved it. He wanted to come to the US and do this. Find the right DP. I think a lot of first time directors always have their best friend who's a very common thing because you know, of course, Shay, don't put your best friend on don't put your friends on your movie. This isn't again, it's not a social thing. Really good production designer Sam Knighten back who again, first feature and Mona Mei who did the costumes on clueless and enchanted. She brought really good costumes to the table and we just had even hair and makeup like really art. We have artists who didn't care about what they're being paid and they understood what they were doing. And they loved it. And that's so important.

Alex Ferrari 49:29
So what you're saying is don't hire a DP who that who just started started lighting because they own a RED camera is what you're saying?

Sunil Perkash 49:36
Yeah, exactly. Or because they're your good friend and you know, it's the first time you're leaving to go on location and it's a lot of, you know, just, you know, again working with like Phillip and Robert Elswit shot salt, so it's like I've worked with some of the biggest and best DPS out there. Make it about the movie. First stop. The biggest thing even when I was younger on blast like Alyssia laughs She doesn't remember me that well, or at all I showed her pictures, I was on set. But I was probably a little bit like so into this my first movie on with big stars, and you don't get what you need done which is focused on the work and it's a hard thing when you're younger your ego your self esteem, wanting validation, but focus on the movie, it's all about the movie. And the validation will come years later. And then we're gonna get the validation of boards, you

Alex Ferrari 50:27
Now, where and where can people watch Last Survivor?

Sunil Perkash 50:32
Last survivors is playing on all the intensity theatrically, but it is on every digital platform, iTunes, Amazon, you name it. And, you know, it's again, we Alyssia you know, she's been all over promoting the film. It's just so great to see a little film getting this kind of impact I have, it's, it makes me want to just you know, get the next one up and running and you know, do it all again, and even more.

Alex Ferrari 50:58
And where and what's up next for you?

Sunil Perkash 51:03
Obviously enchanted 2 enchanted is coming out later this year. I've got a movie and other movie with vanacker It's a very cool science fiction film with this cool director who directed a Superbowl ad and short one at Palm Springs. Then after I have another movie with Alan Richardson, He stars as Jack Reacher he is a very very talented director and we have a movie with him that he'll direct co star with drew that we're getting ready to let go out with as a package you know, and then further stuff down the road but that sort of the back home and travel back east are sort of the two next ones and then disenchanted coming out later this year.

Alex Ferrari 51:39
My friend You seem like you're busy, busy guy and it looks like you love what you do. So I appreciate you coming on the show and dropping your your little knowledge bombs on us today. So I appreciate that my friend.

Sunil Perkash 51:51
And you know, thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

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