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Exclusive Photos, Comments: Tiffany Shepis et al. on “ONCE, WHEN I WAS DEAD”

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Taking a break from his successful IN FEAR OF web series, New York-area filmmaker Scott Perry is in the midst of completing the more personal project ONCE, WHEN I WAS DEAD. Fango visited the shoot to talk to Perry and his lead actresses, and we also have some exclusive photos to share.

While on the set of the surreal short, this writer witnesses actors Taylor Costello and Blaine Pennington (pictured above) getting slathered in green goop courtesy of makeup FX artist Lisa Forst, while co-star Kaylee Williams prepares for a scene wearing nothing but a pair of angel wings (see 1st photo below). It appears as if ONCE gets into some pretty weird territory, and star Gabrielle Stone (2nd and 3rd photos) agrees with a laugh, “I probably can’t say too much, but it definitely explores the dark places of my character Amelia’s imagination. What’s so great about this film is that it’s very artistically dark, a really well-told story through pretty weird circumstances.”

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Stone’s Amelia is an artist struggling to reinvigorate her creative passion following a failed gallery showing, and the storyline sprang from a conflicted time in Perry’s own life. “When I wrote it, I was at a time in my life where I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to keep making films, and I really had to dig down deep within myself, and this story came out. It’s about finding passion even in the darkest times, and I knew that regardless of what else I was going to do, I was going to make this piece. It came together at a point when some of the people I had worked with on IN FEAR OF were interested in collaborating on a separate project. I formed a partnership with Tony DeBenedetto of JACOB, and we were looking at doing several projects together. When he read ONCE, he was like, ‘This is a good one to start on,’ and I agreed that this was a perfect time in my life for me to do it.”

Stylistically, Perry adds, ONCE is a different beast from the popular IN FEAR OF series (which can be viewed here)—though some folks needed that spelled out for them. “When I first talked to people whom I’ve only known through IN FEAR OF about this, they asked, ‘Oh, what’s that a fear of?’ ” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Well, it’s not about a fear; I think I’m entitled to do things that don’t have to do with fear.’ [Laughs] This is a huge turn in my filmmaking; there were things we shot yesterday where a couple of friends of mine, who aren’t involved with this, saw some of the pictures and said, ‘This is not you—this is not something you would do.’ It’s really more of a dark drama than it is a horror film, yet I’ve never worked with as many effects as I have on this one.”

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And although he previously explored the dark side of sexuality in his vampire short INSATIABLE, Perry notes that he’s going further in ONCE. “Some of the stuff we shot yesterday was supposed to go in a different direction, but we went for a sexier tone, and it worked better than I thought it would. There’s some nudity in this, which I haven’t done before, and it’s necessary to the story, because it really shows the vulnerability of the characters. That’s really what I wanted to get across.”

Stone, the daughter of Fango fave Dee Wallace, is happy to be helping Perry explore uncharted territory. “Scott first approached me probably a year and a half ago,” she recalls. “He sent me the script, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it and to bring this character to life. She’s very dark and struggles with her inner demons, but is a very good person at the same time, so she struggles going back and forth between her light and dark sides, if you will. That’s something that really attracted me to the movie.”

While Stone is just starting to get seriously involved in following in her mom’s genre footsteps (she has ZOMBIE KILLERS: ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD and SPEAK NO EVIL, among others, coming up), her ONCE co-star Tiffany Shepis has plenty of experience exploring the dark side on screen, and she gets up to more malevolent mischief here. “My character is named Lucy,” the popular scare starlet (pictured below with Stone) says, “and my take on her is that she’s kind of like the devil that sits on your shoulder and tells you to do bad things. She’s almost like the subconscious that leads you down a certain street, but then when you get there, it’s really not the street you should have gone down. The whole piece is a little odd; I dare say that it’s an art-house piece more than it is a horror film. Certainly there’s blood and darkness in it, but also a lot of stuff that can be interpreted in different ways. The way I feel about the film is very different from the way I think Gabrielle feels about it, or even Scott—but not in a bad way; I think that’s kind of cool. It’s very dreamlike in many ways.”

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Perry had previously discussed collaborating with Shepis on another project that never saw fruition, so she was happy to come on board for this one, especially when she learned who her co-star would be. “I’ve worked with her mom on several occasions, and I was like, ‘That would be really great.’ I mean, Jesus, those two even look alike, you know? It seemed like a fun gig, so I came on board, and it’s all going pretty well.”

Though the actress has a long feature résumé, she has rarely dabbled in short films before; her most notable venture in that direction was M IS FOR MATCHMAKER, an entry in the ABCs OF DEATH 2 competition she did with her husband, filmmaker Sean Tretta. She notes that she resisted the short form for a while because “I was in that camp of, ‘Well, why would you make a short when you can just make a feature? At least you can have an avenue for that.’ But since some of the most prestigious film festivals now have these great short programs, it’s almost silly to not do one. If you have any kind of budget and a cool location and access to some good actors, you can make something really awesome. What I’ve grown to find out is that when you give somebody a feature-length script, not everybody has an hour and a half to sit down and read it, but most people have 15 minutes. So if you’re a director trying to showcase your stuff, it’s a lot easier to say, ‘Hey, watch this, it’s only 15 minutes long.’ It’s a smart thing for these guys to do.”

That said, Perry—who just shot a potential TV pilot starring JACOB’s Grace Powell—acknowledges that the short-film field is a lot more competitive now than it was when he first got started in it a decade ago. “It’s been a little oversaturated, in a way. There are a lot of good shorts and bad ones, and part of the problem is you sometimes can’t initially tell the good ones from the bad. I had a chance to talk to Roger Corman a few years back, and I remember him saying that he wasn’t sure if he would make it in today’s film world; he was one of a kind back at the time, and now the people making films are in the five figures. It’s a great time, because so many people are getting movies made, but it’s hard sometimes for the true talent and the true greatness to shine through. For me, I just enjoy making films, and I’m lucky enough to be working with the people that I am. It always begins and ends with the writing, so I think the main reason everyone is here—at least I hope—is because they love the script.”

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor, the position he holds to this day while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews.
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