Jonathan Perry Interview: Subnivean

By Alex Gehrlein ’19

In 2019, we’re going to see something filmmaking hasn’t allowed for in the past. Have you ever dreamed of making a movie? Of writing a script, bringing it to a group of collaborators and being able to get it produced? For years, this has simply been a dream. In the ‘60s, French film critics took their cameras to the streets to make movies outside of the studio system; they revolutionized European cinema. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, film school students like Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and Spike Lee used their colleges’ equipment to perfect their art. As time has progressed, opportunities to write, direct and produce one’s own films have come within the grasp of a younger and younger base of filmmakers. The question simply became: when is this trend going to reach high school?

Though Subnivean was made with the help of Hollywood professionals and college students, the drive behind the film came from 17 year old Jonathan Perry, a Sandusky-based student making the big leap into filmmaking. The film’s synopsis is as follows: “After a vicious chase home from gathering firewood, an innocent boy unknowingly leads his brother to fall through an isolated pond. The boy has to accept and use his twisted hallucinations of hatred as his only hope to break the ice and save his brother in time or die trying.” I was lucky enough to talk with Jonathan about his film, his process and what he sees for himself going forward.

Starting around four years ago, Jonathan discovered an online community where he could make money from selling his short scripts. By networking with filmmakers on his blog, Jonathan generated thousands of dollars from directors purchasing his work to make their own first steps into the industry. Eventually, he was shocked to find an online buyer offering four thousand dollars for the rights to Subnivean.

What many would take as a big payday, Jonathan saw as an opportunity to break into the industry. Of his large body of work, Subnivean was a script he knew could maintain his passion for as long as it would take to get into production, and with such a large offer on the table he saw that others recognized the same qualities in it. Getting the production up and running would be the next great hurdle.

This is the part of the story that I find most impressive: Perry recruited his producers through a long process of calling and canvassing, using a directory he found with the Michigan film commission. From there he brought on film students from Northern Michigan University to round out the crew, and took everyone out into the woods to shoot the film.

As is the case with many productions, the environment changes the way one is able to operate on set. Jonathan made changes to his script as logistics dictated and as he learned from the people in the area. Eventually, they walked away with the footage they needed, gathered in the wilderness without computer effects.

The production then wrote a letter of appeal to Amazon, which allowed for Perry to be signed with the studio and led to the film’s wider release.

With buzz building around the release of Subnivean, Perry is already lining up his next opportunities, and taking off rather quickly. Next in line is writing a feature script set to be produced in 2021, and from there who knows?

My sincerest hope is that his film does well, taking home festival awards and reaching a wider audience. The best moments in film history have always come when talented individuals are able to express themselves earlier and with fewer restrictions. An unprecedentedly young artist coming in from outside the studio system to shake things up could be exactly what film needs at the moment; it’s all the more enjoyable to see him coming from Ohio.