That happened to me early in Richard Perrin’s The Dead Don’t Scream, which I viewed in the filmmaker’s unassuming production-company headquarters in Euless. His office doubled as the set for a sheriff’s office. (The name of the fictitious sheriff remains stenciled on Perrin’s window.) Perhaps that’s why I felt a rather ghostly chill when the character of a deputy walked into the office onscreen and sat on the same chair where I was sitting in real life. That strange experience comes courtesy of the 49-year-old Perrin, the head of the Texas Actors’ Studio and a father of one, though as of next week that number will be two. This week, he has his mind on the Thursday night premiere of his The Dead Don’t Scream, a suspense-horror film about a group of vacationing college students who run into an auto-theft ring whose members kill drivers for their cars and dispose of their bodies in a meat grinder. “I wanted to think of something fun for our actors to do,” said Perrin, who cast his film entirely with the actors training at his studio, ranging in age from the 70s to his own 3-year-old daughter. “I didn’t want mindless zombies running around with chainsaws. I wanted a real story.”
Perrin grew up in a military family and lived all over but has been based in North Texas for decades. He made some student films at Stephen F. Austin State University and grindhouse movies in the 1980s and early ’90s. (“They were like, ‘I’ve got a gun, you’ve got a barn, let’s make a movie.’”) Then he stopped to concentrate on his studio and his work as a casting director for local TV commercials. His return to filmmaking was spurred by his wife, Jerilyn, and changes in technology that allowed low-budget buccaneers like himself to do professional-grade work. He won’t disclose the budget he was working with until a distribution deal materializes, but he talked at great length about the new cameras, sound equipment, and special-effects. “Back in the 1990s, we fired real blank charges, and they sounded like cap guns,” with the sound technology he had then. “Now we record sound in camera and on MP3s, and they sound good and loud.”
Teaching the actors to handle live firearms was just one of many challenges, and Perrin was full of praise for his weapons master, Arnold Freeman, noting proudly that the first-aid kit kept on the set never had to be opened. Dealing with the heat and humidity of this past summer was more taxing, especially when filming in the huge North Texas Healthcare Laundry facility that served as the main location. Nevertheless, the actors were grateful for the chance to put their newly learned skills to work. “It’s the difference between practicing football and playing,” he said. The Dead Don’t Scream is the first of five films planned by his company, 3 Red Peppers. (The next is called The Vampire Prophecy, scheduled to shoot after the new year.) He hopes that by the end of the cycle, he’ll be working with larger budgets, name talent, and nationwide distribution. Either way, he follows the advice he heard years ago from a 104-year-old acquaintance: “Find something you love to do, then get someone to pay you.”
The Dead Don’t Scream
6:30pm Fri. Harkins Theatres, 1450 Plaza Pl, Southlake. $10. 817-454-4754.