Ryan Bijan’s Erik: Portrait of a Living Corpse is a horror film made in Fort Worth, but it looks much different from other such movies. It’s a period piece based on Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, replete with 19th-century costumes and painterly visuals filmed at Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Bass Hall. This is probably why the film has scored some local screenings and is now available on DVD through Bijan’s web site. It’s quite a coup for a 21-year-old filmmaker who’s still a student at TCU.

Bijan was born in Fort Worth under the name of Ryan Bijan Jeri. “My parents always called me ‘Bijan,’ ” he said. “I didn’t know my first name was Ryan until I was in first grade and a teacher asked me if I wanted to be called that.”

ErikA graduate of Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, he dropped the “Jeri” when he decided to pursue an acting career, so as to avoid being confused with actress Jeri Ryan. (He still uses the name “Ryan Jeri” for some of his off-camera work.) A smoothly handsome young man with a sidelight in modeling, he recognizes the difficulty of snagging roles as an actor of Iranian descent, but he embraces the challenge. “I’m not a generic guy,” he said. “I can play roles that other people can’t. Look at guys like Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. They didn’t look like other leading men.”


Older movie references like that dot Bijan’s conversation. Indeed, Erik was inspired by older films. Bijan first became familiar with Leroux’s story through the 1943 film that starred Claude Rains. “I felt like an outsider in middle school,” said Bijan. “The [1943] movie portrays the Phantom as a tragic figure but not a nice guy.”

He found further identification in the novel, which gives the Phantom a Persian background that most versions of the story ignore. Bijan is familiar with the other iterations of the story, though oddly, he didn’t see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical until he’d seen all the other versions. “I like it a lot better than the [2004] Joel Schumacher film.”

The look of Erik was inspired by the lush visuals of the British horror films made by Hammer Film Productions after World War II. “I love the stylized Technicolor look,” Bijan said. “I love the sets and costumes. So much of local horror is about slashers or zombies. I wanted to do something different.”

Bijan ran into some static trying to film in other historic Fort Worth locations but found Bass Hall a much more congenial place to film. He also feels deep gratitude toward his parents for backing him emotionally and financially, as they funded the filming of Erik as a present when he graduated from TCC. (Though the film used student actors, it was not a school project.) His mother Connie Jeri is listed as a producer.

Now Bijan is adjusting to life at TCU: “It’s great to be surrounded by people who are just as passionate as you.” He’s also contemplating a thriller about art thieves, as well as a transgender-themed project in honor of a friend of his who came out as trans. Bijan’s style may still be forming, but his ambition is fully fledged, his eyes trained on the future. “You’ll get discouraged and depressed,” he said, “but if you want something bad enough, you can’t take no for an answer.”