A personal fitness trainer has an unhealthy relationship with dolls.
Interview with Writer/Director Michael Peer
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I’ve always wanted to make a film about self-image. Like almost everyone else in America I have major insecurities about my weight, image, and personal body. In a time where our society is centered, if not fixed, on physical appearance, I wanted to create a psychological horror thriller that is as thought provoking as it is thrilling.
I feel the way that many people look at their bodies is a horror movie. I’ve been working on DOLL since Summer of 2015. I was spit-balling ideas with my co-writer and fraternity brother, Josh Rombro, about horror movie ideas set in Los Angeles based on body image, Josh said to me, “have you ever heard of the Dollmaker?” For those like myself who don’t know, the Dollmaker is a DC comic villain from the TV “Arrow”. Regardless, the moment Josh said “Doll…” the entire film exploded into my mind. I realized this film was set in a gym, about a desperate actress and her personal fitness trainer who turned women into taxidermy “dolls”. I had my first draft one week later.
For my first feature, I wanted to take my cue from other great directors who got their foothold through the horror genre (Stone, Coppola, Polanski, Raimi, Cameron, Bigelow). The horror genre – like comedy – may be the most discriminated against. I believe that’s because at it’s lowest level, films within the genre are garbage, while on the highest level, they are some of the best films in cinema.
In March of 2016, my producers and I realized the best way to get the film funded was to create a proof-of-concept short film that we could pitch to investors and production companies. DOLL is that short film. It’s not just a trailer or a display of a few key scenes from the feature, it is a whole unique short film set in the same universe. I knew that I had to deliver the best short film possible and that meant removing any aspect that serviced the feature only. If I never make the feature, the DOLL short should able to stand alone forever. Films that have followed this model include: WHIPLASH, SAW, THE PACT, EVIL DEAD, DISTRICT 9, THE BABADOOK, HALF NELSON… it goes on and on…
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I have no idea who my audience may be, so it’s hard to project. Generally, if you are 12-35, like psychological horror thrillers and the horror genre, this movie is for you. I have a difficult time calling DOLL a horror film because people automatically attribute that to jump-scares and cheap deaths. DOLL is more in the vein of the “art-house horror” movement with films such as IT FOLLOWS, THE BABADOOK, and THE WITCH. It’s a horror film that acts a metaphor for self-image.
I think the title alone says it all. By name alone, most people think DOLL is going to be Chucky 8… and I LOVE THAT. I want everything about DOLL to subvert my audience’s expectations. If you are someone with an open mind, who gets excited by the genre, this is for you.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Think of it like a close line. The spine of the film (themes, subject, ideas) is the line that everything rests on. Without the line, everything falls apart. The details, characters, and plot elements are the specific articles of clothing. Those can change in and out, but as long as the spine is in tact, it will work. Generally speaking, I hate when filmmakers scream their themes out loud to the audience. If a filmmaker has done his or her work, the themes should be ingrained into every frame inherently. It’s in the DNA, not the dialogue.
I’d rather encourage philosophical discussion by NOT giving specific answers or suggestions, but rather by alluding to the darkness of the material itself.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
For developing the short, it took a lot of time at first to get it right, but once I landed on it, it was pretty simple from that point forward. I made sure that it was a SHORT FILM, not a proof-of-concept, not a trailer, not a scene from the feature. Short films operate completely differently than features. They are SHORT for a reason. The perfect analogy for a short is equating it to an iceberg – when you hit it, you only see 10% but you feel 90. I made the mistake of chewing off more than I could for my previous short film NORA (available on Vimeo). While I am proud of that film, it’s twice as long as DOLL and for no good reason.
When we shot DOLL in August, the script for the feature at that point is now almost completely different that where it is now – like I said, you can change the clothes on the clothesline, but never the line itself. Although I wrote the first draft of feature in summer of 2015, I just locked it on the 3rd of February 2017. That is how long it takes to get it right. What was great was that the short allowed me freedom to separate my mind from the feature. By doing the short, I’ve actually improved the feature tremendously.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback the short has received has been truly remarkable – both from the festival circuit and as a tool of leverage for the feature. The reaction has given my team a huge boost of confidence. What matters most is that people are reacting and peaking to the world of DOLL. I’m very proud of the short and seeing it in a full house is both humbling and terrifying.
One of my favorite filmmakers working today - Ana Lily Amirpoor said it best, and I’m doing my best to paraphrase: “If you want to imagine what it’s like to screen your film in public, go home, pick out your favorite song, take off all your clothes, and dance like your heart out. After that, take your video and screen that to a full house of people. That is what it’s like watching your own film in public.”
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Every reaction is different. When asking for feedback, I don’t want people to hold any punches. To borrow from William Goldman, when receiving feedback, you can either ask for the truth or ask for complements. The latter does me no good. The only material I can’t doctor is my own, which is why I only want to hear the honest truth. Was the make-up good enough? Could it have been better? Was the dialogue corny? Which performance stuck out?
Every time I direct a movie, I want to be a better than the last time and you can only learn by doing. To quote Ana Lily again, “directing is like fucking. You just have to do it and figure out what works for you”.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I hope to provide your site with interesting content and for your readers to spread learn about the world of DOLL.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We are already in talks with several production companies who may act as our sales agents, but any word we can get out is beneficial.
The DOLL short will not be released online for a long time, most likely until the feature is already released. This makes every screening we are a part of that much more special. If a year goes by and there is no movement on the feature, I’ll throw it online at that point. But we WILL be shooting this year.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
“Holy shit… you gotta see this fucking movie…”
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
When was the last time you wish you had the perfect body?
Would you like to add anything else?
Thank you so much for the Q&A! Hopefully we can do this again next year with the full feature!
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Besides myself and my producer, Stephen Ricci (SMASHED, SIDNEY HALL), there are several production companies that I cannot mention yet…
Interview: February 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
A personal fitness trainer has an unhealthy relationship with dolls.
Length: TRT: 6:29
Director: Michael Peer
Producer: Stephen Ricci, Robert Neason, Toy Newkirk, Shae Horton
Writer: Michael Peer
About the writer, director and producer:
Michael Peer is an award winning writer/director from Washington D.C. He made his first feature length film at the age of 20 and lives in Los Angeles.
Stephen Ricci has over thirty years in the entertainment industry and has co-produced films such as SMASHED, SIDNEY HALL, and WELCOME TO HOLLYWOOD.
Key cast: Samantha Lemole, Gunner Wright, Lauren Compton, Jaclyn Winters
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Sales Agents, Film Festival Directors, Journalists
Made in association with: Panavision, SAG, and Super Crispy Entertainment
Where can I see it in the next month?: SF Indie Fest
Screening at Snowdance Independent Film Festival - Lansberg, Germany
SF Indie Festival: #Love&Death Shorts Program
Saturday, February 11th @ 12:30pm
Tuesday, February 14th @ 7:15pm
3125 16th St @ Valencia, San Francisco, CA 94103