Kerry Bellessa is the director of “Amber Alert”. It is his first film. I talked with Kerry by telephone on July 7, 2012. Word of warning: seeing as how this is Kerry’s first movie I didn’t have a whole lot to go on. The term ‘winging it’ applies heavily to this interview.
(Phone rings…once…twice…three times)
Hi, is this Kerry Bellessa?
This is Kerry.
Hi Kerry, this is John with Written in Blood. I’m the guy that’s calling you for the interview today.
How’s it going, John?
It’s going great, how are you doing?
I’m doing alright. Where are you…you’ve got a 661 area code. Are you in California?
Yeah, I’m in Bakersfield, California and I’m burning up here. It’s hot!
It is hot isn’t it? I’m in Phoenix right now and we’re pushing over a hundred degrees.
Wow. First of all, tell me a little about yourself. How did you get started making movies? Who were some of your influences?
Alright, I like it. As a kid I always enjoyed going to the movies. I grew up in a little place called Federal Way, Washington, which is just outside of Seattle. I’d always go to the movies and what ended up happening is a good friend of mine, his sisters moved to California in the ’90’s to go produce commercials and music videos and things like that and they were like my only tie because in Washington I didn’t know anything about making movies. I just went to the movies. I’d go all the time. What happened was when I was 21 is that I moved to California and I started as a PA and I started working for a couple of years as a production assistant. Am I rambling on too much?
So, yeah, I wouldn’t learn any movies as a kid; I would just go to movies all the time. So, then after about two or three years working it was a great experience for me. My first commercial that I worked on was an AT&T commercial for Gore Verbinski; who now does all the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and he’s a big deal. I just learned a lot for years but then I decided to go to school ’cause there were things that I needed to learn more about. So I went to a school called The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. There is where I studied film and television. Working on set was awesome and I worked for a couple of years and I learned a lot. But then there was stuff that I felt by going to school could also help me learn a little more.
Film school’s not for everyone. There are a lot of directors that think it’s a waste of time. But then there are a lot of other filmmakers who have been to film school. I think it’s just more for what’s best for them.
I remember that Quentin Tarantino has always been quoted as saying that he didn’t go to film school, that he went to films.
Absolutely, he watches DVD’s and all the behind the scenes stuff. Paul Thomas Anderson went to N.Y.U. for a semester and then he left. There’s a ton of them. But then Ron Howard went to film school. Zack Snyder is an alumna from my school. I think it’s just the individual. For me it was great, for others it’s a waste of time.
It’s basically one of those things that you learn in the best way that you possibly can.
Absolutely; there’s things that you learn on set that you can’t learn in school and I think there’s stuff that you learn in school that you don’t have time learning on set. I liked doing both, it was great.
Let’s talk about “Amber Alert”. Let’s break this down; first of all how did you come up with the idea?
Well, I’d been trying to make a film for a long time. In 2006 I went to New Mexico to make a film that I wrote and our funding fell apart. So the last couple of years I’ve been in a funk; how am I going to get my film up and running again? I wanted to do something and I came to the realization that (Steven) Spielberg wasn’t going to give me $50, 000,000 to make a movie. So I somehow needed to be able to have a good idea that I could just go out and do. So what happened was that one time we were in L.A. and we were driving back to Arizona, and coming into Phoenix I saw an active Amber Alert and it broke my heart. I hate seeing those signs. Then me and my wife had this 30 minute discussion of what would you really do if you saw the Amber Alert car. I was like ‘I’m going to find the car, I’m going to get a bat, and I’m going to run them off the road’ and she said some things that she would do and it just kind of lead to this discussion of ‘what would you do’? Obviously you call the police. So, I remember calling my buddy and saying ‘what do you think of this idea? Someone sees the Amber Alert car and craziness ensues’. It just seemed like it was a great idea and everyone I would tell they would always wonder what they would do if they saw the car. So I guess that’s kind of the genesis of the idea.
How would you categorize the film? Would you call it a horror film?
I’d call it more of a thriller. I think some people are going to think that it’s horror just because of the ‘found footage’ genre where usually everything’s horror; but in this film there’s nothing paranormal or phantasmal. This is all something that could actually happen that got caught on tape. I think the reason the film has been very well received is because of that element. So yeah, we could go with thriller. There’s a bit of everything. There’s a little action in it. Action-thriller, maybe; we could go with that.
There was of course a found footage film called”Chronicle” and that was more science fiction than horror.
They’ll probably come out with more. People think it’s just so easy for them; horror and found footage. They think it’s easy and cheap.
Well, it’s basically what most people would assume is a hand-held camera that you carry around with you. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that.
I think that’s the fallacy sometimes. To be honest with you I wanted my first film to be beautiful. I wanted Roger Deakins as my cinematographer and for it to look like a Coen Brother’s film. But then the realization was that we have a great idea; and I think that this film works best in the ‘found footage’ genre and so we decided to go with it. I think it worked great. I think it would be kind of that it would just turn out to be one of those other type of films if didn’t go ‘found footage.’ I think it gives it a bit more realism.
Can you tell me a bit about the stars? I see one of them is listed as Summer Bellessa. Is that your wife?
Yes, that is my wife. We lived in L.A. the last ten years and she’s been like a working actress, going to school, she helped pay the bills doing commercials. Initially she helped me produce the film because I guess I didn’t want it to be ‘oh I’m making it and she’s starring in it.’ It just sounded like a low budget recipe for disaster. So at first I held castings; and I initially wanted someone else. But something in the back of my mind kept saying ‘hey, swallow your pride and use Summer.’ But after about a month I decided that Summer would be the best and she was amazing. I’m not just saying that because she’s my wife. She did a great job. One of the things that everyone who’s seen the film is that they’re always impressed with her. I think it’s great for an actor that they just kind of had to act in the manner of what they would really do in that situation. Women are always a little more assertive than guys in this situation. Summer is a mom and a lot of it just played to her strength and it just worked out really well.
Women are a lot more assertive. As far as the women I’ve known they’re also a lot more logical. They tend to think things through before acting out on it. Men are impulsive.
We’re more impulsive, a little crazier, too. But when there’s a kid put in danger I think women will do stuff that I don’t know if men will. It’s instinctual; they can lift a two ton truck if they had to.
(Note: This where the ‘winging it’ came into play)
I asked you earlier what your influences were and your answer was that your influences were movies. What are some of the movies that have influenced you? What are some of your favorites over the years that helped bring about the making of”Amber Alert”?
That’s a good question. As a kid I would watch “Spaceballs” every week. I loved all those movies. I loved Spielberg. Then I went to film school and everyone would like give those answers like ‘oh, Godard is my favorite’ or Fellini and they would just say it because it’s like the trendy thing to do. I’ve always just liked good movies. I remember seeing Spielberg’s name as a kid and thinking that guy’s obviously making good movies. Now as I’ve gotten older and I know more and gone through school I’d have to say that I love the Coen Brothers. I think they’re great because of their storytelling and because they do everything. They’ll make a thriller, they’ll make a comedy, and they’ll make a dramedy. I would love to have a career where you’re not just pigeon-holed. I want to make a different type of film and not the same film all the time. Ridley Scott is another who does that well.
One example of someone giving the trendy answers can be found on the internet. I used to read where people would pick their dream cast and crew for a movie and nearly everybody picked either Steven Spielberg or George Lucas to direct because they were the most popular filmmakers at the time. I would always laugh and think they needed to get a clue. They’re not the only directors out there.
I think now it’s such a business where they want a name attached, where they want someone who knows what they’re doing. There’s so much money involved with it now. They don’t want to give anyone a chance. It’s like a boys club. We’re just excited. We went out and we made this film with absolutely no expectations. I wanted to make something that I was proud of and it’s exceeded all of our expectations.
Do you have any other projects in mind?
We have a Bermuda Triangle film. We’re in talks right now with a couple of people that are interested in it. We went out with it last week and I’ve already had conference calls with two different sets of people that want to attach themselves and we’re just waiting to see what the best fit for us is.
Here’s a question for you. I asked this same question of Eduardo Sanchez because he had “Lovely Molly” coming out. In your own words tell my readers why they should see your movie.
First off it’s a film that’s a little different. I know that sometimes people will try to trick you with these ‘found footage’ films and tell you that they’re based on a true story when they’re really not. This is something that could actually happen to someone. It has happened to people before. I think it’s just an hour and a half ride of ‘what would you do?’ After the film is over I think that someone is going to agree with the guy and someone is going to agree with the girl. I think both have valid reasons to side with them. So I think the real reason that you would want to go see the film is because it’s something that could happen. I don’t know if you saw the news a couple of months about this couple in Alabama. The guy saw an Amber Alert and he saw the car and they chased it for like twenty minutes. Then the guy who had the girl got out of the car and started running and the cops chased him and it was like ‘Oh my God that’s like our movie.’ It’s a super low budget film that we shot on digital camera. Everyone lived in the house for a month. We went out and just did it very independently. There was basically like two actors and me. I sat in the back of the car and shot it and it was great. We wanted to make a ‘found footage’ film that was a stand-alone film. We didn’t want the gimmicks of a ‘found footage’ film where you’re just waiting at the end for a big jump or something. We spent two months writing the film; so there’s a first act, a second act and a third act. We just used the ‘found footage’ genre to tell the story. We didn’t have a script per se, but we had what we referred to as out 18 page bible. The actors had a lot of freedom, but they knew the story. I let them improvise a lot of the dialogue, but the story was set in stone and they would just kind of react to the situation. I think a lot of times people think that with these films that you just grab a camera and roam around and that’s not the case. There’s a lot of preparation that went into making this film.
One of the things that Eduardo Sanchez talked about was how they would leave a set of instructions each day about what he and Daniel Myrick wanted done; but that there was also that room for improvisation. You also mentioned about how nearly every film of this genre has that last minute fright scene. With “The Blair Witch Project” it was the scene in the house with Heather and Michael. It’s also been done in”The Last Exorcism” and”The Devil Inside” just to name a few.
We definitely want to make the end memorable. We just don’t want to drag you along for like an hour and a half just to get a good ending. We feel like all our scenes are still pretty meaty and we’re hoping that we can keep your attention the whole film and that there’s a good pay-off also towards the end as well. Chris Hill is our lead guy and on a side note he was my lead when I made my very first short film. When I had this idea and we still didn’t have it written I just called and said “Hey Chris, can you come and live with me for about a month?” Without hesitation he was just the type of guy that wanted to make a feature film and was just down with anything and so I was just always very grateful for him. When I was in L.A. holding castings there were all these actors that were probably really good; but they had all these demands that I just couldn’t meet. So I basically just went out and Jasen Wade, who plays the bad guy, is another friend. I basically went out with friends and family and made this film. I think that if I had got other people it would have just been too hard. There were times when we would work long days and everyone would come and stay at our house. There was really no schedule. It was really just how we were feeling and just go with it. Sometimes we were eighteen hour days; sometimes we were four hour days. My dad came out and he just drove the bad guy’s car all day. So it was just family and friends helping out and we all just had a good time.
When can we hope to see the film? Will it be in theaters?
Our distributor is Wrekin Hill and I think they have it set for like six or twelve theaters and then it’s going Video on Demand on the same day. It’s either September or October. We just turned in all our deliverable legal stuff and everything is all done. So we’ll probably talk to them at the beginning of this week to find out the date and their game plan.
Kerry, it’s been great talking with you. I appreciate your time and I wish you the best of luck with “Amber Alert”. I can’t wait to see it.
Thank you, I appreciate it.
AMBER ALERT TRAILER