AN INTERVIEW ASKEW: VINCENT PEREIRA
by Michael McCarthy
conducted on March 23, 1998

Vincent Pereira was there when Kevin Smith was just a Quick Stop employee contemplating his future and dismissing customers. He was also there as an occasional camera assistant when Kevin helmed Clerks. In fact, he played two roles in the film, "Engagement Savvy Customer" and "Hockey Goalie." Perhaps even more significant is that Kevin thanked him "for the inspiration" in the film's credits, something which foreshadowed Vincent's own inspired film debut. That film, for those of you who don't know, is A Better Place. If you haven't seen it yet, fear not, it's currently making the rounds as part of the Flixtour and may very well be headed to a college or theatre near you.

Those of you who've read Vincent's frequent posts here at The View- Askewniverse may find some of the following in depth interview to be a bit redundant. Simply put, the idea is to provide those new to the Askewniverse with a "portrait" of Vincent while also providing the regulars with further insight to A Better Place, Vincent himself, and his upcoming film Autograph. In other words, whether you're already familiar with Vincent and his work, or simply a curious party, you're likely to find a plethora of information in the interview you're about to read. Consider that a warning.


MM: When did you decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?

VP: When I was about ten in grade school. As a kid, I just loved watching movies and was always fascinated. I wanted to know how they did it. I started reading about movies, particularly horror movies. I read Fangoria and that kind of got me interested in the whole behind-the-scenes/making of aspect. So, I was pretty young when I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.


MM: You were working at Quick Stop with Kevin when he decided to make Clerks and I understand you were a big encouragement there. How'd it happen that he made a movie first?

VP: He started working there and one night I started talking to him about Twin Peaks. I asked if he was a fan and we started talking about movies. We just started hanging out. The Village Voice was there, so we would always read The Voice and started seeing the midnight movies at The Angelica. We started to go see the independent films. I would talk his ear off about film for hours every night. He always wanted to be a writer. Over a period of time, it got him more interested, like that would be an outline for his writing. Then we went to see Slacker. You know that story, how that was the kicker, where he was like, "Holy shit. I could do this with my credit cards." I guess the way he did it first was that for years he wasn't sure how he could get his writing out there. When it presented itself that he could do it through film, he was really itching to do it. He very quickly went out and did it, whereas I'm a couple years younger and always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. It wasn't some big revelation. So, it was easier to go a little slower with it. During the making of Clerks, I said to myself that I wanted to be making a film by the time I was 22, because that's how old Kevin was. And I ended up doing it because it was two summers later when I shot A Better Place. It was filmed in August of '95.


MM: When did you first conceive the idea for A Better Place?

VP: Again, during the making of Clerks, I said I wanted to do something by the summer of '95. I set that date as a goal. But I had no idea what I wanted to do. It was toward the end of ^93. Kevin had already shot Clerks. He'd gone to the IFFM. He'd been accepted to Sundance, but he hadn't gone yet. The ball had started to roll. The Village Voice piece had come out. I watching a news report. It might have actually been at work. It was one of those news shows like 20/20 or Dateline and there was a piece about those two kids in Britain who had kidnaped that three year old and murdered him. That really disturbed me. I'd always been interested in teenage murderers for some reason, like whenever I'd read an article about that it would always stick in my mind. When I saw that piece, it sort of clicked right then and there. "Hey, I should just do something about that. About a couple teenagers who murder a classmate or something." I started writing it and sort of ran with it.


MM: The murderer in your film has his motive, however disturbing it may be. Were you trying to figure out how they could've kidnaped and murdered that kid when you wrote your script?

VP: Not really. That case just repeaked my interest in the whole scenario. Writing the story, it was more or less me taking a lot of repressed anger I had when I was a teenager. I was kind of a loner. I was quiet. I had all those really anti-social feelings. I reached into that and poured it into that character. I gave him his own rationalizations because I didn't want to make a film about a totally fucked up character where you have no idea why he did it. I wanted to show the type of things that lead up to actions like that. I guess the only social comment I was trying to make is that violence is born out of families and not out of the media. There was a piece on 20/20 when I was fourteen where they were trying to say horror movies created violence. I always thought that was bullshit. That's why I showed that he came from this really screwed up familial situation. The guy he kills is an asshole but I show why he's an asshole--because he has this whole thing with his father. I was trying to make that comment, where I think violence comes from.


MM: How much of Barret and Ryan was derived from you and your experiences?

VP: I wouldn't say they were derived from my experiences, but the characters themselves were both derived from me. Ryan is the ultimate negative side of myself and Barret's the positive side. The character backgrounds were made up to motive the characters and give them a reason for being the way they were. I had to give Ryan a reason to get to the point where you could murder somebody. I figured giving him a violent family history was the only way to do it. With Barret, killing off his father in the beginning was to give the character a motivation to move and something in common with Ryan that would be a starting point for their friendship.


MM: Ryan quotes a lot of philosophers throughout the film. Have you read all of the books he's quoting?

VP: No. In the original script, it was more off the cuff. I established that he was well read, but I haven't read much philosophy. Paul's read a lot of philosophy, so he advised me on that. I was having a lot of trouble with that scene, so Paul came in and wrote a little dialogue. The beginning and the end were written by me. The whole mid-section, where he's talking about Sartre and Barret goes into the story about the old man, those two monologues were written by Paul. I really dug them. I thought they got to the heart of the characters better than I could. It establishes Ryan as being this smart, well read person, but everything he knows he knows from books. He doesn't know from having experienced it in real life. Barret shoots off this story about something he's actually experienced. It gets to the heart of what separates the two. They're both very thoughtful people, but Barret's actually lived and Ryan's in his own little world.


MM: Did you intend for the bloody nose in A Better Place to be so extreme, or did it just kind of end up that way at the end of the day?

VP: When he breaks it? Yeah. I'd seen bloody noses in real life. I remember I witnessed this really vicious fight in the middle of math class. We were taking a test and out of the blue this kid started pounding on this kid and broke his nose. There was blood everywhere. One time when I was ten a friend of mine was running in my basement. He crashed into the wall and broke his nose. The blood was just pouring out. That's an image that stuck in my mind. You never really see that in a movie. I wanted to recreate it as I'd remembered it. It was so simple. It was just this really flat wire taped to the tip of his nose so the blood would drip out and look like it was coming from his nostrils. I guess maybe I dwelled on it longer than I should have because I liked the effect, but I liked the realism.


MM: Did you enlist a professional for that?

VP: When I was writing the script, I wrote stuff I thought we could do. I was like, "OK, these won't be too expensive to do and we can make them look realistic." While we were in pre-production, Paul was talking with a school that had a make up effects course. We were looking to get a couple students from there to do the effects. But right after we took out our casting ads this dude Tony Mendeal called. He lived in Tom's River, which is about twenty minutes away from here, and he left a message among all the actors. He said he did special make up effects and he'd read about our film and was wondering if we needed any. I called him and he did a budget breakdown. He actually did a couple tests. He did this bruise make up on a friend of his and took pictures of it. It looked really cool, so we hired him on the spot. He did a good job, I thought.


MM: Barret is falsely accused of rape on his first day at the school. It's very ridiculous, and amusing at that, yet I can actually see it happening to someone in reality. Was there any particular inspiration behind that?

VP: Not at all. You see that kind of attitude nowadays, where people just misinterpret everything and get offended. The whole opening sequence at the high school was extreme because it's setting up the plot. It was my least favorite bit when I wrote it, shot it and edited it. Now it works because it goes by so quickly. I remember, late in the editing game, I went through that one night and really, really got brutal. I wanted it to be done with as quickly as possible. I ended up dropping like two minutes without cutting an entire scene. Just dropping lines. But I just wanted him to have an insanely bad first day of school and to intro the type of person Augustine was. Later on, she's vindicated when that dude walks up to her in the middle of the courtyard and says, "Hey, I want to fuck you." You can kind of understand where she's coming from.


MM: Was A Better Place your first screenplay?

VP: Yeah, that's the first thing I wrote. Brian, who made Big Helium Dog, has like five screenplays ready to go. Kevin, of course, can write so well and pretty quickly, too. That's the one thing that kills me. It takes me so long to write. That screenplay, I felt really good after I finished it, but now I'm having the same problems writing my second script. It gets a little frustrating.


MM: How long did it take you to write A Better Place?

VP: I went home and wrote the first ten pages quickly one day then I sat on it for a while. Just thought about it for a good eight months. I didn't do anything with it. Kevin came back in September ^94 and read those first few pages. I told him the basic gist of it and he gave me the boost. He was like, "Look, write the script, finish it and I'll finance it." From that point, it took me maybe six months of pretty much constant writing to get that first draft done.


MM: How did you learn screenwriting?

VP: As far as the format? Just from reading scripts. At Fangoria conventions, you could always buy bootlegged screenplays. I knew the format just based on that. I had a lot of bootlegged scripts.


MM: What was the budget?

VP: Kevin was putting up thirty thousand dollars out of his own pocket. I hoped we could do it for that, but we ended up eating up most of that in production. Just in the shoot. We ended up going into post production with only two thousand dollars left. It was while we were in post that Kevin made the deal with Miramax where they'd give him eighty thousand dollars to produce two films. Immediately he was reimbursed then we had another twelve thousand to get us through post production. We went a little over that, too. We ended up in the area of fifty thousand, give or take a couple thousand.


MM: What obstacles did you face during the shooting process where having, say, another twenty grand would've made your life a while lot easier?

VP: Obstacles? Well, we didn't have much of a crew. The films they did this summer, Vulgar and Big Helium Dog, cost a little bit more but the way they were set up was worlds apart. Big Helium Dog had a production office, a production coordinator and a production manager. It had a whole office staff as well as the entire film crew itself. It had a set schedule. We didn't have any of that. It was really, really off the cuff. Kevin didn't even have his offices in Red Bank until maybe three weeks before we started shooting. Since we didn't have an office, we didn't have the normal organization things you can count on, like notifying actors when they're needed. As far as the leads went, we knew we needed them everyday, but there were a couple instances where we called in people when they shouldn't have been there or forgot to call people. As far as problems during shooting, I kind of feel like I bit off more than I could chew. While I was on the set, I was looking at the script and I was like, "Oh my God, this is really complicated stuff to do on this level." A lot of things, we would toss out and rework on the set. If you read the script and compare it to the film, it's obvious the film came from the script but there are lots of things that were changed during shooting. The first week we were shooting almost all interiors, which was not a very smart move, but it was the only week we could schedule the high school. Our gaffer couldn't make it until the second week, so we had a lot of sequences set interior that we ended up filming outside because we ended up blowing the power.


MM: Are there any changes you'd like to make in the event that it's picked up by a distributor?

VP: There's a couple bits I'm thinking about trimming or cutting entirely and there's one bit I regret ever having cut. There was a bit before he murders Todd, when Ryan first goes back home. Before he takes the bath. He was sort of lying on the floor of the bathroom and it was intercutting with flashbacks of him having found his dead parents. I was getting a little frustrated with it and ended up taking it out entirely. If it ever got picked up, I'd put that back in. There's one bit where there's a straight cut I would change to a dissolve. Little things like that. And, of course, I would probably redo the opening and ending credits because they're kind of sparse now and some things need to be changed because there were names we didn't have at the time.


MM: What's the situation with Miramax now? Do they get first look or . . . ?

VP: Yeah, that was the thing. When they signed the deal with Kevin, they basically handed him eighty thousand a year to do two films and that was all they wanted out of it. So, that was it. They got first look and they passed. Now it's pretty much open to anybody who would possibly want it. And if it did sell, we'd have to pay Miramax back their forty thousand.

To Part 2 of the Vincent Pereira Interview