Ahead of FrightFest’s UK premiere of A CLOUD SO HIGH at the Glasgow Film Festival, director Christopher Parson talks about his encounter with a peeping tom, casting a serial killer and writing demented female characters…
Congratulations on such an accomplished feature film debut. Is this the film you’ve always wanted to make?
Thanks for the compliment! I always saw ‘A Cloud So High’ as a Drive-In movie, to be honest. It’s more the film I never knew I always wanted to make!
The film takes us on a dark journey into the pathology of a young man (Paul) developing into a serial killer. What gave you the inspiration for the character?
There were three main incidents. One, many years ago, much like Paul Sarling, I was attacked and mugged by three assailants while walking home after a college class here in Los Angeles. Two, while purchasing batteries at a hardware store two years later, I overheard two older gentlemen discussing how DNA linked the
Sacramento-based “East Area Rapist” to a series of 10 murders in Southern California hundreds of miles away. Naturally I was shocked by the escalation of violence and the change in perpetrator’s M.O. and three, two more years after the hardware store incident, a peeping tom watched my then-girlfriend and I as we slept at a Pismo Beach motel, in the wee hours of the morning of course. She screamed, “Someone’s watching us!”
The film is also a penetrating study into a community where our protagonist, who starts off as a peeping tom / ransacker, can hide in plain sight. How much is this a comment on small-town America and your own upbringing?
It’s really more of a comment that, as people, we can be too self-involved to realize what’s going on around us.
The performances, especially from Aaron Perilo, who plays Paul, are magnificent. In Aaron’s case, how difficult was it to cast, considering the sympathy for him you want the audience to have?
Aaron came to us from our casting director, Cydney McCurdy, who always brought me terrific actors across the board. When Aaron walked in, he looked just like a police sketch of one of the serial killers I had been researching — which instantly gave me goosebumps. The Paul Sarling role wasn’t particularly difficult to cast, as I recall. There were really only two contenders for the role of Paul. The other actor that we liked was terrific, and had this unique James Dean / Brad Pitt quality. The problem is, would you believe a James Dean / Brad Pitt-type would be a ransacker-turned-killer? In the end — as much as I loved that performer — I didn’t think so. Aaron won the role.
It was great to see John Savage back on the big screen, as Paul’s complex father, which is an equally challenging role. How did you secure his services?
When Cydney read the script, she said Gene Sarling is John Savage and promptly sent the script to John’s then-manager. John had five days available and we made it work. What can I say? We got lucky.
The title is very evocative. Can you tell us what it means to you?
To be honest, I had the title before I had a script, and for the longest time I had no idea what it meant! While we were filming the Hemky Madera (as Gabriel Rivera) interview, I asked Hemky to say that “for the whole town, Paul Sarling was just a black cloud”. Also, ‘A Cloud So High’ are the last words of a poem that Paul reads — but it’s buried (on purpose) in the sound mix.
How did you enter the film industry?
Well, I had planned to become a film critic after graduating from USC’s film school. The problem was that I realized I was more interested in pursuing voice over acting and not writing film criticism. On the other hand, I was always a die-hard film buff who wanted to make a feature. So I used some of my earnings from voiceover to finance the film. I cut and scored the film to keep the costs down.
Do you think your experience as an actor helped you with the film’s journey?
There’s no way ‘A Cloud So High’ would exist if I had never acted. Let’s put it that way!
Finally, what’s next?
First, a little rest and relaxation. Later, I’d like to do a movie I wrote in quarantine, called ‘Little Miss Bitch Face’. That one’s a ‘What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?’ / ‘Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte’ / ‘Grey Gardens’ meets ‘The Big Chill’ — but with horror overtones and surreal sequences. And, of course, a bleak ending. ‘A Cloud So High’ is a bit of a sausage fest. I wanted to write some demented female characters for a change. Virtually all of the female characters in “LMBF” are over the age of 55. It will be a fun project.
A CLOUD SO HIGH is screening Friday 11h March, 4pm at the GFT, as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2021 event.