From Geek to Gangster

How does an IT guy go from being in the office one day to directing a movie blockbuster the next? Perry Bhandal tells Momtaz Begum-Hossain all.

Posted: 29.08.12

When the press release about Perry Bhandal appeared in my inbox, I skimmed through the whole ‘new director’ blah blah blah stuff thinking, ‘whatever, heard it all before’, but then I noticed the bit that said Perry had been in a boring IT job for 20 years and gave it up at the age of 41 to do what he’s actually always wanted to do. Now that’s not the kind of story you hear every day, especially from an Asian. Fast forward a couple of years and the man in question has embarked on an MA, dabbled in writing fiction, split from his wife, lost his father and has a major movie release starring an ex-teen heart throb under his belt; a career path, that gives anyone stuck in a dead end job, some hope.
But why exactly did Mr Bhandal swap computers for video cameras, it couldn’t have been for the money? Perry explains: ‘I grew up in Slough and attended the local grammer school; you had to have some kind of path laid out and I went with computer science and accountancy. My attempt at being an accountant went hand in hand with an arranged marriage, house and mortgage and it took over my life. My creative urges were laid to rest, even though deep down I knew I wanted to make films.’

Over the years Perry built up a successful IT business and was financially stable, even if his mind wasn’t. He can’t say how long he may have continued working as he had done for 20 years, as the trigger that eventually set off his second journey in life, was an unexpected one. Perry reveals: ‘My father fell in and passed away in 2009. I knew how hard he had worked, sacrificing his own hopes, desires and aspirations….it was these sacrifices that spurred me to take the step and follow my dreams.’

Within a couple of months, Perry sold his consultancy business and set up a film company. As well as the creative mind to tell stories, his financial knowledge helped him approach film-making as a proper business. He also immersed himself in the whole world of filmmaking. Perry admits: ‘I learnt about lighting, scripting, filming, editing; every single process, I knew I had a lot to prove and a lot to catch up on. I certainly wanted to show I was a professional.’

It was his professionalism that helped his debut film Interview With A Hitman get the industry backing it needed, that catapulted him from being an unknown, into a respectable Director. He explains: ‘I didn’t want it to be a low budget feature, I wanted a proper film. So I created a five minute sequence, with high production values, just as the film would look. Normally you just show investors story boards and mock-ups but when they saw the effort I’d gone to and could actually visualise the end product, I had them on my side.’

So that was the skills and money sorted, what about the actual story and who would play the lead part? ‘For me, it wasn’t so much about the genre, making a gangster movie or thriller, but about a character. I like anti-heroes, they have some complex minds, what makes them that way? What was it in their life experiences that turned them from being an ordinary person into a killer? Childhood is very important to that which is why we see Luke’s character as a boy then as a man, to be able to observe how he changes.’

Interview With A Hitman tells the story of a young boy growing up in the slums of Romania, who later becomes a contract killer. Rather than follow him on murder sprees, is focuses on his psyche, going under his skin, to reveal his actually identity. The man cast in this fascinating lead role was one Mr Luke Goss, formerly one half of boyband Bros and now a leading Hollywood actor, having previously starred in Blade II and Hellboy II.

Why did Perry take him on? Was it for the press interest? He explains: ‘In the UK, the press like to talk about Bros but elsewhere Luke is an actor. I struggled to find the right man for the job and for a long time I thought I had created a character who couldn’t be cast. But Luke read the first 30 pages of the script and wanted to do it. I went back to his management and said I wanted him to read the whole script to be 100% sure and he still was. Then we met and talked for three hours – it was a meeting of the minds. He completely understood what I wanted.’

So far so good, he had the backing, the script and the star, but did the audience really exist for another gangster, action flick? Perry assures: ‘People have seen blood and gore and senseless violence. This tests the viewer to see whether they can empathise with a criminal once they understand more about him.’

Added on to the pressures of making such a challenging story, the film was shot in record time, just three weeks. Perry confesses: ‘It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It involved 300 people, 30 locations, 13 hour days…it was relentless. Then we’d check through the footage at the end of the day, sometimes adding re-writes or dealing with locations falling through…I was so tired by the end of it!’ 

To his testament Perry went from being a complete unknown film maker to creating an international movie that has been screened all over the world. And this is just the beginning. His next film is already under way. Penumbra is another action/thriller but it’s not the only project on his mind. Perry has no intention of being typecast in the genre. He sums up: ‘ I have a lot of stories to tell and one I have in the pipeline in actually set in 1700s Punjab. It will be Hindi; not actors with accents, but an authentic Indian film. The inspiration actually came from a trip I made there in 2003. A child held out her hand to me. I gave her some money and she replied with the biggest smile I’d ever seen. You cannot forget moments like that, it fuelled my imagination to tell a story and I know there’s plenty more in me yet.’

Interview With A Hitman Directed by Perry Bhandal is released on DVD August 27th 2012.


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