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Featured Artist Conversation with Filmmaker, Rich Perez

Filmmaker Rich Perez

For twenty years, Rich served as a pastor and public speaker, fostering spiritual growth and community development. His  2017 memoir explored the intersection of faith, ethnicity, and the powerful influence of place. Today, Rich has leveraged those experiences as a filmmaker to craft honest and captivating narratives for brands and organizations, using both documentary and narrative styles. Faith and family are a cornerstone in his life, reflecting his belief that the decisions we make throughout the course of our lives is telling a story.

 Rich shares, 

"I have loved storytelling since I was a child. Throughout college, I studied film theory and production, and as I ventured out of college, I imagined seeing myself in front or behind the camera. However, God had different plans. In 2020, after about 17 years of church and non-profit work, my family moved from New York to Atlanta. I took that as an opportunity to pivot professionally into the filmmaking world. My first time being introduced to filmmaking professionally was being hired as an AD. Which, in retrospect, was a big deal, from never doing anything on set to being hired on my first project as an AD in North Carolina. This was a great learning experience. From there, doors opened, and one opportunity led to the next. Now, four years later, we could focus on our own productions."

-Rich Perez

Atlanta Film and TV: Was film directing something you were always interested in, or did you feel like it was something you were called to do, while pastoring?

Rich Perez: "I always saw my role, (whether it was as a little kid) entertaining my family, or as a pastor feeling the responsibility to lead my church, I saw it all as an opportunity to tell a good story."

Atlanta Film and TV: Can you take us on your journey of how you started to where you are today? "About four years ago, my family and I moved from New York, and  I transitioned out of pastoral work. 2021 was our first full year living in Atlanta and I didn’t work. We were, however, grateful that we were at a financial margin, where it wasn’t needed for me to work. I used 2021 to figure out how I would pivot into filmmaking. My first job was being hired by a good friend who hired me to be the AD on a short film he directed. I spent four days in North Carolina fighting imposter syndrome. I fought it because I never worked as an AD, or set a foot on a set. On the last day on set, Derrick sat me down and said ‘hey dude! I didn’t hire you because you have all the technical skills I need you to have. I didn’t hire you because you know how to light a scene, or you know what buttons to push. I hired you because you’re good with  people and you know how to lead a particular group of people toward a particular vision.’ This conversation was affirming because I was struggling in my late thirties starting a new career with a lot of imposter syndrome. His words were comforting and offered me a lot of permission to do this sloppily, and figure my way through this new world I would have to navigate.

Working as an AD led me to work as the production coordinator on another project which in turn, led me to work on multiple projects. In 2022, my son and I worked together on a short film that I wrote with him as the lead. We crowdfunded and invested some of our own money into this project. We shot the film for three days in Atlanta, and now it's at the tail end of its festival run! Lastly, I’ve worked on numerous small projects, and as far as feature projects are concerned, I have not worked on anything major yet. Most of the work I’ve done up to this point has been short narrative and short documentary projects and it’s been fantastic!"

Atlanta Film and TV: You touched on Imposter Syndrome, and I think a lot of people in Film and TV deal with it. How would you tell someone working in film and television how to overcome it?

Rich Perez:  "My young film career has benefitted so much from making room for myself. But, live life. Be okay with how you are growing. Be ok with the versions of yourself at any given season as you’re moving toward growth. It’s not, I am okay with who I am now and forever. I'm OK with right now because I know I’m moving towards growth, and I know I’m moving toward learning more about myself,  and how I am wired and created. This puts me in a trajectory that says it matters to me what reputation I have as a human, but it doesn’t matter to me so much that I become stagnant in the things I create and produce. I will create out of that place of curiosity, grief, sadness, or joy. I will create whatever I am discovering about myself in a particular season."

Atlanta Film and TV: Your filmIt Stays With Us" is about a 15 year old named Ricky, who struggles to accept the loss of his mother. Could you share what the inspiration was for this film?

Rich Perez:  "My mom passed away in 2007 when I was 23 and newly married. It Stays With Us is loosely based around my younger brother who was 15 at the time of my mother’s passing, and after she passed it was only him and my dad. The other thing that inspired the movie isn’t necessarily autobiographical as much as it is universal, which is the story of grief. John O., a local artist, a creative, and a friend of mine often says that ‘grief is the universal language of humanity.’ We all speak the language of grief, even though we have different dialects. It was a huge inspiration, particularly being able to highlight the fact that young brown and black boys feel these feelings of grief also. It was important to show the trajectory of what it looks like for a young kid (a young Latino kid particularly) who is probably immersed in a lot of Machismo culture of not being able to find the permission to feel certain feelings. It was important for me to highlight what it looks like when grief sits on a kid for an extended period. How does he react to the world around him? How does he react to the people who try to engage him, love, and try to get close to him? Which is something that feels very tender. What does it look like for a kid to respond to that?"

For our full conversation, click here

Atlanta Film and TV: What do you hope people take away from your film?

Rich Perez:"The two things I want people to take away from It Stays With Us are permission and courage. Permission because grief is an unpleasant feeling. Particularly as it relates to people shaped by a Machismo culture where people look at manhood and say, ‘ you mustn’t’ express these complicated expressions such as grief, or sadness. I thought it was important for people to engage with it and discover permission to feel the full breadth of emotions. Especially those emotions that are harder to express. Lastly, with courage because it’s one thing to feel the emotion of grief and sadness, but it's another thing to find the courage to express and interrogate, and to extract from it what courage desires to give you. I am a firm believer that emotions are important and they’re meant to offer you something, and I believe they come bearing gifts. I do, however, believe that we often forgo those gifts because some emotions are too hard to experience and interrogate. If there's anything I want people to get from It Stays with Us, is the permission to feel the full breadth of their feelings, particularly grief, and the courage to interrogate them and receive from them what they want to give you."

 Atlanta Film and TV: It Stays With Us was recently at The Atlanta Film Festival. Could you share with us what that experience was like?

Rich Perez: "The experience was great because everybody was welcoming and supportive! There was a community of people coming alive in the film world, and to think that I would find community in a festival, and even more at a prestigious one like the Atlanta Film Festival. There were random people showing support, at the Shorts Block, where It Stays With Us previewed. I have nothing but great things to say about my experience at the festival!"

Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have a piece of advice you would like to share with fellow filmmakers? 

Rich Perez: "Your life is more than the things you produce. When you come to grips with that reality, you will make some incredibly authentic and beautiful things, because you will have relieved yourself of the pressure of trying to create for your self-worth. Once you realize your life is more than the things you produce, you now have created out of your self-worth. What does that look like? It means to go live life! Put the camera down, and be present with yourself with the people who love you. Find meaning in the life that you’re living. Once you do that, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find the stories that you are meant to tell on the screen."

Atlanta Film and TV: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Rich Perez: "Just be sure to  go out and make beautiful things!"

Atlanta Film and TV: How can people connect with you? 

Rich Perez: "I am on Instagram @richperez Or, if you’re interested in seeing some of the work I’ve done, you can find our production company Story 11 Films at and if you're ever interested in telling authentic and beautiful stories, be sure to connect with us. We’d love to figure out a partnership!"

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