SxSW 2021 Interview – DON’T PEEK director Julian Terry

While playing a video game, a young woman comes across a creepy character who wants to be let out. Premiering in the Midnight Shorts section, we speak with filmmaker Julian Terry from DON’T PEEK. 

How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send DON’T PEEK into the festival?

My girlfriend, co-producer and star of the film, Katie C’etta chose SXSW. It is the only festival we submitted to. I have always been a fan of SXSW, but never expected to see my own work included. Katie truly believed in and submitted the short. I’m still blown away that we were chosen. 

Tell me about the idea behind DON’T PEEK and getting it made!

It was the middle of quarantine. I was in lockdown with my roommate, Alexander Anderson and girlfriend, Katie C’etta who are both filmmakers as well. We were all feeling a little bit claustrophobic and directionless. Just lost. One night while playing Animal Crossing, I actually creeped myself out and thought it would be a fun way to scare an audience with something that we trust and know well. We made sure to emphasize the claustrophobic feeling of something in your own bedroom haunting you. We made sure to work within our constraints while still making the short the best it could be. The only rule for the short was working with what we had in the apartment at the time. This made it a no-budget short film. I was lucky enough to have Alex, who owns a Black Magic 4k Pocket Camera and two lights. We recorded audio through iPhones. 

I used a lot of my cinematography skills from the past to frame and light it. Alex has been a partner of mine since working at BuzzFeed together. We have a good shorthand and it leads to really good looking shots. He worked as a gaffer, assistant camera as well as producer, and even appeared as the monster Zozo! Between the light gags and practical effects, it made it very difficult for two people behind the scenes to do.

None of this would have sold without Katie’s performance. Katie even had to light her own face with the light from the Nintendo Switch giving her an extra challenge on top of selling the performance. Since all the filming was MOS, we were able to play creepy music on set which made filming a lot of fun and gave the space a haunted house feel.

In the end, it feels like more than a short. When I watch this short, I don’t see a film, I see a time capsule of the months I spent in lockdown with Alex and Katie. The Covid19 Pandemic was a historcally tragic time and it was hard on all of us. Even though times were stressful, we still found a way to come together as artists and do what we love, make movies! 

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you?

One of my biggest inspirations was Steven Speilberg. When I was a child, I was obsessed with JURASSIC PARK and JAWS. I recreated every scene and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Make fun and memorable monster movies. Some of my favorites who inspire me today are Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, and Brad Bird. 

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint?

The short was made with no budget and only the gear that we had in the apartment at the time. That made things very difficult and we had to get really creative. I used a Black Magic 4k Pocket Cinema Camera along with a Sigma 18-35mm zoom lens. We only had two IntellyTech LED lights. We mostly used practicals to light the scene. Katie’s key light was the actual light from the Nintendo Switch. Alex rigged a desk lamp to look like our moonlight using party gels. For one of our shots, we had to have a drawer close on it and a whip pan to Katie’s reaction. This was extremely difficult for two people. I was whipping the camera and Alex was not only pulling focus but also closing the drawer with his foot off camera.  Another shot where we dollied from Katie to the Switch, we had a light gag. This meant that while I operated the camera, Alex had to turn off the practical lamp as well as our IntellyTech lights. For our camera moves, we used an old Ikan slider. It was very bumpy and needed warp stabilizing in post. This made it very difficult for shots such as the credits at the end of short where shots were both in reverse as well as moving forward in time and trying to track them perfectly. 

Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is the movie going next?

What I find most exciting about the virtual experience is the amount of eyes that will be on the project. Obviously we would love to have the theatrical experience, but we are also happy to be able to scare way more people using the virtual experience. We have some very exciting plans for the future of DON’T PEEK which will be announced within the month. 

What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

It would be really great to see subgenres in film festivals so that an audience can feel comfortable knowing that they won’t be seeing a gory horror short and will know which ones are suspense pieces. 

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?

Everyone runs into the thought that their art isn’t “good enough.” I almost didn’t release every single one of horror shorts because of this thought. You cannot let that thought stop you from releasing your art and showing the world who you are.  I think it’s very important to work every job on set no matter what you want to do. Knowing every position and what it entails makes it that much easier to communicate. For Don’t Peek we had no budget, but we made something that looks professional because we had strong team. Find a creative partner who is always williing to jump into the deep end with you no matter what and trusts you when things are scary and when you doubt yourself. It is very important to find your team. 

Great answer! And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

VALIDATION by Kurt Kuenne, which is now available on YouTube!

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to

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