‘Scandal’ star Jeff Perry spearheads Kickstarter campaign for new indie film

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Steppenwolf Theatre co-founder and star of ABC’s hit drama “Scandal” Jeff Perry has a month or so left to secure financing on Kickstarter.com for an indie film he and nine others are striving to make called (for now, anyway) “Building Bridges. Perry is hopeful they’ll hit or exceed their $500,000 goal by January 5, 2014, but he’s also well aware that art is often a tough sell when it comes to fund raising.

The true story of a man (Ron Moore) who slowly and painfully rebuilds his life after losing his wife and two young kids in a 1996 school shooting, “Building Bridges” was written by Perry’s “Scandal” co-star Cullen Douglas (who’ll play the lead role) and first brought to his attention by “Scandal” director and executive producer Tom Verica, who’d read Douglas’ screenplay. Thereafter, Perry says, “we all got pretty obsessed with it.”

Ideally, shooting can begin next June in Chicago.

Sun-Times: Why did you go with Kickstarter as opposed to friends of yours like Gary Sinise, who’s bleeding “CSI” money?

Jeff Perry, via imdb.com

Jeff Perry: There’s a democracy to Kickstarter in the ability to kick in five and ten and 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 bucks that appeals to me. I’ve tried to raise money my whole life, here and there, for moving a play to New York or some rough, hard-to-finance subject like a small independent film. I rather hate it. But I’m hating this less.

Q: Do you feel less pressure to make something that totally explodes because you’re going this route instead of borrowing millions from some of your wealthy friends?

JP: You know, artists and actors — it doesn’t matter how much money they have, they don’t wanna give it. And I include myself. [Laughs] Full disclosure: If I had better spending habits, I could fund this. But my spending slightly exceeds my earning, and I haven’t seemed to learn from when I made $20 a week to now… One thing that we can’t do is go to anybody and say it’s a very reasonable investment. It’s beautiful and difficult material. Believe me, putting money into the guy who makes socks on the corner in a shack is probably a better investment.

Q: Way to sell it, Jeff.

JP: Yeah, good job, right? And so it’s really about someone wanting a piece of art that they believe will have authenticity and beauty and significance. I’m 58. I grew up watching Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, JFK, RFK, much less some poor kid on the street, get gunned down. My daughter’s grown up with towers being taken down by a plane, bombings at the Boston Marathon, shootings at a Los Angeles airport, seventeen shootings per year that captivate our senses because we’re looking at a body count. It’s as disturbing an epidemic as I can think of and, honestly, it’s human nature to be a little more fascinated with the perpetrators than with the victims. And with the victims of the victims, which are the living people who’ve been crippled by grief and are wondering if they should kill themselves. This film has a fierce grip on our hearts, the ten of us who are trying to make it. It’s [about] a man who was brought really close to suicide by this kind of loss and tragedy and somehow fought his way back to being able to breathe, to look up, to love, to hope.

The stars of “Building Bridges,” via Kickstarter.com

Q: You’ve said people in Hollywood looked at the script and told you it needed A-list talent to get financing.

JP: As soon as you look for conventional financing and you have the cast that’s on our Kickstarter page, all conventional [financiers] for film will say, “Great. Like these actors. I need a Jessica Chastain. I need a Brad Pitt. I need a couple of them who have proven international box office.” If that were true of all films, we’d never have a “Winter’s Bone,” we’d never know who Jennifer Lawrence is right now. It’s a catch-22. So you’re making not-for-profit art in a way that you hope will make a profit. More importantly, you hope it’ll have significance.

Q: Is part of your hope that this film might somehow change public policy, or are you simply making a piece of art?

JP: Look, man, I know that fifteen years apart “Dead Man Walking” and “Fruitvale Station” made a very deep impression on my heart. It changes how I treat people, I hope. It changes how I vote. And it changes my heart. Art does that to me. All I can hope is that it does that to some extent to other people, too.

Jeff Perry as Cyrus Beene on ABC’s “Scandal”

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