Interview: Executive Producer Peter Phok on ‘X’ and ‘Pearl’ and the Future of Original Horror

Executive producer Peter Phok has collaborated with director Ti West since they were students at the School of Visual Arts. And through that time, “a lot of trust is built between us. Ti is such a specific filmmaker. He has a vision for what he’s going after. And over time, that trust is there. So all you have to do is just trust his vision.”

For producers, “we all have different duties on every project. With that, it’s just a matter of what he needs for the project to work. With X and Pearl, we were filming during the pandemic. It was a little different regarding where we were going and making the movie, but we were delighted to be involved and support the projects. It was like falling into old times. We hadn’t made a feature together in quite some time. So it was great to see how seasoned he’d become [as a filmmaker.].”

Filming two films during the COVID-19 pandemic brings lots of logistical challenges. However, both X and Pearl were shot in New Zealand, where the country took a Zero COVID approach at the time, which helped production:

“As 2020 fell upon us, production globally shut down. Then there was the challenge of figuring out how to return to production safely and comfortably with all departments. We were fortunate with our partners at A24, who wanted to take this movie to New Zealand, where their COVID response had been really strong. At the top of 2021, we were able to travel there. Ti had already been there with Jacob Jaffke, the head producer of the film.

Once they got through the initial quarantine, which was a solid two weeks, they could get to the work at hand without the huge burden of dealing with the pandemic while the rest of the world was dealing with it. They eventually caught up much later in New Zealand, but there weren’t any major challenges when we were shooting the movie. But the movie is set in Texas, the initial place that was considered. However, with the handling of the pandemic in the U.S., it just wasn’t feasible because X is not a socially distant movie.”

A24 never greenlit two movies at the same time before X and Pearl. However, according to Phok, the studio believed “so much in Ti, his visions, what he was doing, and the strength of the scripts. I remember reading Pearl, and I was blown away. It’s so different from X with how deep we go into the character and the nuances, which is very different, and I think that’s what’s very exciting between both films.”

It was also important for West not to make the same film twice and experiment with many aesthetics when it came to crafting X and Pearl:

“I think there’s a certain boldness in X. It’s a movie about amateur filmmakers going to make an adult film. And so you’ve got to face that on. I think that’s bold filmmaking, and it’s also exciting because you’re combining it with the slasher genre.

It was important for Ti not to be making the same movie. It wouldn’t make sense to do a follow-up while we were there. But to do a prequel made a lot of sense. You could now see the farm in its heyday and meet Pearl at a young age. Pearl was something that Ti had been percolating before we were even going there while he was writing X. But when Ti has an idea and a concept, he gets very excited about it, and he’ll bounce that off with his collaborators. And then we get excited, which snowballs into a fleshed-out idea. He then goes into the writing process and quickly comes out with something always very exciting, even as a first draft.”

Crafting the color palettes for both movies to help differentiate the time period was intentional and deliberate:

“Our costumes and the color palette in the world of X are deliberate to mimic the late ’70s. If you’re filming anything for Texas in that era, you will invoke a visual aesthetic similar to that of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s naturally bound to happen. However, X is also a movie within a movie, right? Much work has gone into capturing the look of that era’s 35mm and 16mm films. Once the movie wrapped, we shifted the thinking to Pearl, a different filmmaking era.

Ti is going to capture the color palette in a Technicolor-like way. The costumes are supposed to be very bright and intentional, plus we’re putting a new coat of paint on the farm and chasing after skies that tended to look very painterly, so it’s all a deliberate look.”

Phok also hopes that X and Pearl‘s critical and box office success will usher in a new era for original horror movies in theatres:

“I love original horror films. I think we all do as an audience. That’s exactly what we’re looking for: an original film that subverts our expectations. For Pearl, we wanted to do something different. Ti had an idea for the end credits where he was like, “let’s just do a take where [Mia Goth] will just stare into the camera as long as possible,” which was incredible. You can just imagine what that’s like being on set, and everyone is quiet. Mia commands both films, particularly in Pearl, because she adds an extra layer of depth to bring this character, so we feel some compassion for her.”

Pearl is available to rent or buy on video-on-demand and purchase on physical media.


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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