Imagine that in January of this year, you were visited by your six-month future self, letting you know about all the catastrophic events that were about to unfold that were out of our control. What if one of them was something you could manage if you put in a little effort? That’s the basis of Perry Strong’s short film, 180 Seconds, which he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in.
Shot in his apartment in July, smack dab in the middle of New York City COVID, 180 Seconds sees Strong playing two versions of himself, with the future one being the bearer of bad news before ultimately cautioning his own self not to get fat during the pandemic quarantine.
First uploaded to YouTube Labor Day weekend, and then shared on social media, 180 Seconds got a major boost when former Saturday Night Live cast member Leslie Jones shared it on her Instagram, where the film garnered over 120,000 views on her account alone. Now Perry is basking in the film’s viral success and is already working on a follow-up short.
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Before COVID-19 shut down much of the U.S. beginning in March, Strong was a freelance worker in the entertainment industry, making a decent living doing multiple jobs. He was the technical director of Revolt TV’s talk show, The State of the Culture, had steady clients as a portrait and headshot photographer, and went on acting auditions, booking roles on TV shows like Power, Daredevil, and Law & Order: SVU, among others. The acting roles were small, mostly under five lines, but they were starting to get more consistent. Strong was on a roll and feeling confident about 2020.
Unfortunately, he soon learned his role playing an angry juror on an episode of CBS’s Bull — a show he auditioned for “probably 30 times” — was cut from the series. Strong was disappointed, but hey, these things happen. Then the unforeseeable happened: The pandemic hit and pretty much cut whatever else was left of Strong’s professional life — the talk show work, the photography clients, the auditions. Even the comedy clubs he liked to perform at to hone his comedic skills had all closed down.
Stuck in his apartment, Strong gained a few pounds (his gym was closed), stopped shaving his head and face, and began what he called a “slight descent” into depression. That’s when he got the idea for the short film: playing a hairy, overweight, bathrobe-wearing version of himself from the future telling his present self about all the drama that happens during the first six months of 2020, including a warning to not pack on the pounds while stuck in his apartment.
“I created this short because I felt I had to,” Strong tells Casting Networks. “I wanted to make something that spoke to people in some way. This pandemic is a shared experience. Yes, everyone is going through this differently. Some people are chillin’, and others are truly suffering. But I needed to comment on the situation.”
To film 180 Seconds, Strong had a “prep day” where he set up the shot in his living room where the two Perrys would sit side by side. He spent one night in July playing the unkempt future version of himself for the camera. Then he took a couple of days to stop eating, shave, and lay out in the sun to look healthier to portray the pre-pandemic Perry. After principal photography wrapped came the task of putting the two versions together so that both Perrys looked like they were sitting side by side.
Due to COVID constraints, post-production work such as editing and VFX were done remotely, with Perry calling on favors from friends. He sent the film on a hard drive to his childhood best friend in Atlanta, who works as an editor. Another friend in Los Angeles handled the VFX work. Bit by bit, the moving parts started to come together.
“If I wait for someone to cast me in a lead role, or a role that would showcase my abilities, I would probably die waiting,” said Strong. “I’m a 44-year-old biracial man in America. The only way I’m going to be seen at the level I would want to be at is to give that opportunity myself. Otherwise, most of my auditions are for security guards, prison guards or FBI agent #2.”
180 Seconds is a far cry from those roles. In just under four minutes, the two on-screen Perrys — one talking over mouthfuls of cereal — discuss topics such as stimulus checks, UFOs, Kobe Bryant, George Floyd, “Karens,” and of course, quarantine weight gain (“You look like Vin Diesel gave up!”). The film weaves in bits of humor, interspersed with harsh truths, along with numerous jabs and quick comebacks.
Now, as Strong finds himself doing interviews about the film, he’s also in post-production on his fourth short, Two Guys on a Bench, in which he stars alongside comedian Greer Barnes. He recently went to the gym for the first time in months (“I feel like I’m crippled”) and had a few headshot bookings with clients. Strong has even done a few auditions via self-tape. An uptick seems to be happening, whether it’s due to the short’s success, or just the fact that New York City is starting to slowly get back up on its feet, or a bit of both.
In any case, Strong is grateful for all of it. He is happy to be part of television projects, even if the roles are small. He just understands that while he’s building that area of his career, he needs to continue creating his own projects to shine the spotlight on his abilities that have yet to be noticed by those in hiring positions.
“If I were just auditioning and not making my own stuff, I don’t think I could keep going in this industry,” he said. “It’s important not to stop being creative, especially during this pandemic. I’m not saying everyone has to make a short film, but at least do something creative, even if it’s just for yourself. Because things atrophy. Six months of downtime is a lot of time to pick up bad habits and lose good ones.”
Take that as a warning from a future self.
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