Q&A: “The River” writer Michael R. Perry

  • Cynthia Perry photo
By Columbus Alive
From the February 9, 2012 edition

Worthington native Michael R. Perry started writing while working the late shift at a hotel in Columbus — there was lots of quiet time to fill.

It was time well spent. Perry has written for numerous television shows, as well as “Paranormal Activity 2,” since he cut his teeth on “Eerie, Indiana” in 1991. Most recently Perry hooked up with “Paranormal Activity” creator and director Oren Peli to bring us “The River,” a horror mystery show about a search party navigating supernatural elements in the Amazon while looking for a missing boat and its crew.

Tell me about your background writing horror on television.

I worked on “American Gothic,” a very scary show produced by Sam Raimi. “Millennium” was a crime show created by Chris Carter. I love horror, and there’s a place for horror on television.

Television is all about character, and I think horror is all about character. Sam Raimi told me, “You have to create characters that people love and then punish them.”

So the characters are as important as the premise on “The River?

A huge part of developing “The River” was trying to figure out who the nine people are. The trick is everybody has a duel agenda. The nature host who’s been pursuing the dark arts, the TV producer has an agenda, the son who doesn’t really want to be there — even the security guy. One of the inspirations was Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”

Characters in the horror genre die. Does that mean central characters will die?

I think you’ll have to watch to see how that all plays out.

“The River” reminds me of “The X-Files” in balancing standalone episodes with a larger arc.

We want this to be a user-friendly show. You can come in, get a fulfilling beginning, middle and end while having an incredible fun ride within any given episode. Overlying that is season-long character and mythology arcs.

I came up with the idea of putting it on a river, something akin to the Starship Enterprise on “Star Trek.” We don’t have warp speed, but having a boat means you can pull into a city, a crazy place in the jungle, a place where you don’t even know where you are. It allows you to kick off a story quickly.

It was always meant to be self-contained the way “The X-Files” is. Watching “The X-Files” was like getting a surprise package. You didn’t know if it was going to be a scary one, a funny one, a character one.

What do you do when you’re back in Columbus?

We go down to the Short North, the shops and galleries. Columbus has such a strong and powerful art scene compared to many places. I think it’s a particularly good place to grow up if you want to pursue a career in the arts.

Often my family goes bowling. If it’s summer, I used to love going to the Clippers. It’s just about an ideal way to see a baseball game.