Artist Feature: Justin Peter, Director of In the Grey

Justin on the set of In the Grey
Justin on the set of In the Grey

I know a lot of really cool, talented people. Sweet brag, I know. It’s a perk of having gone to theatre school and getting to live in Chicago. But one of the coolest people I know I did not meet in Chicago or through theatre–in fact, we were coworkers for several summers at a summer camp in southern Indiana. Justin Peter is a filmmaker: producer, writer, and director extraordinaire. I’ve been dying to work with him for years, but geography and schedules have not yet permitted a collaboration. Soon, Justin!

Since this blog is (as stated in the header) about theatre, chicago, and being a 20-something, and because acting is included in all three of those things for me, I wanted to create some meaningful content for other actors who read this blog. Justin kindly agreed to be my first interview in the Artist Feature series, which I hope to continue because 1) it was really fun; and 2) I learned some things.

Justin is an owner of Earth Tones Media, LLC and the director of the new short In the Grey. Here’s the interview!


How long have you been making movies?

The earliest memory of me making a movie was probably around fifth grade, and I’m twenty-two now, so I guess it’s been twelve years that I’ve been making movies.

What is your favorite part of the whole process?

God! That’s hard for me to choose a specific part. The whole filmmaking process is hard and difficult and stressful, which is why I love every aspect of filmmaking. But as a director, I think I enjoy working with writers and actors the most.

As a general philosophy, I think it is the director’s job to inspire other people to make the film on the director’s behalf. Since I come from writing and acting background, I tend to know how to communicate with that group of people the best. That being said, I think working with editors and cinematographers come in a close second.

Now because I’m an actor and sometimes this blog is about acting, I need to know: what is your philosophy on directing actors? You always hear about pretty extreme ones like Lars Von Trier making them speak in time with a metronome or something, but all the ones I’ve worked with have such disparate styles. What is yours and what informs it?

Personally, I do not like being controlling over my actors. I see actors as artists not puppets and I think it is degrading to actors when directors harass and manipulate actors. That being said Stanly Kubrick, one of my favorite directors of all time, was known for being really controlling and manipulative towards actors.

Like I said before, I think it’s the directors goal to inspire others to tell a story to the best of their abilities, so when I work with actors I usually email them the script and have them go over the story independently. Then we sit down for coffee and go through the script line by line and they tell me how they interpret the story, then I tell them how I interpret the story. If we agree, we go on to the next line. If we disagree we argue, and try to find an interpretation that makes the most sense overall.

Other than the initial sit down with the actors to talk about the story, I don’t really do rehearsals. To my understanding, this is very similar to how David Fincher works.

What’s your favorite of your projects so far?

My most recent project is In the Grey, so that’s currently my favorite project so far. You can watch it here.

Any ultimate goals with that project?

You can’t really make money on short films. Of course, there have been those rare instances where a short does make money, but I’m not anticipating any money for In the Grey. So if I can get some industry recognition, or a pat on the back from someone influential I’ll be happy.

That being said, I will gladly take a distribution deal if it’s offered.

Have you ever directed theatre, and if you have, what is the fundamental difference in your job between theatre and film?

I’ve directed for stage twice, but even saying like that makes me sound more qualified then I actually am about directing for stage.

Assuming that both the film and stage director are going to direct the same scene, say a romantic scene where a boy confesses his love. The film director would have to consider the use of lighting, how lenses choices will affect the mood of the story, how camera coverage, blocking, and set dressing will all interact with each other. It’s all very technical.

Theater, however, is far more organic. All you really need is a stage and actors to tell the story. The director may chose to use lights, music, and special effects to help enhance the storytelling, but all those things are fluff.

What gets your creative juices flowing? How do you find inspiration and motivation to get all the pieces in place for a treatment or a pitch?

I’m extremely curious and my curiosity has always driven me to consume lots of art. Ultimately, that’s where I get my creativity from. I like looking at things and connecting two ideas together that would normally not go together. In the Grey, for example is essentially a post-modern dilemma set during a pre-industrial revolution war.

Most of the projects I work on have very specific time crunches due to financing, or because it’s a class project, so those work great as motivators.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years, career-wise?

Rich. Very, very, rich.


Do yourselves a favor and do watch In the Grey: A naive Confederate soldier begins to doubt the justification for killing in war, but when he doesn’t pull the trigger, will lives still be lost?

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It is. You can also follow Justin on Twitter.


1 Comment

  1. Great interview of a talented young man. I was blown away when I viewed In The Gray. It’s so powerful and well done.

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