“Peeping Toms are never praised, like novelists or bird watchers, for their keenness of observation.” – W.H. Auden
“Peepers” takes us along with these voyeurs of the night. We find ourselves on the rooftops of Montreal peeping along with Steve (eagle-eye) Sherman, and his band of binocular and walkie-talkie outfitted men.
Are peepers perverts? One of the group, Neal, tells his sister that he is not. He says, “I am an observer, a witness, a watcher from the shadows.” Sherman and his fellow Peepers are code approved peeps. They peep it real by holding to the basic points of the Peepers ancient code and never peep a Peeper, never peep a Peeper’s family, never peep a veteran of the Great War, and so on…
To get one of the best peeps ever – join me tonight for the hit of the year! “PEEPERS” – 2/26/2010 Camera 12 @ 9:30pm.
I asked Seth W. Owen, director and co-author of “Peepers”, about the movies subject matter and its relationship to recent Canadian headlines and privacy laws.
Here is our exchange:
Question: Facebook was accused of violating Canadian privacy laws, yet the laws applied to peeping toms seem antiquated. Peepers only disturb the peace…?
Seth W. Owen: The legal/illegal aspect of Peeping is something we definitely looked into when writing the script, and were kind of shocked to understand how much of a grey area it was.
Question: Your thoughts on Canadian peeping tom laws and Patricia Marshall vs James Cedar, and the Crown’s intriguing and disturbing decision..?
Seth W. Owen: The Marshall vs Cedar case is pretty horrific. And something we became aware of only after completing the film. The hypocrisy on hand in the instance of Cedar’s counter complaint is so audacious, so hard to believe, that it’s also darkly comic. We worked hard to draw a clear line between “our” Peepers and more invasive voyeurs like Mr. Cedar, but I think the film reflects the case in some interesting ways, especially in this darkly comic brand of hypocrisy – that the ultimate affront to a Peeper would be the invasion of THEIR privacy. The female academic in the film Annette Fulvish, is really intended to embody this outside “eye” on the Peepers, and really instigates their coming undone.
I’m a filmmaker, so naturally I am sympathetic to the voyeuristic impulse, but I certainly don’t condone all of the behavior in the film. I would describe myself as a conservative voyeur: I subscribe to the “give a little, get a little” philosophy – which is to say, I leave my blinds open, and I hope you do the same! To me, it’s one of the great advantages of living in a city – and the cheapest entertainment around.
Question: Has the case (Marshall vs Cedar) help bring interest to your film?
Seth W. Owen: We’re just starting to bring the film out now, so we’ll have to see. But I think the film in some ways has less to do with the physical act of Peeping than it does with the voyeuristic age we live in – that’s not to say that the Peeping in the film is strictly metaphorical, but it is certainly an exaggerated and stylized version of what goes on – and here’s hoping it’s nowhere as prevalent as we depict it being! I think the Peepers in the film may actually have a lot more in common with code-named Internet pornography hounds than actual Peeping Toms creeping around in the bushes. These guys really do congregate, and respectfully share their sexual obsessions – and they do live online by a fairly evolved “code of behavior.”
Question: I am interested in how the idea for the film was first suggested. Hopefully not from experience?
Seth W. Owen: As for the actual genesis of the project – Montreal is a city teeming with many enticing rooftops where one might find themselves enjoying a cold beer or a cigarette, or illegal artistic activity, and on one such occasion my old friend Eric Hart and I somehow cooked up the notion of a motley crew of Peeping Toms living by a certain code. The idea simmered for a year or two, before Dan Perlmutter, Mark Slutsky and myself decided to start developing a script. As were working on it, a number of strange things fell into place. We were writing the screenplay in our studio, which has these large, wraparound windows, which just so happened to look out onto an apartment building. We’d be throwing around ideas for a scene, or cooking up dialogue, when all of a sudden our attention would be drawn towards the silhouette of a person showering across the way. And then, of course, we were doing less and less writing and more and more Peeping, so it took us a little longer than planned!
We also discovered, just as we were finishing the first draft of the script, an article about a real Peeping Tom in one of the McGill University newspapers. The routine, and terminology, he brought to light were shockingly similar to what we had dreamt up. So of course I’m now contradicting myself about the “metaphorical” aspect of the Peeping in the film. They’re out there! Close your blinds!
There were certainly a couple of other voyeuristic experiences I’ve had that fed into the script – a shameful incident in Vienna need not be delved into! But I’ve never been a real Peeper, so to speak. A lot of the impulse for the film came from our shared love of early 80s sexploitation films, and our desire to revisit that genre with a more modern eye. We remember Porky’s as a real lascivious picture, but there was a real tender, sensitive side to it that intrigued us, and which we wanted to explore further.
Question: Did the writers, Seth Owen, Mark Slutsky and Daniel Perlmutter, take some of their inspiration from the fact that Canadian law takes a rather cavalier approach to peeping toms?
Seth W. Owen: No, we were actually surprised to learn in researching the subject that it was as cavalier as it is – but we were already well underway in the writing by then.
Question: How long did the film take to complete? Was the set location an actual neighborhood? If so, did the filming attract any peepers?
Seth W. Owen: We worked on the script for several years, but filming itself was an action packed 16 days, much of it on rooftops during a very chilly November. It ended up getting shot in the same neighborhood that initially inspired it, and where a lot of the cast and crew live – Mile End in Montreal. We had some magnificent stretches of rooftop to work with – our ace Associate Producer Sara Johnston developed a real knack for knocking on doors, and an astonishing number of local residents really helped us out. There was a slightly surreptitious element to the shooting – skulking around on residential rooftops in the middle of the night, training the camera on all manner of “peeps” really transformed the entire cast and crew into a merry little band of Peepers. I still remember huddling onto a small balcony with a handful of burly crew members in the dead of night, whispering commands into a walkie talkie as we filmed the strip poker game. I felt absolutely dirty and proud at the same time.
I actually tried to discourage folks from actively “peeping” during the shoot – but it’s hard when every ones running around with binoculars and trying to “get into character”, so my efforts may have been in vain.
We certainly attracted the attention of a lot of concerned residents peering through their blinds at us – but as for whether we got “peeped” by actual Peepers –
not to my knowledge! But I guess if it was any Peeper worth their salt, we never would know it. And we certainly were providing them with ample window fodder, so who knows?
I hope that an audience has a somewhat complicated relationship to the characters. I hope they can evoke disgust in one minute, and sympathy in the next. I think there’s a bit of a voyeur somewhere within us all – even if it’s only as a moviegoer, or a reality TV fan, or a facebook lurker – and that’s ultimately what I hope people can relate to.
CTV NEWS VIDEO PLAYER Marshall vs Cedar
Peepers @ Camera 12
Fri. 2/26 9:30PM
Sun. 2/28 9:15PM
Tues. 3/2 1:30PM