Filmmaker Blake Freeman puts unorthodox beliefs and so-called experts to the test in A Journey to Planet Sanity, his reality based documentary comedy opening December 6th that debunks aliens, psychics and all things paranormal. Freeman’s chance encounter with a 69-year-old food deliveryman named LeRoy Tessina, who has spent his life savings on trying to protect himself from aliens and paranormal ghosts, leads to a hilarious cross-country journey in search of the truth.
In an exclusive interview, Freeman talked about the inspiration behind his documentary comedy, how ordering takeout one night introduced him to an amazing documentary subject who became the catalyst for an exciting story, how he convinced LeRoy to participate, the most memorable moments of their journey together, their adventures in Roswell with ufology experts Don Ray Walton and Prophet Yahweh and other psychics and shamans, and how not having a clue what they were making or where it was going resulted in a film many times better than what they had originally imagined. Freeman also revealed what’s included on the DVD extras, why he won’t be jumping into another documentary anytime soon, and his upcoming comedy, Mucho Dinero, with Danny Trejo. Hit the jump to read the interview:
How did this project come together? What inspired you to make a reality based documentary comedy debunking aliens, psychics and the paranormal?
BLAKE FREEMAN: I had an itch to do it a little bit. I just didn’t know the scope of some of these beliefs. Obviously, oppressing people’s beliefs in any way, in religion or what have you, I think, is bad. People should be able to believe in whatever they want to believe in. But by meeting this individual, LeRoy, I now knew someone who because of his beliefs felt he was being taken advantage of. I did want to make a movie about debunking certain things, but it was about certain exercise equipment and vitamins. When I first came up with this, it was nowhere near what I felt could possibly be an amazing story about a real guy.
How did you first meet LeRoy?
FREEMAN: What happened is really funny because this just kind of goes against the whole belief of the movie. I met LeRoy when he delivered food to my house at 9:30 one night. He worked for one of those food delivery companies that deliver from all kinds of restaurants. The bill came to $88.88. He mentioned something about numerology, that the 8’s meant very good news, and that I was going to have this blessed life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen when you’re in the film business and you’re making your own movies. It’s anything but blessed. It’s a pain in the ass. (Laughs) So that part wasn’t right, but it was very cool though, and yes, I still have the receipt which is so amazing. Here I meet this guy, the bill comes to $88.88, and the numerology, I guess, the 8’s tell you that you’re going to do great things. In that same context, LeRoy started asking me if I’d seen the UFOs over L.A. earlier in the week. (Laughs) I chuckled because I just can’t imagine the entire world wouldn’t be freaking out, but for some reason, when people say they see UFOs, they’re the only ones that see it. It just doesn’t make sense why no one else can see these things.
Was it hard to convince him to participate?
FREEMAN: No. I literally called him the night that he first came to my door. We were in a pre-production meeting on a show that we were doing, and I turned around, and the two people that I was working with immediately just said, “That’s our guy. That’s what we need.” I went, “I know.” We all got chills and then I collapsed over it and got on my knees, by the way. And then, I called him about two hours later. I’m like, “Hey, can you deliver food to my house?” and he was like, “Alright, what do you want?” It was 11:30 at night and I asked him if he’d ever been in a movie and did he want to be in a movie. He basically said, “I’ll do anything as long as it’s not illegal or immoral.” And I said, “You got it!” We started from there, had him come in, and learned all about his life.
Why was it important to debunk some of LeRoy’s beliefs in UFOs and psychics on film?
FREEMAN: I found out that once I learned about how this was affecting him that I wanted to make this movie. That’s how it came about. I was like, “Wow, you really are spending money to save your brain from being read by aliens at night. To me, that’s just borderline insaneness that somebody was getting – I wouldn’t call it rich because I can’t imagine that they’re making a lot of money off of them – but they are taking money from people who I think are vulnerable.
Did LeRoy ever explain why he has spent his life savings on trying to protect himself from aliens and the paranormal?
FREEMAN: It just gradually came on because I have asked that question, but I didn’t drill down on the question. My belief of it is that over time people begin to get certain hobbies, certain beliefs. Things may not be going right in their lives. I think they need to find faith in something, not necessarily that they don’t have faith in anything, but it’s just that they gravitate toward some certain thing that makes them feel [special] at the moment. Maybe it takes away from the mundane part of their life and gives them an opportunity to believe in something, or they can be a part of something that they can actually contribute to, or they can discuss with other people and feel like they’re knowledgeable on a situation. Maybe it ups them on a level in their own minds. Let’s face it, if you’re an expert in alien technology, anyone can be an expert in alien technology because we really don’t know what the hell that is. (Laughs) It’s never been proven, so I guess if you’re a regular Joe off the street and you read a couple of internet sites, you are now an expert.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the film was seeing how your adventures together transformed LeRoy. Can you talk a little about that?
FREEMAN: I can tell you this, when I met LeRoy, a lot of people can say a lot of things, and they don’t. Honestly, we do not hear many negative things about the movie at all, which is amazing. But I felt that somebody would probably say it was unfair and I should have left him alone. I heard that once out of maybe 2,000 reddit statements, and what they didn’t know was that I met a man who was not healthy physically when I met him and the movie gave him life. It was a very, very cool thing. It was the best thing that happened out of all of this. It changed everything. He became healthy. He was sprightly. We ended up in the desert of Utah in Monument Valley in the middle of nowhere trying to go see a shaman or an Indian. I don’t know what exactly we were seeing, but we were talking to somebody out there in the middle of the desert, and LeRoy was right along with me jumping over rocks. We did a half day’s hike. This gave him a purpose above and beyond what he had been doing for the last few years, and I saw a change in him. Life came into this guy and not really because of what we were doing. I wouldn’t say that everything we were doing was giving him new life until really the last year, but it was the actual filming of the film. This man got to be a part of something that was big and special. And then, all of a sudden, it really did change him in a sense and it was awesome to see.
What was the most memorable moment of your cross-country journey with LeRoy? What was that road trip experience like?
FREEMAN: It was awesome. We took a moped with us. It was basically for LeRoy. And then, obviously, the crew had a tour bus. We were running around in the bus most of the time going on these long journeys to the UFO conference in Roswell. I would have to say Roswell, New Mexico because it was the second day of filming, and we got to Roswell, and we didn’t know what the hell we were filming. (Laughs) We had no idea what the movie was or where it was going to go. And then, all of a sudden, we’re in Roswell, New Mexico and I’m talking to people I didn’t even know existed. We’re looking at each other going, “What is this movie?” and everybody is standing there going, “I have no idea.” We didn’t know where there was going to be a middle or an end, and the one that we had arced for the story was completely out the window from day two on. We didn’t have a clue. We didn’t even know LeRoy really. All we knew is we were getting stuff that we thought people would like to see and we had no clue what was going on. The most memorable moment was the second day of filming when we all got back on the bus and said, “What the hell just happened?” because we didn’t know what we were doing. It was cool. It was just crazy. That was it.
Of all the so-called experts that you put to the test, which one stood out the most and why?
FREEMAN: It has to be two. It has to be Don Ray Walton and Prophet Yahweh just because those guys have been around for a while. They’ve been on television. They were on ABC News and Fox. They write books and they have followings. I’ve seen the followings show up at the UFO conference. I actually saw the footage of ABC News getting fooled that Prophet Yahweh brought down a UFO. It has to be those guys. Here’s the weirdest thing and it’s crazy. Normally, when people make a movie like this, like Bill Maher did Religulous, and things like that, he showed his anger in their beliefs. I am somewhat friends with these two guys. I felt bad in the moment. I did not want to… I mean, what am I going to do? Am I going to be the same guy that tells them they’re not real every single day? Those guys were the ones that left a lasting impression that, “Hey, you can be anybody and people will follow you.” I mean, there’s a lot of lost sheep out there. (Laughs) It is sad. But in their heart of hearts, these guys were good guys. They hated each other, by the way. I mean HATED each other. They couldn’t stand each other, which made for a great movie. The funniest thing was, here they are, they’re two frauds, and they thought each other was the fraud. We had to hear about that while they were together the entire time. We’re going to do a director’s cut DVD where it’s just hours upon hours of footage of these two guys, and it’s hysterical because they really do hate each other.
I would also have to say, the first psychic we visited, I literally knew that this man was lying to me the entire time. I asked him, “Have you ever found people before?” and he said, “Yes, several.” And then, I asked him again and kept digging and digging, and then it was, “Just one.” And then, “He was a runaway.” You know, by the time I was done, it was like, “Where did you find him?” “He was at a friend’s house.” I knew the whole time that he just wasn’t telling me anything that was true. The pet psychic was a sweet lady, love her to death, full of shit. I don’t think she can talk to the animals. I don’t know. And by the way, she says in the movie, “Animals flirt with me.” That’s what she said. That’s borderline creepy.
When you started out, did you have any idea where this adventure would take you?
FREEMAN: Not a clue. It was awesome though. I love it. That was the best thing that we could have come up with. It ended up being twenty times better than we ever imagined it could be.
You shot a lot of footage, over 200 hours, for an 87-minute film. Can you talk about the decision to use two cameras and the contributions of your D.P. Ryan Purvis?
FREEMAN: I met Ryan on a TV show that we had sold. Ryan was one of the cameramen on that. He’s the son of a gentleman that worked at Technicolor and he was just great. He understood color, light, and cameras. He’d never been given the chance to really make a film. And then, here I am making this crazy film, and he comes to me and says, “Listen, I can really do this if you give me the opportunity.” Ryan was in his late twenties at the time. We made this movie and Ryan did an amazing job. After the first week, we decided we were going to have to catch everything. It was like, “You shoot two cameras because this is going to be so crazy.” You can’t make people re-do this because it’s not a scripted movie. We shot it all with high definition cameras. If you bought the cameras, they were about $50,000 apiece. It just has a completely different feel than most documentaries, and it was a follow along. We didn’t want to make it a boring movie, so Ryan and I together, along with Danielle Crane (one of the film’s producers), developed out how this movie should be shot. Danielle and I worked on this story on a story on a story, and every time we would come up with a story, the damn story would change. (Laughs) She and I would hit our heads against the wall all the time. Ryan helped make this movie much more beautiful than your standard doc. I’m really happy with what he did.
What was LeRoy’s reaction when he saw the completed film and also how did the audience at your test screening respond?
FREEMAN: I think he cried the first time. I’m sure he did. And then, another cool thing was we had a very large production company that has made huge movies here that have made well over several hundred million dollars. They just loved the trailer, took the movie, watched the movie, and put it into a test screening for us, and they paid for it. It was like $45,000 or something. They couldn’t take the movie because it didn’t meet their qualifications, but they did that out of the goodness of their heart. These two CEO’s are amazing. They did it and we were able to see people’s reactions. It was 220 people. It was my first movie that anybody had seen and I was sweating. I had 52 panic attacks in an hour and a half. I was scared to death, but the audience gave an ovation. They loved it and it scored well. We were super excited to get this movie out.
What happened was, we had a year and a half in between that screening to the day it’s actually releasing. In 2012, December 21st is happening (end of the world according to the Mayan Calendar). There was only one slow part of the movie and we actually took that out. It would soon be December 21st so I called the two guys, Prophet Gahweh and Don Ray, to come back and see if we could stop December 21st, if they could use their powers to stop it from happening. Evidently it worked because we’re all still here. (Laughs) Actually, it didn’t work but whatever. Those two guys stopped the apocalypse. I just wanted you to know that.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of making this film?
FREEMAN: That I didn’t know anything about filmmaking that I thought I did. (Laughs) First of all, I learned that there’s a lot of people out there doing a lot of different things. I said it in the movie at the end, and I don’t want to be all clichéd about it, but I feel like it’s okay for people to have their beliefs. It’s not okay to oppress people and take money from them or scare them into feeling one way or another, whether that is religion, aliens, psychics, or whatever it might be. When I think about myself, I learned to be much more tolerable to things that I didn’t believe in because there are good people behind that. It’s very easy to get on the internet and go, “Oh you’re stupid, I can’t believe you think this way” and not realize that there’s a human on the other side of that computer. So now, I don’t try to pass my beliefs on anybody. I can show that I believe some things are crazy, but I’m not trying to change the world in that way.
What I am trying to do is raise awareness that there are people paying for certain things that I just don’t believe in. I believe that there are a lot of churches out there as well that are getting rich, and some people are giving their last dollar to these churches. I’m not saying all religion is bad at all. I actually was raised as a Baptist when I was in the South. My beliefs have changed a bit since I’ve been in Los Angeles, and I embrace L.A. for that by the way. (Laughs) There’s a lot of oppression that goes on in this world out of fear and it’s based on fear – fear of burning in hell, fear of having an alien come and take you away. There are a lot of weird fears out there. I don’t think it’s right. There’s a lot of people preying on other people, and I want to raise awareness about that and try to help make it stop, at least as much as one person possibly can.
How do you feel this film expands the documentary form?
FREEMAN: A lot. We had a lot of experts speak. When I say experts, these are experts like skeptics and proven scientific stuff. We had so-called experts on UFOs and ufology and aliens. I don’t believe you can be an expert in anything that doesn’t exist. We had all of those things. We decided to leave that stuff out and put those in the DVD extras and other things like that. The reason is we wanted to make something that you could sit down and a 13-year-old and a 60-year-old could sit side by side and laugh about, but it was real and it was entertaining. If we make the talking heads standard documentary, we run the risk that you’ve already seen this on The History Channel or Discovery and Sci Fi every single night. Why make another boring documentary that only the fan boys of these alien beliefs would see? Why not show the world what’s out there and what’s really going on, but do it in a way that’s more entertaining.
There’s a business also and you have to think of that business. When people make documentaries that are for a very, very small group of people, it’s tough. You have to remember when making a documentary, and this is the kind of thought process that you have to have, you’re still spending other people’s money. You have to make it somehow, someway watchable, and by doing that, you also have to stick with the rules of you’ve got to make this informative and you’ve got to keep it as real as you can. Let me tell you, we met a lot of people that were unreal that we didn’t know were unreal. By being based in L.A., we needed to fill gaps and we interviewed, and with 200 hours of footage, we had a lot of people that ended up being fake just because they wanted to be an actor and they wanted to get on camera. We even had some of those in the film at one time, and we had to go back, pull those out, and replace those when we finally could verify that people had worked (acted) for at least two years or longer.
Looking back, is there anything you wish you’d known before you started?
FREEMAN: Yes, I wish I would have known the scope of the beliefs of LeRoy and the scope of the beliefs of everyone else. I wish I would have known how much people really do rely on it when it is one thing. I didn’t understand that. I was ignorant to the fact that with some of these people, if their lives revolve around it, their lives revolve around it. I’m not just talking about LeRoy. I’m talking about all of them that I met. To crush those lives is a tough thing to do when trying to make a dollar. You don’t want to do it. There are probably four scenes that no one will ever see, because if these people saw themselves in this film, I don’t think they’d be strong enough to be able to blow that off or somehow make the break. I really felt like I would have crushed them to a degree that it just would have been hard on them, and I didn’t want that. So, we pulled it out. A couple of them are funny. They are funny, but there are some instances where they’re just really sad, and so we just decided not to do it. It’s a fine line you have to walk. We could have added two more that I would say more educated people would have found really funny, but I think these people would have just saw for themselves how bad it was and how bad it actually made them look. So I decided not to do that. We took those out. But you don’t want to be a filmmaker with heart like that in a documentary because it will make your documentary bad. We took a chance on it because we didn’t want to destroy somebody’s life.
What’s next for you?
FREEMAN: We had a movie come out called Noobz in January which is a comedy about video gamers that I wrote, directed and starred in. It was me and Jason Mewes who is Jay from Jay and Silent Bob from the Kevin Smith films. And that one, as an underground video game movie, has actually done really well so I’m super excited about it. And now, we have one called Mucho Dinero which we just shot which is me, Eddie Griffin, Danny Trejo and also Casper Van Dien. It’s about three guys who are down on their luck that decide to go to Colombia to capture a drug lord but they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s a really funny movie. It’s a scripted comedy.
Any plans to do another documentary?
FREEMAN: I’m not excited to jump back into a documentary anytime soon. That was a three-year process. I just hope people enjoy this film. It was not the easiest thing in the world to shoot this, for sure, and it can take years of your life, especially when you want to shoot it in the sense that it’s going to be entertaining and it’s more of a follow along. What happens is most people go out and shoot a documentary in three weeks to a couple months, and then they just put a bunch of talking heads in the way, and then you pass time that way. But we didn’t. We had the cameras following us everywhere, and we didn’t know what we were going to get until we got there. That’s a tough, tough way to do it. That’s where we’re at.
What about LeRoy? Does he have any special plans now that the film is finished?
FREEMAN: After we finished the movie, he got a headshot made, and now he’s been in the background of a couple Disney movies and things like that. We’re hoping to get him help on getting an agent when this comes out. It would be really funny. It’s just amazing how it’s changed his life. You can just tell when you’re around him. From the first month to the third year of filming, this movie was awesome. Now the movie took way longer than any of us expected because we had no ending, but it is a happy ending, a truly happy ending. Even for what it did just while filming, that’s enough success for him, and for what it did for him just as a person, and for me, and for all of us getting to know him. We all got educated on it. It was awesome. It gave everybody a little bit of hope. It was really very cool.