Interview with Perry Stratychuk - Director of Obscure Dystopian Sci-Fi Gem SAVANNAH ELECTRIC [EXCLUSIVE]

80s sci-fi, Canadian Film, cult fim, Perry Stratychuk, savannah electric -

Interview with Perry Stratychuk - Director of Obscure Dystopian Sci-Fi Gem SAVANNAH ELECTRIC [EXCLUSIVE]

By Billups Allen

Once a month, we turn The Lamplighter Lounge in Memphis, Tennessee into a 30-seat movie theater for the purposes of showing director/distro-approved documentaries, psychotronic, horror, sci-fi, and repertory movies under the banner of OFF THE MARQUEE. 

Recently we showed the 1985 low-budget masterpiece Savannah Electric, a movie I first heard about through Lunchmeat.

ED NOTE: the LUNCHMEAT Savannah Electric VHS release is available HERE.

Savannah Electric is a lost classic of low-budget sci-fi. The story involves a bounty hunter tracking an escaped worker across a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The escaped worker is part of a factory run by The Benefactor. It’s a clever and visually stunning film with analog special effects, well-directed desert wastelands, and scenes shot in an actual malting factory. 

Director Perry Stratychuk executed some excellent world building using only 16mm cameras while peppering in limited but captivating special effects. 

We got to speak to director Perry Stratychuk via Zoom after the screening. This is the transcript of the audience Q & A…

Billups Allen: Thank you for letting us show the movie. We really enjoyed seeing it here. What gave you the idea to make a dystopian film?  What was your interest in dystopian stories like this?

Perry Stratychuk:  Well, it came to mind because previously to that film, I made a documentary about an artist. I was following it as a documentary in a way that, in this case, the first thinking machine, or AI as we would call it now, right? The idea of how it would be controlling a future society in a situation where the environment progressively got worse and worse and worse. It became a dystopian thing. It didn't start off that way originally.

Billups Allen: Really?

Perry Stratychuk: Yeah, it became that because, because I was a big fan of Sergio Leone and Spaghetti Western Westerns. II kind of gravitated towards that operatic wide scene, wide shot, you know: desolate location, desert situation. 


Billups Allen: Was this your first narrative movie?

Perry Stratychuk: Well, actually, it was my second narrative. My first feature was about 20 years ago. It was six minutes long, and that was about a traveling salesman that got sidetracked to a motel and encountered terrible experiences of a murder. It was a six-minute film.

Billups: The visuals are just stunning to me. Was the movie shot on film?

Perry Stratychuk: It was shot on 16-millimeter film in the eighties. It was on a hand-wound camera. I still have the camera. It's a camera you wind up and a shot can only last as about two minutes, 46 seconds at a time. VHS was just coming out more or less and surpassing Betamax. So film was the way to go for me. There were no real good cameras in video, unless you were a broadcaster at that time.

Billups: So you had to shoot in short bursts?

Perry Stratychuk: Yeah, exactly. Quick changes of roles in Canada's only desert at the time.


Billups Allen: I'm not familiar with where that is..

Perry Stratychuk: You know where North Dakota is? It's a province right above North Dakota called Manitoba. There's a western part of it that's a military base. It's half military base and half, provincial park. And the military base is used for training, for tank training. And at the time we were shooting there: half is the desert is and the other half is the military base.

There were German tanks at the time practicing there. We would hear thump, thump, thump on the ground when we were trying to shoot. It shook the ground so at one point the tripod tipped over and fell. I had to get the camera repaired. We had to stop shooting till, you know, three weeks later.

Billups: Did any of that make it into the movie? Was it inspiring in some way? The tanks?

Perry Stratychuk: Well, it was kind of a wakeup call in ways because we could hear them over the horizon. Uh, but the bears were a bigger thing. They didn't make it into the film.

Billups: Wow. There were bears out there?

Perry Stratychuk: Yeah, they were watching from the forest. They didn't come into the desert area. The desert is not very big: there's one really big dune you can go down into. You see part of it in the film. It got too hot, I guess, about 112 degrees in the shade: it is a desert area. It shifts all the time because it's not like, the southern US where it's stable as a desert. 


Billups: In the fantasy sequence there was like a lush, sort of almost jungle like place. Was there an actual place like that nearby as well?

Perry Stratychuk: That was a, a part of a city park that had a conservatory where they had plants from all over the world, so we shot in there.





Billups: Interesting.  Did you have a specific question about the soundtrack?

Audience member: I wondered if they scored it, or if he found music. It reminded me of Ministry’s The Land of Rape and Honey or something?

Perry Stratychuk: Actually, I got a guy from Winnipeg to do the music. I gave him some ideas of what I was looking for, and he went and I just let him go crazy and do as much stuff as he wanted. And then I cut it in where I thought it fit the best. He hadn't seen the film completed before he did the music. He did the music while I was still finishing the film.

Billups: That's amazing because it really fits well.

Perry Stratychuk: Oh, good. Thanks.

Billups: I think, and in fact, it has come back around to being relevant again. That's the kind of music people are reaching for in soundtracks currently. Very mechanical. This movie came out 1985 alongside a lot of famous dystopian stories. Were you a fan of that kind of thing, like Blade Runner (1982) or Terminator (1984)?

Perry Stratychuk: Yeah, I was a fan of that, but again, spaghetti westerns are my thing. I was a fan of Blade Runner. I guess that had some influence in my previous film. I mentioned the documentary. I kind of modeled after that. I wouldn't say deliberately, but the film was influenced by Blade Runner and another film called Diva (1981). I don't know if you've seen that.

Billups: Yes, I know Diva.

Perry Stratychuk: My previous film influences, were those two films. That crept into Savannah Electric as well.

Billups: Yeah. I could tell the Western thing is fun because I noticed one thing, the long guns. Mm. Yeah. It was that . Do you know like Long Pistols and stuff like that? Yeah. I stick with that. Westerns and Firefly. I don't know if you know Firefly, but what Firefly has the Western look, you know? Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm. Was that just sort of your vision or did you sort of purposely make it look more like a Western?

Perry Stratychuk: It wasn't purposely. During the editing phase is when I tend to create because I didn't script it as such. I storyboarded it. I knew the shots I wanted to get. Because there's no real dialogue in the film, I went with a shot list. I fashioned it through editing after. That's where I realized it started to get into Sergio Leone style shots. I tried to hone in on that a little bit more wherever I could see it because I felt good to me at that time. 


Billups: I love the look of the film. Someone else had a specific question?

Audience member: I was thinking especially the bounty hunter evokes a Western. The way you shot his eyes a lot.

Billups: I think the special effects are great. What sort of challenges did you face coming up with the effects? It looks like animation was involved with the robot dying and electricity kind of coming out?

Perry Stratychuk: That was an idea I had. Because the limited budget I had a local animation studio draw over the film. Really? That's why it looks sort of cartoony. Iit doesn't have that typical gunshot or the electric electrifying effect you would see now. It's stark. That was the goal to kind of make it pop, and sort of stand out.

Audience member: Do you feel vindicated now that other movies use similar imagery. I feel like you were ahead of your time?

Perry Stratychuk: That’s an interesting point because, if you wanna look at the idea of the AI situation, I would guess that when I was in primary school or middle school, I saw a movie called Colossus, the Forbin Project (1970). I guess that stuck in the back of my mind a little bit. Machines ruling the world, or a computer, let's say, early in the world, so to speak. So that kind of crept in.

The idea of virtual reality is what Savannah Electric really ended up being about when I look back at it now. I can't think of anything else that I might have seen that influenced like that. I thought the mask idea suggest to the audience this person is not seeing the real world anymore, but seeing something else and taken into that world. From that point on, I can take that character anywhere.

Billups: The world building in Savannah Electric is great. You really feel like the claustrophobia and the openness of desert and all.

Audience member: And it's crazy that you had to do it all using analog techniques to create a digital world.

Billups: I always feel like this is a lame question, but now that you've brought it up a couple of times, I'm kind of curious. What was your budget for this?

Perry Stratychuk: At that time, it would be about 20,000 Canadian dollars. 


Billups: Including developing film and such. That's amazing, isn't it? How long did it take? Did you have a strict shooting schedule or did you guys kind of do it piece by piece?

Perry Stratychuk: Uh, piece by piece. We did it in the desert; we went twice. The rest of the scenes, like the factory stuff, I guess we went four or five times to get all the footage for that part. 


Billups: The factory? Where is the factory?

Perry Stratychuk: We had access to a factory. Then the other stuff connected with the factory was done in a basement and in the garage.

Billups: Where'd you find the factory? That place was amazing.

Perry Stratychuk: That factory was an old factory in the city where I'm from. It was a malting factory. I don't know if you noticed, there was a scene where giant balls rotated.

Billups: Yeah, I love that.

Perry Stratychuk: When we were there, those were the antique versions, they were the version of what they were using. The factory is about to close down and now it doesn't exist anymore. I lucked out on that. When we were shooting in that factory the smell of the malt was really nice. I don't know if you're familiar with chocolate malt, but it fills the air. Then soon you get a headache from it. We'd go out and have this smell in our noses and everything for three days. It took three days to get the malt out.

Billups: It really added some some mystery to the scene. I guess it would've had to have been an active place. It wasn't just an abandoned factory you found or something.

Perry Stratychuk: It was active. They still did malting up on the higher levels. It was about 11 floors tall, and we shot on the first two floors. Above there they had more modern machines, let's say. So even at that time they were close to changing the way things are done, so to speak, with the factory. So it was still in use for about a year after we left.




Audience member: Why did you decide not to have dialogue in the movie?

Perry Stratychuk: Mainly just for budget reasons. I had a small crew and I was using this windup camera that I mentioned. You couldn’t really synch at that time. You'd have to have a tape recorder separate from your camera synchronized together. And we didn't have the budget for that.

Billups: Do you know, what's the rest of the gang doing these days? Do you keep in touch?

Perry Stratychuk: A couple of the guys. One of the guys, the bounty hunter, is my cousin. The guy that did the music, he's in Toronto. He owns a restaurant now. The guy that plays Garrett Stone, the second lead character in the factory. He's the sort of the guy in the white suit that's running away. He’s an English teacher in South Korea.

Billups: Wow.

Perry Stratychuk: Everybody's spread out.

Billups: And you? What are you working on?

Perry Stratychuk: I am working on a documentary in the area where I live. I live in New Brunswick, just north of Maine.

My last film, I made a film I shot in China, Japan, and in this area in New Brunswick. It’s all about noise music and how the person that's involved in noise music and electronic music gets influenced by the noise in China. Because there's a lot of noise in the big cities in China.

Billups: Oh, wow. That is interesting. Yeah. I'll look forward to that. 


Perry Stratychuk: It's called, uh, Do Not Para. Please do Not Parabolic.

Billups: All right, great. Well, um, thank you so much then. I appreciate it. And uh, I hope I'll, uh, run across you again, .

Perry Stratychuk: For sure. I think so. Thanks very much guys. Appreciate it. Thanks again.


Billups Allen spent his formative years in and around the Washington D.C. punk scene. He currently lives in Memphis, TN where he works for Goner Records, publishes Cramhole Zine and is a contributing writer for RAZORCAKE, UGLY THINGS, and LUNCHMEAT. He also enjoys writing fiction. You can read more of Billups' work at


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