AW: I’d like to start off by giving our readers some background information about you. Unlike most actors who try to hit it big by moving to Hollywood and going on endless auditions, you stayed in your native Michigan and started your own production company called Collective Development, Inc. How did the company come about, and how did you get people interested in making the kind of films you had in mind?
DJ: I had taken early trips to New York and then a trip out to LA and read for Wes Craven for Scream 2. It was a great audition and Wes was a really nice man. The fact was that at the time all these TV actors were there trying for the same role of the boyfriend to Neve. Brian Austin Green read before me, and I knew the producer and she said the money people wanted a TV name. So I could see that it was going to be a long haul.
New York is what really sealed the deal. I don’t take disrespect and arrogance very well and I had people attempting that. I was escorted out of three offices… I mean, shit! I had come a long way and I wasn’t playing by whatever unwritten rules they had. I was so beat down after the week that I didn’t even want to go to anymore “look sees” or whatever they frickin’ call it. I didn’t want to sit in my room, so I walked out of the hotel in downtown New York and a few paces away was an Irish pub. Inside I felt comfort, just like any of the cool pubs worldwide. I drank Black and Tans and Bushmills until… What is that saying? Drinking until you see God? In my stupor it became clear, either I find something else that I could be happy doing for the rest of my life with no regret, or I take control of my destiny and take the fight to Hollywood my way. I’m a former martial arts instructor who has read maybe too much Art Of War, but I decided, “Game On!”
AW: You’ve served as a producer on most of the films you’ve acted in. Typically, what are your primary producing duties on these films? Do you prefer being in front of the camera, or do you enjoy all the business-oriented stuff that goes on behind the scenes?
DJ: On most CDI films, it includes overseeing everything. I produce to act but I have found that I do enjoy The Art of the Deal. I put a lot of faith in my department keys and I have a great group of “generals” that I work with. I’ve also always had great relationships with directors, because unless it deals directly with the business aspects I try to leave as much creative control with my visionary captains, the directors.
AW: You’ve also written or co-written a number of the films you’ve acted in. As far as the creative side of filmmaking goes, do you consider yourself a screenwriter who also happens to act, or an actor who also happens to write screenplays?
DJ: I started writing more for fun, and then as a way to keep costs down on our early projects. I now see it as a good fall-back for when I get into my later years and only want to act here and there. I can be sitting somewhere exotic, drinking coffee, wine and typing for a few hours. Then I can go adventuring and sightseeing with whoever the lady in my life happens to be at that time.
Now, I’m still being paid to write, having just done some writing for the new Monster Channel launching in February 2005 [http://www.monsterchannel.tv/]. I was also paid to write a drama and now an action-adventure with a horror twist. But, I also have been bringing in other polishers or writers because the goal is to get better stories. We hired a pair of writers to do a revision of a script I co-wrote with CDI partner/director Jeff Kennedy. We got an option on the property after the rewrite, so that was a good example of a non-ego decision. I also brought in Western writer Thadd Turner to do a polish on my Wild Michigan script and he did a great job with it. Maybe I’m a first draft guy? My writing gets better with each script and I’ve written many. Many are still just filed away. Anyone need to buy a script? Call me? 🙂
AW: The Monster Channel that you mentioned is probably something that would be of interest to a lot of our readers. Can you tell us more about it, and what’s been your involvement in it? How will people be able to get it?
DJ: I was a writer for the skits that take place before, after, and during the movies they show. It is kind of like the “Dinner and a Movie” gig, but you have a Munsters-like cast of characters that interact with one another as if they were real actors and actresses in Hollywood. It’s coming on line in many cities in February ’05, and then it’ll also have a broadband “on-demand” feature. I haven’t seen the filmed skits yet, so I’m kind of curious myself.
AW: What’s the relationship between Collective Development, Inc. and your current production company, LionHeart Filmworks? I noticed a lot of the same names popping up in the credits of movies from both companies.
DJ: Lionheart Filmworks is owned by director Kevin R. Hershberger (the director of Wicked Spring) and I. It was already a great creative group but lacked the business organization that we had established at CDI. So CDI became the management company for Lionheart Filmworks LLC. Creatively, Kevin controls the direction of the company with my input and I make the business happen. I did not and would not try to recreate a completely separate business model just for the sake of being different. They are run down the same lines, even sharing some officers and accountants, etc. CDI came first, and so Lionheart Filmworks is kind of the sister company to CDI.
AW: Tell us about your latest project, Judges. I’ve seen the trailer, and the film has the feel of an old-time Western, even though it takes place in modern times. What was it about the project that initially attracted your interest? And do you think the fact that Judges crosses genres will make it easier or harder to market?
DJ: I’ve always loved the old Sergio Leone Westerns and I’m also a big fan of the Mad Max films. I saw this as a chance to really put an action showcase together. The idea of crossing them literally was a great concept. Movies like Kill Bill and Desperado and numerous others have that Sergio Leone influence but Judges creates a world where the Western mentality still rules. I loved the project and Stephen Walker is a very talented director with a strong vision. If audiences take to it, there will be a Judges 2 and I would love to do it. I think from initial feedback that the double market will make it easier to sell. A third market is that the main characters are based on the Book of Judges from the Bible. Trust me; the Bible had a lot of ass-kicking in it!
AW: You play the lead role of Buddy Colt in Judges. What movies and/or actors served as the primary inspiration for your performance in this film?
DJ: Funny story. Obviously the Clint Eastwood influence is there, but I had just read a story in Playboy how Johnny Depp takes people like Bea Arthur, Ronald Regan, Keith Richards, etc., and draws on them as inspiration for his characters. I thought it would be fun to try this “method”. As I talked with an actress friend of mine about the script, she said that Buddy Colt sounds like a porn star, or a rock star. From there, I decided to add a Jon Bon Jovi “Dead Or Alive” personality to Buddy Colt. Eastwood meets Jovi. We’ll see if it works or not.
AW: The movie was shot in just 24 days. Is this the quickest shoot you’ve been involved in, and does keeping to such a tight schedule take a toll on you?
DJ: The early films like Knight Chills were shot in maybe 16 days or something like that. I think a tight schedule takes a toll on the film with rushed shots, fewer takes, lack of coverage, etc. I personally have no problems with the toll that a starring role can take on you as a leading man. It did on In the Woods, which was my first starring feature. Switching day to night or just a lot of night shoots can be draining. Your body doesn’t know if it is coming or going.
AW: Speaking of In the Woods, it’s a pretty fun horror picture about a limb-severing devil dog, but I have to admit the ending sort of came out of left field. All of a sudden, there’s medieval swordsmen and a cross between a werewolf and the Predator fighting the dog. Where did the ending come from? And any idea how medieval swordsmen ended up in Michigan?
DJ: The story was really much more involved with Vikings bringing these creatures over, etc. Nancy Gideon did a novelization of the actual screenplay, and it really fleshes out the story. After two years, [director] Lynn Drzick and I had raised only about half the funds we needed, and so he made cuts to the script and we charged ahead. The story got hacked and the script was quite stiff. We just did a very funny commentary for the special edition DVD, which will have a slightly re-edited version of In The Woods and tons of extras. That’s coming out this year from Brain Damage Films, who are also re-releasing the single release of Knight Chills and the very first release of what was CDI’s follow-up film, From Venus, a campy H.P. Lovecraft tribute. You can see all the trailers at http://www.cdifilms.com.
AW: I’d like to take you back a bit to a film you did early in your career. In the Troma release Outlaw Prophet, you had a small role as a young pastor in training, with a girlfriend searching for signs of extraterrestrial life in the universe. First of all, what did you make of the completed film? It’s certainly a bewildering movie, to say the least. And how did you end up in the Troma sphere of influence in the first place?
DJ: The actress Amy, who played my wife in In the Woods, was living in Nashville going to law school. She had landed the part in Outlaw Prophet and wanted to know if I wanted to come down there to visit, party and shoot on a movie. I had a blast in Nashville, met Rebecca Holden (April from Knight Rider) who later would appear in a few of our films, and I got to do some additional stunts. When [director/star] David Heavener flips the guy over in the little battle that was I. I had the training to throw myself over and so I did it. Completed film… My thoughts… Did I say I had fun in Nashville?
It was an odd movie for sure and David Heavener is a legend in the B movies. I was thrilled that Troma picked it up… How? David Heavener knows everyone out there. I’m just proud to say I’m in the Troma family. I think you have to have a Troma pic under your belt somewhere.
AW: Going back to Knight Chills, what was your primary motivation in producing and co-writing a horror film based on role playing games? Your co-writer Jeff Kennedy says in the DVD extras that the movie was inspired by people confusing role playing games with occult activities. Wouldn’t this movie sort of reinforce that belief? After all, this is a film where an RPG fanatic rises from the dead as a murderous knight. Are you a gamer yourself, and what did you find to be the general reaction to this movie from the RPG community?
DJ: The movie made fun of those beliefs. It made fun of the Mazes and Monsters movie from years ago led by Tom Hanks. Even Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons endorsed the film. My friend Cindi Rice works for Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast and they couldn’t officially endorse the film, corporate BS, but they got it. I’ve played RPG games on and off my whole life (Call of Cthulhu, AD&D) but Jeff was the huge fanatic. He’s got that basement and he’s written adventures, was DM at GenCons, and such.
It was a “write what you know about” thing for a first film, and we wanted to create something that would capture those days of personal interaction, versus online gaming. I’ve had numerous good responses from gamers and actually just got asked to have it play at a gaming convention and do an appearance. It can be bought in the 10 DVD pack “Night Chills” or the 4 DVD pack “State Of Shock” at Best Buy and other sell-through stores. It also just sold the UK, and several other foreign countries will be getting the film.
AW: A while after Knight Chills, you had a lead role in An Ordinary Killer, a true story about a serial killer caught decades after his crimes. Were there any special challenges when it came to appearing in a movie based on a true story? Did you ever get to meet Lynn Kendall, the detective you played? Do you know what he, or any of the real-life players thought of how they were portrayed in the film?
DJ: Knight Chills was our first feature and An Ordinary Killer was our fifth feature, so it was a night and day difference. The filmmaking skills in Killer are far beyond Chills, but they are all built upon one another. The true story aspect created a drastically different tone to the film. The place where they find the body in the film is where they really found the body. Where she was raped is where she was raped. It is a haunting tribute to an actual tragic event. Lynn Kendall was based on a few detectives and I got to meet almost all of them. We worked very close with them on the picture. They all were at the sold-out premiere and we got a positive reaction from all of them. It is a very different picture than something like Knight Chills in every way.
AW: In An Ordinary Killer, you got to act opposite a couple of television veterans, Terence Knox and Dan Haggerty. How did it compare to working with less experienced talent in your earlier films?
DJ: As a family we watched Dan every Friday night and so that was a real thrill to work with someone you grew up watching. I met David Carradine a few months ago and I watched him religiously in Kung Fu, so it was the same kind of thrill. I had a lot of work with the Big T, Terence Knox and we got to be very close. He is incredible to watch work and I soaked up every moment. I like being the novice rather then the veteran on a film set because you get a chance to learn much more. Then that experience trickles down when you lead a less experienced cast on another film.
AW: It looks like both Terence and Dan are appearing in a Western you currently have in production called Wild Michigan. What’s this film about, and what’s the status of filming? Also, what’s the outlook on seeing either this film or An Ordinary Killer on DVD?
DJ: Wild Michigan has been in development for a full year and I think we will get it up and off the ground this year. We shot a short to show investors and distributors and got good feedback. Thadd Turner did a rewrite with me, and we are attaching more cast like Lana Wood (Diamonds Are Forever) and so I think we’ll be getting pioneer here soon. We have several offers already for An Ordinary Killer that would have it out on DVD but we are following a few more leads looking for a better deal. Ardustry, who also released Wicked Spring, is one of several companies that have already said they would be interested in releasing Wild Michigan.
AW: I’m sure your experiences with An Ordinary Killer helped when producing and starring in Wicked Spring, which, while not a true story per se, is an authentic look at a Civil War battle. How challenging is it to do period pieces, and what are the toughest obstacles you faced when making Wicked Spring?
DJ: Wicked Spring was shot first and is already out in all major video chains for rental. The largest challenges on Wicked Spring were the night shoots, copperheads, ticks, chiggers, black widows, etc. Virginia woods are full of little monsters. Kevin, the director, was a huge Civil War fan and so pulling all that together was really not as hard as one might think. Organizationally, yes, but if you love the period of time it is easier.
AW: It appears LionHeart Filmworks has another Civil War film in production, No Retreat from Destiny. This is unusual because independent films tend to be either horror/sci-fi comedies, or small relationship dramas. What made you decide to go in a different direction with a large-scale period piece, and what’s been the audience reaction so far to these unique productions?
DJ: Kevin is Oscar-bound one day and I hope we are both standing there. Some directors want to just make a cool classic cult film like Evil Dead, and some want to shoot for other goals. Not really that one is better than the other, but you have to play to the strengths of your directors and with Kevin it just happens to be history. He is a grad of VMI [the Virginia Military Institute], and we both enjoy these little epics. We have gotten a lot of respect in Hollywood and audiences have liked the mixture of large scale and indie character development. We can’t currently keep a huge budget look for a full two hours. The audiences have been very supportive. I still get weekly emails, requests to sign pictures, etc., from Wicked Spring.
AW: You’ve got to admit, in terms of production values and cinematography alone, Wicked Spring is light years away from Knight Chills. What do you think is the primary factor that’s helped you and your company come such a long way in just a few years?
DJ: Money has been a huge factor. You are talking about a low five-figure budget versus a larger six-figure budget. Money can get you bigger and better toys to play with. Without Knight Chills there would be no Wicked Spring. It was evolution in motion. With each movie, more confidence is gained from investors to allow us to do larger and larger projects. The skill set to pull off the next level of filmmaking is learned with each completed production.
AW: Okay, I’ve just gotta ask. I’m watching Tangy Guacamole, a sex comedy/road trip movie that you filmed in (as the credits refer to it) “the Mexico”. And all of sudden, Dennis Haskins shows up for a cameo! How in the heck did you get Mr. Belding to appear in this movie?
Dennis Haskins worked on the NBC lot with Aaron Jackson from California Dreams [who was also in From Venus, Wicked Spring, Tangy Guacamole, etc.] and it seems the mystical draw of sun, fun and hot babes lured Dennis to “The Mexico!” It was director Mike Deeney’s first venture and I have to say it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. Dennis and I are still very close through Hawaiian Tropics events, and he also played the father in our true crime drama An Ordinary Killer. But he will forever be “Uncle Toss Honeycutt” to me!
AW: Good luck with Judges. If our readers want to check it out, where can they see it? Is it showing at festivals or is there an imminent DVD release?
DJ: You can go to the website at www.judgesthemovie.com and see the trailer that played at the Virginia Beach Film Festival. We’ll have a premiere in February ’05 in Virginia, and then screen it for distributors in L.A., and we’ll see where it goes from there.
Another cool thriller/horror piece called GPS is in post production as well. Watch http://www.gpsthemovie.com for updates or watch my fan site, at http://www.djperryfanclub.com for all future updates. They have me keeping an online journal as well if you enjoy that sort of thing. Al, thank you so much for the great questions. I hope that this piece will either light the fires or fan the flames of other artists out there doing their thing. If fate has it, maybe one day we will work together. Best in 2005!