MMM interviews Michigan's own DJ Perry on '40 Nights'

40 Nights.  The
forty-night quest of self-discovery that Jesus undertook when he wandered into the Judea wilderness following his baptism with John the Baptist  What did Jesus experience in the forty nights in the wilderness? This may be open to conjecture. There were no careful records kept of Jesus' travails  According to three Gospels of the Bible, after baptism Jesus withdrew from men and community to commune with God.   Because there were no witnesses to record what happened while Christ was in the desert,   the events that took place must have been related by Christ himself.  What we have deals primarily with the close of the forty day period. 

According to text, during this period of time Christ fasted and had much to think about.  Men have gone to extremes to satiate the pangs of hunger.  Was Christ tempted by Satan to satisfy his hunger?  According to text, there was a temptation to prove that Jesus was in fact the Son of God.  Satan tried to make the Son doubt that divine relationship.  According to story Satan tempted Christ three times. 

Because much of what happened is without detail, this period of time is ripe for the imaginings of a author/screenwriter/filmmaker.  It was an ideal vehicle for Michigan's own DJ Perry and cast to imagine and  reenact.  "40 Nights"  takes an innovative approach to this retelling.  In this screen adaptation of this story  Jesus also self examines his life leading up to that point.  Thus the simplistic elements of the story are clarified/glorified in a way that really promotes a better understanding and appreciation of this journey.

 This is the premise for Perry's recently shot "40 Nights." 

DJ Perry, a Michigan born actor, producer, writer has built an impressive career in the entertainment industry. As a writer several of his scripts have been produced into feature length motion pictures. Two of his screenplays "Dean Teaster's Ghost Town" (7 weeks as #1 western rental) and "Wild Michigan" have been novelized for publication and distribution.

You have just returned from having filmed a Biblical feature titled "40 Nights."  Where was this movie filmed? Who chose this location as the site for your film? How was this

site chosen? 


Hello David. Yes. I've just returned from stomping around in the desert wilderness outside of Yuma, AZ. We selected Yuma, AZ first based on what was required for the script.


Additionally I had starred in and helped produce a small thriller in Yuma, AZ a few years back entitled "Deadly Renovations" and so I had some team members on the ground.


Also I had seen several locations such as the Yuma Historic Prison with all the stone work that I knew would play for certain aspects of the script. Also the Yuma area really was a beautiful location to represent the Holy Land. While we always consider the possibility of a Michigan shoot it just would not give us what we needed. Same thing with Virginia who also wanted us to come film there, but in the end we did what was best for the film. In this I am well pleased:) 


Other than you, were other members of the cast and crew also from Michigan? Did this pose any logistics challenges getting everyone out there? 


Yuma, AZ has a limited crew base and I knew this from our previous shoot there. It was my decision to bring in some of the Collective Development tried and true. I wish we could have brought a few others but we were limited by flight costs. I was quite happy with our crew that we pulled in from AZ and CA. They worked along side our crew and appreciated how we run our productions. They were most pleased with the amazing footage we were capturing. As for cast - I had 5 or so roles in mind when I wrote the script but we started with an IMDB casting call over a year ago. I was asked to be a beta tester for IMDB Casting and so we used their process. We had submissions come in from all over the world.


From a cost stand point we were looking only nationally but it was great to see talent from around the globe. That being said, Michigan provided a good amount of talent. We had six actors plus Taylor Nichols, who’s originally from Michigan. The best part about these Michigan actors’ involvements was the fact that they did indeed win these roles against tough submissions from all over. Again, actors coming in from Hollywood would have been cheaper but here we are shooting on the other side of the country and flying Michigan people there. At the end of the day - the extra money to bring in the right talent is always worth it. Sometimes it’s easier to throw a random name genre actor into a role that the distributor may like but if the casting is wrong - you might get the one time watchers but not the repeated watching and word of mouth that comes with making a strong film.  


How long were you out there before returning to Michigan? Being as you were this far from home, what kind of accommodations did you and the cast and crew have while filming? 


Our advance team was in Yuma for weeks prior location scouting and putting early things in motion. Our pre-production team came out the week before to set up our office and lock down locations, hire remaining crew, etc. Regarding accommodations - CDI has several corporate deals with various major companies. We dealt directly with corporate and they really rolled out the red carpet by way of hospitality. We had drives to our desert locations every day so we purposely picked a hotel that was close to the highway and central to our driving needs. It’s not a vacation so I never got in the pool even once. But it was a great place to have our on-going meetings and set up for our last meal with catering each day.


Although you wrote and appeared in this movie as the lead, am I correct in thinking that you did not direct “40 Nights”? Who did direct this movie? 


That honor of directing went to Mister Jesse Low. I knew this film would require just the right director. I sat down and talked with several but fully believe that Jesse was the right choice for this film. Jesse Low is a high-functioning creative with a great working knowledge of the subject matter. Together we were able to really distill the script down to these very powerful on-screen moments. In my humble opinion these moments are going to bring people to a closer understanding of Jesus, the man. Not the superhero-type often presented in so many other films. I also think this film provides wonderful insights into WHY certain things might have been done. It bestows a better understanding of how certain actions would inevitably change things forever. This is a simple story for everyone with no political, denominational or any other attachments. I think people of all walks of life will take something special away from this film. That is our collective hope.


Who cast the roles? 

We are very hands on at Collective Development Inc. with the casting process. We do look at the market appeal of the talent but also know it MUST be the right casting. A great story will have its own market       appeal. We do like when talent has a fan base from previous work. We additionally cast almost 100% off actor reels of previous film clips. Sometimes we do reads from sides but overall I highly respect the actor. I don't see them as cattle but as artists that will make a project sink or soar. I respect the previous art that an actor has created. I look at it much like watching "game footage" watching that player in action. That says so much. Many actors that we have history with often just get called and offered a role. I know many actors respect us as a company for that.  


How were the roles cast? 


Carefully. The producers and director review the submission reels. A few people like Rance Howard, I had in mind when writing. Sometimes we see roles outside of what mainstream typically casts somebody as. For example - Rance Howard tends to be cast as the good guy in films. He was so excited to be playing THE bad guy that he even turned down and offer on a large pilot from a famous director. I'm sure they were like WHO the heck is DJ Perry? WHAT is this 40 Nights? As fate would have it - on the day Rance wrapped with us his agent called- they had waited on him. We got him out early and we’ll see if that worked out for Mr. Howard. The thing is that once an actor has worked on a CDI project they are usually quite eager to do so again. We treat people with respect. Period.    


There is a young man in this film who played an important role. Would you like to briefly talk of the role he plays? Was this the first role he has performed?


We had several young men in this film playing incredible roles. Drew Wise had co-starred for us in ASHES OF EDEN and ended up winning the role of the Devil as a Boy. 


Joe Cipriano - fun story. His reel was selected from many, many other reels. After I watched his several times I said, “I think I know this kid.” We indeed had shared the screen and lunch on the soon-to-be released film DEAD QUIET. In “40 Nights” he played a younger version of me in the film. This actually might work in his favor should I need a son in some upcoming film. He had previous experience in a handful of other films including one disaster film sharing screen time with another CDI actor alumni Barton Bund. Barton was in a previous CDI film FIGURE IN THE FOREST. I asked Joe if Barton played his older brother and he said, “the dad.” OK. I feel older now:)


Logan Kishi was from LA area and was an immediate hire. Once we saw his reel it was – THAT’S HIM. What a magnetic charm this kid has. Logan will go far and I look forward to working with him again on screen. Lastly, a local hire from Yuma, AZ - Nicolas Dana, was one of the many that read for our director.  He did a great job as a younger version of one of our main characters. 


Overall, I was very proud of our young actors. Half of them came from my home state of Michigan. This proved a burden to our budget (with a parent that is two flights) but they were truly a gift to the film.


Talk briefly about any other important roles in this production. 


All the roles were important and every scene was powerful in the planning. Even the roles without a name per say represent something very important. The Shepherd Boy, The Poor Man, the Inn Keeper all those roles have a deep connections to the story. They might represent innocence, despair, hope or charity. So many wonderful themes are brought to life on screen by some amazing performances. “40 Nights” is a hero journey and the many encounters the hero has along his path help to define him. All are important.


Before you started filming, I understand that you were approached to sell the rights to this movie, but you passed on the offer. Would you like to briefly talk about this offer? 


Sure. Many people don't know that my writing is a good part of my income. I've been paid to turn books into screenplays. I've had books written on my screenplays. I've sold screenplays and have a few that currently are under option. I've got a great storehouse of powerful scripts that I'm just starting to put into development. If I was not able to pull a certain budget but I believed it was a good acting vehicle for myself - I held it. If the script isn't a strong acting vehicle for me - I'm happy to let it find a new home. I do enjoy seeing others translate the words from the page to the screen.


Now with "40 Nights" I did have interest in buying the film outright. It was kind of a ROCKY deal whereas I would not be promised any involvement beyond the paycheck. I've had many people in the last few years following the release of BOOK OF RUTH, Journey of Faith, who wanted to see me play the role of Jesus. I knew at my age it was a now or never situation. I’ve always looked younger than my age but that will not always be so.  I've also read some good scripts with Jesus as the main role but I truly felt this script was the right fit for me.


So at the end of the day I followed my heart and not the money. Those that really know me – know. I don't follow just the money. I mean we all have bills to pay but I had to ask myself, what this story means to me now and in the years to come? It was about much more than shells and beads – Simply, I just knew I had to do this film. I hope this choice works out like ROCKY did for Stallone. That would be nice gift.   


What is the significance of the title “40 Nights”?


The title "40 Nights" represents the forty-night quest of self-discovery that Jesus undertook when he wandered into the Judea wilderness following his baptism with John the Baptist (Played to perfection by actor Terry Jernigan).


Without issuing a spoiler alert, tell us about this story line.


It’s only a spoiler of sorts if you don't know your biblical history. During this trek, Jesus deals with the temptations of the Devil three times. I think we examine this event in a very unique way. Jesus also self examines his life leading up to that point - so we get to know him a bit better through those flashbacks. I think this part of the Jesus story that our film focuses on is often brushed over. People tend to gravitate to the many other later events once Jesus has started his ministry. But I think the bedrock; the very foundation of the man we all think we know was first established in those 40 grueling nights in the wilderness.


Furthermore, the simplistic elements of our story are clarified/glorified in a way that really promotes a better understanding and appreciation of this journey. That is the feedback that came from our script. Our on-screen story is 100% unique in how the material is presented and soon audiences will get to make their own conclusions to what they experience. This film will get people talking.  It has already gotten quite the buzz in the area where the film was shot. The extras and people associated with the film claim to have felt something special at work. We feel we do have something special but audiences will be the final decision on that.  


Now that you are home, are you handling the postproduction on this film? 


Yes. Our Michigan post team is now in place. Our director Jesse Low is working closely with our editor Jon Worful and FX supervisor Brian Vroman. We’re also about to move our thriller BESTSELLER (Based on Christopher Knight’s book) out of post music and sound design at the end of this month. The studio will start prepping for the incoming "40 Nights" to arrive. Dennis Therrian, will be our composer and oversee our sound design.


How long do you think this may take before “40 Nights” is ready for its premiere? 


"40 Nights" will be ready for a premiere in the fall. We’re planning theatrical showings around Christmas time. The worldwide home video release is being set prior to Easter of 2016.


It may be a bit premature, but have you any distribution plans for this movie?


David, this discussion is not premature at all. We had multiple distribution offers on "40 Nights" in advance of our shooting. We ended up signing with Lightworx Entertainment headed up by Randy Maricle, who marketing such hits as GOD'S NOT DEAD.


Not only did Lightworx Entertainment put the best deal on the table they offered "40 Nights" to be part 1 of a 3 picture deal. They want me to write, produce and act in two other biblical films. I'm in development now on our second film and I'm thinking that will shoot in Jan. or Feb. 2016. We've also got deals underway for product licensing. So leading up to the releases we’ll see some product- licensing roll out with the “40 Nights” branding. I can see where this film will give inspiration and hope to others facing challenges in their lives. If Jesus could survive 40 nights and all the temptations he did well maybe others can learn from that example.


Those same lessons can be applied to filmmaking for sure. Our industry is full of temptations. I see people giving into them everyday. People constantly trying to say what they think people want to hear. Certain individuals looking for business shortcuts through back door dealings, social donations and straight up deceit. Others are chasing the flight of fame versus true artistic expression executed in a respectable business manner. Liars. Thieves. Cheaters. I think this film is timely. I do enjoy all types of films but creating content that has a positive message does have its own rewards. Thank you again David for your time. We all appreciate it.