JJ Perry goes from stuntman to director | Pretty Reel

ComingSoon editor Tyler Treese spoke to Day Shift director JJ Perry about his journey to becoming a director and his ’80s-influenced style. Day Shift is set to hit Netflix on August 12.

“A hard-working dad to support his daughter uses a boring pool cleaning job as a front for his real job: hunting and killing vampires,” the logline reads.

Tyler Treese: We’ve seen this big trend of stuntmen successfully move into directing. What are the biggest skills you learned as a stunt coordinator that made this transition a success?

JJ Perry: So the path went from getting out of the military [to] become a stuntman, from stuntman to fight coordinator, then stunt coordinator, then second unit director, then director. When you’re directing second unit… I’ve been doing it for about 20 years now, directing second unit… big car chases or key sequences or big fight sequences are actually harder than directing actors at a table. I mean, if you have good actors, it’s easy. If you have bad actors, it may be difficult. I don’t know yet, because I haven’t directed any bad actors. When you lock down a city and you have six cars and four motorcycles and helicopters and explosions, you have a limited time to get the job done. And you’re also under pressure not to kill someone.

So it’s a pressure cooker. You work very fast, in very dangerous conditions, but it’s a lot of fun. And I was having a good time doing that, like helping Chad [Stahelski, co-director of John Wick] on John Wick 1 and John Wick 2, monitoring their trajectory, David [Leitch, co-director of John Wick] and Chad’s trajectory increased…they started calling me, and people started calling me and sending me scripts. As soon as I was dispatched the day I knew I had to, because my favorite movies from my childhood were Lost Boys, Big Trouble in Little China, Evil Dead and the original Fright Night – action, comedy, horror . That’s where my heart was. I wanted to have these three ingredients. I love John Wick. We worked very hard, trained Keanu, made him as good as possible.

But you are based on reality. Even though it’s not realistic that he can take down how many people, but he’s still a human being. There’s gravity and things it can’t bend. As soon as you bring vampires into the mix, well, you’re 70% plus reality. Now I have dramatic acting license to do whatever I want, which just elevates things. So you have these two worlds lurking in plain sight, the vampires and the hunter syndicate, colliding. Which, to me, was super interesting and fun. Right now if you turn on the news, it’s dark, man. There’s monkeypox, and COVID, and Ukraine, and Russia, and Taiwan, and China. I just wanted to do something fun that you didn’t have to feel…you didn’t have to watch, or someone was trying to impose an opinion on you. I just wanted people to enjoy it. A little escape never hurt anyone, and a few laughs can only do the world good right now, bro.

The action is so much fun. I even saw pro wrestling moves thrown in there, which I thought was super cool.

Lucha Libre, buddy!

Yeah! So what were your goals with the fight scenes and where did you draw inspiration from?

Inspiration comes from everything you have seen or done in your life. So inspiration from all the movies I’ve worked on… what I told my action crew that I was on the road with for about seven years [was] “I don’t want to do anything we’ve already done. I want to look for new ways of doing things. And if we ever say, “Well, let’s just do it the old fashioned way,” I said, “Then we’ve failed and we’re dying a little death. The vampires had to look interesting, so we brought in contortionists and doubled them with stuntmen, and doubled them with fighters. So something like, for example, the grandmother. There’s the actress, there’s a stunt double, there’s a fight double, and there’s a contortion double, and the contortion work itself, when we smack them and bend them in half, we turn it upside down.

They’re in two and then we pulled them out on a wire and played backwards, but with magic camera speed that I can’t divulge unless you give me lots of money…there’s a secret in there. So I wanted to change the way vampires fought. So I mixed it with stuff like Lucha Libre, wire…and they’re so flexible, it’s like fighting an octopus trying to bite you. At the same time throwing MMA moves, like a crucifix, right? You saw the mount, the switch. So I wanted to add a few elements to it that felt familiar and that people might relate to, but then toss them over their heads and try them again. So yeah, I just wanted everyone to have their own style.

I thought having a big fight for “Body Count’s in the House” was awesome. How do you choose your music here? The soundtrack is awesome.

Thank you brother. Well, listen, I’m a big fan of that era. I wanted the movie to take place today, but I feel like Bud is trapped in the 80s, kinda like I’m trapped in the 80s, look at my cowboy shirt…like I was stuck in the 80s, dog! So I wanted him to be that, and I wanted the music to be like that too. If you get in my car, it’ll be old school hip hop or Ozzy’s Boneyard. That’s what it is if you go to my radio right now. I wanted Bud to be as much like me as possible so when Jamie [Foxx, lead of Day Shift] asked me a question, I wouldn’t look like a fool giving him a stupid answer.

JJ Perry goes from stuntman to director | Pretty Reel