I had a chance to interview DJ Perry, producer and star (“John Sunderlin”) of the independent Civil War epic “Wicked Spring” (on DVD and VHS December 16), written, directed, and produced by director Kevin Hershberger.
You can find out much more about Wicked Spring and LionHeart FilmWorks at the official website http://www.lionheartfilmworks.com. You can read my review of the film at IMDB.com: "A Beautifully Realized Civil War Film"
I loved your performance, I thought you did an amazing job and really brought the character to life.
Thank you very much for the kind words.
There are so many indie films out there today that deal with contemporary topics, be it crime, family strife, etc. And with their limited budgets, it's perhaps easier to make a contemporary story. I feel that Wicked Spring stands out because of it's professional look, style, and even subject content. As independent filmmakers, what drew you to the Civil War as a topic?
To be honest Kevin [Hershberger, the director] had the real Civil War interest as did Brian [Merrick], Terry Jernigan and a few other in that Virginia community. I looked at a list of story ideas that Kevin was playing with and the very 1st one stood out. I loved the story because it didn't pick sides and it made a real statement about war. It really looked at the tragedy of loss of life and makes one think deeply about certain issues. I fell in love with the period as I explored the character of John.
How long did it take to make Wicked Spring into a reality?
It actually came together quite swiftly thanks to a few people who truly loved what we were doing. Our executive producer Leonard [Krawezyk] made it all happen.
Was it harder to produce a period film than some other films you've produced?
With the knowledge of Kevin and the Civil War community who sincerely embrace the period, I would have to say it was easier. Minus the wool clothes and harsh outdoor environment. Ft. Pickett also really made the experience easier and helped keep the military focus.
With such a small budget, was it difficult to maintain a high quality level?
The artists involved brought the quality to this project. The actors, director, producers, art dept., sound, camera, grips, gaffers, editors, FX, composer, sound designers and everyone in between. Quality is due to all those in the credit roll at the end of the movie including the dedicated background actors and Kevin's attention to staying historically on target.
And a question for all the history buff aspiring filmmakers out there: The Civil War provides a wonderful canvas for all sorts of stories, and of course the country is fascinated by the subject. Do you think that the quickly changing and developing, fast paced, low budget, innovative world of independent filmmaking is a good medium for Civil War films (as opposed to waiting around for big studios to option scripts or bestselling books for big budgets and perhaps watered down history)?
I believe in indie films for creating a voice. I'm eager to see Brad Egan's indie short OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK and I'm working on launching another Civil War indie film REBEL PRIVATE, based on the book; starring Lucas Black (Sling Blade). I do think that if you have the passion (like Kevin has) then indie films can be and will be, a good medium. Overall it MAY produce a better product. BUT don't fool yourself, we would like to be using studio dollars to bring larger films to a greater number of audiences while keeping the stories respectful and true to the source material.
The two main characters, Harrison Bolding [played by Brian Merrick] and John Sunderlin have to camp together one night in the midst of the Battle of the Wilderness even though they're on opposite sides of the conflict, and may or may not know that they are enemies. I found it powerful that through simple acts of kindness and communication, they could form a bond that would eventually factor into, literally, a struggle for survival. I found this aspect of the film to be very redemptive. Does this film, and the crucial relationship of John and Harrison, have a message of redemption?
At the sake of getting too deep I must say that I absolutely feel that "Wicked Spring" can be a redemptive story for whomever watches it and really absorbs what is there. It speaks volumes about simple men trying to make the world a better place. John and Harrison will make everyone rethink what they thought about the Civil War. The Stars and Stripes and the Confederate flag give way to two men and their struggle. I think the film could change the way people look at the war overall, hence the "healing" and the redemption factor. If we do that then we have in some way done what we set out to do. Provoke deep thought.
In the very beginning film we see that John leaves his family, even after his child dies, to fight. He comes through as a very decent, kind man. Can you tell us a bit about him?
I love the fact that John was a dress maker and a family man. The fact that he had a loving family and it seems that even against the wishes of his wife whom he loved very much, he felt the need to try and make the world a better place for his three little girls. The death of the child was unexpected and forced John to leave his wife at a time when she needed him most. I carried this guilt throughout the movie and it is what John was fighting for at the end. Not Lincoln, not the North but for his family. John in many ways seems to be the man I wish I could have been under the same circumstances.
Did you have any particular inspiration for understanding and playing him?
Kevin had given us all books by actual soldiers to try to gather experiences in day to day soldiering. Plus we went on a hardcore "deathmarch" with some rugged fella's. Hardtack, salt pork, a handful of peanuts, coffee (thank God they had it back then) and all traditional dress. (Damn wool, damn shoes) I wanted to bring a Morgan Freeman like wisdom to the John character as well as a Michael Landon sensitivity that I always loved in "LITTLE HOUSE." But my other main concern was not to appease just the reenactors but to truly due honor to the actual men. Kevin took us to a few battlefields and museums in Gettysburg. I wanted to give something back to the fallen. I understood the great honor I was representing with this great story. Simple yet great! Brian Merrick and the other actors were an inspiration every day as well as the crew because we all knew this was to be something special.
Last, you made the movie with $500,000, with outstanding production values and a good eye for storytelling, plus I've seen your short film, The Nest, and I feel these show that LionHeart is a production company to keep an eye on. I think it would be great to see more from LionHeart, so, are there any future projects planned, anything that you can tell us about?
Lionheart Filmworks is surely something to watch. Kevin is the driving creative force and I've garnished a good amount of producer experience. We do have 3 pictures in development and I'm set to star in at least one of them. I'm really looking forward to working with Kevin in that capacity rather then us rattling over distribution deals and such. I have a great story called APACHE PASS that I plan on doing with Kevin as well as a Western based on a series of three I created. Kevin and I are really just getting started. We hope to entertain for years to come.
Thanks for your time!
No, thank you!