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Day Shift Director J.J. Perry Talks Collaborating With Jamie Foxx And Dave Franco - Exclusive Interview

After working on hundreds of films and television episodes in the stunt realm, a new day is dawning for showbiz industry veteran J.J. Perry. Kicking off his screen career as a stuntman, Perry has since earned a myriad of credits as a stunt coordinator, actor, first assistant director, and second unit director. But with the new action-horror comedy "Day Shift," Perry is making his directorial debut, and esteemed actors Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco are along for the wild ride.

In "Day Shift," which debuts Friday, August 12, on Netflix, Foxx stars as Bud Jablonski, a struggling, blue-collar pool cleaner who is using the gig as a front for his dangerous job as a vampire hunter. On the outs with the international union of vampire hunters for some previous misgivings — which results in a lot less cash for his kills — Bud gets his fellow hunter, Big John (Snoop Dogg), to convince the union to give his friend one more shot. In desperate need of earning $10,000 in a weekend to prevent his estranged wife, Jocelyn (Meagan Good), and their daughter, Paige (Zion Broadnax), from moving away, Bud agrees to a major condition by the union — to allow a nebbish desk clerk, Seth (Franco), to follow and report on his every move. But Bud and Seth both get much more than they bargained for on the hunt when they encounter a powerful vampire, Audrey (Karla Souza), whose extraordinary powers make her much tougher to kill.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Perry talked about how vital Foxx and Franco were as collaborators on "Day Shift" and discussed his longtime friendship with "Day Shift" producer and "John Wick" saga director Chad Stahelski. Perry also delved into the creative decisions behind "Day Shift" and noted the films that influenced him to bring the action to life through practical effects.

Building a formidable team of collaborators

I love everything about this movie, including the dynamic duo of Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco. How collaborative were they in the making of this film? You can take care of the action and the blood, guts and gore as a director, but Jamie and Dave need to make us care about Bud and Seth because the story of "Day Shift" is rooted in these great characters.

Man, part of being good director, in my opinion, is being able to lead, follow, or stay out of the way. The comedy worried me. I was a little intimidated by the comedy. I think I'm funny, but I don't know if anyone else thinks I'm funny. As soon as I cast Jamie Foxx, I immediately exhaled. I was like, "Okay, cool. I got a good starting pitcher." When I sat through the read-through with Dave Franco and Jamie Foxx — we did a big cast read-through on Zoom — we were all texting immediately because Dave came throwing in heat.

It was collaborating, absolutely. I would roll really long takes. We would do what was on the page first. I have an obligation to the company I work for to shoot the script, but I would say, "Okay, we're still rolling. Let's keep it going," and let them riff and riff and riff. A lot of the gold that we got came out of doing long takes like that.

Learning while in the company of greatness

The collaboration is on the other side of the camera as well. I love how Chad Stahelski is the producer on this picture. Of course, you have a history with Chad with the first couple "John Wick" movies. Was there anything that you learned from Chad working on the "John Wick" films that you brought to the making of "Day Shift"?

We started as stuntmen together back in 1990, and he and I go way back. We go way back. He's one of the first people I met when I got out of the Army. He's a dear friend. He's like a brother. I learned a lot of things about when you believe in something, you got to hold your ground. Listen — the thing about action is you have to whip action. You have to push action. You got to put your foot in it. You got to [say], "Let's go."

With comedy, you got to let that happen. It's like [learning] how to downshift and not have your foot in the throttle all the time, but maybe lift a little bit. You might not have to touch the brake, but you can't just [push it down] ... It's a different animal, and that's something I didn't learn from Chad. I learned that from Paul Feig when I was doing a movie called "Spy." I really paid attention.

Look, Chad and I cut our teeth on the same movies coming up as stuntmen. He's amazing. I learned a lot. I can't put it exactly into words. From watching what he did, I sat through read-throughs with him on "John Wick 2," interviewed department heads, listened to all of that, was a part of all that. When you've done 150 films and 300 episodes of TV, I have a lot of people that have influenced me in things that they've done right and things that they've done wrong. I just paid attention.

Making Day Shift a cut above the rest

I love the innovative ways Bud and other vampire hunters dispose of vampires. It's incredibly creative, especially the decapitations, which, when it comes to vampires, is pretty effective. Where did you get all the ideas for all these creative decapitations?

When you're on the road for 32 years as an action guy, you have a deep bag. I've offered a lot of the things that you saw in my movie to lots of directors. They're like, "No, no, we don't do that." It goes right back in my bag of tricks, so my bag of tricks is massive. 

We didn't even use all of it. We used a little bit of it. The action team that I have with me on the road all the time, our mantra was, "Never do something we've already done." If we do something we've already done, we failed, we've died a small death. Never say, "Let's just do the old." It's got to be new, it's got to be fresh, and it's got to be different, and that's the way we approached it.

In-camera was the only way to take his shots (at vampires)

With the concussion blasts that come from the vampire hunter's shotgun, and when Jamie Foxx's character blasts those vampires and they fly far across the room, it reminded me a little bit of Sam Raimi with the "Evil Dead" films. Did those films or did other vampire movies influence that approach? It really gives some pop to that action when those bodies go flying.

I graduated from high school in '86, so "Big Trouble in Little China," "The Lost Boys," "Evil Dead" and "Fright Night" were my favorite films of — maybe not of all time, but they're right up there. They're in the same action comedy horror [genre of "Day Shift"]. Those ingredients are the same in the movie I did. Sam Raimi is a genius. He's one of my idols. I have a lot of idols. But I was a big fan because he did everything in-camera.

I learned this business before you could say, "Let's fix it in post." Everything in "Day Shift" was done in-camera, [and] visual effects [were used] just to augment. [There were] never visual effects takeovers. I didn't want to make that movie.

Look at [the practical work in] "Top Gun." It did great. I think people want to see that again. I'm tired of the opaque, half-cartoon-half-real movies. When you see people in gravity and it has to work, it's better for me. That's the school I learned in. In about 10 years, they won't have to do car chases anymore. They'll animate them. But I'll be long gone by then, my brother. I'll be out fishing and playing golf!

"Day Shift" premieres exclusively on Netflix Friday, August 12.

This interview was edited for clarity.