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Dallas & Jerry Jenkins Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I want people to see that seemingly small and random acts of kindness or moments of faith can make a life-changing difference."
-- Dallas Jenkins

Dallas Jenkins produced the $2 million independent Hometown Legend at the age of 25 and supervised every aspect of the production, from the completion of the script to the distribution. In 2006, he was the Co-Executive Producer of Though None Go With Me," a movie based on his father Jerry Jenkins’ book that aired on The Hallmark Channel. His feature directing debut, Midnight Clear, is based on the short film and recently won the Cinequest Film Festival award for "Best First Feature."

Jerry B. Jenkins, former vice president for publishing and currently writer-at-large for the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, is the author of more than 160 books, including the 63,000,000-selling Left Behind series. Also the former editor of Moody Magazine, Jerry’s writing has appeared in Time, Reader's Digest, Parade, Guideposts, and dozens of Christian periodicals.

C.J.: Let’s start right off talking about your new novel Midnight Clear. For those who haven’t yet read the book, please share with us the gist of the story.

DALLAS & JERRY: Five strangers, spread out around a small Southwestern town, are living in various levels of loneliness and depression on Christmas Eve. How they randomly cross paths and impact each other’s lives provides the thrust of the story.

Jerry, could you tell us about where you originally got the idea for the short story upon which the novel is based? (And where was it first published, by the way?)

Jerry: I had heard a statistic that there are more suicides on the Holidays than any other time of year. I’m not sure if it’s true, but it compelled me to write a story about two people who are attempting suicide on what’s supposed to be the most joyous time of year. It was originally published by Moody Press in my collection of short stories, “The Deacon’s Woman and Other Short Stories,” and has recently been re-published in the short stories book, “Not Safe, But Good (Vol. 2).”

What inspired both of you to first of all make it into a movie, and second to expand the story into a novel?

Dallas: I always loved the short story and thought it would make a good short film. For the short film, we added a couple of minor characters to give the main characters something to encounter to keep the story moving, besides all their inner turmoil that we see in the book but can’t portray on screen. After the success of the short, I thought that it might be interesting to expand on those minor characters and tell a story of five people struggling with depression. When I pictured the last moment of the film and got choked up, I thought it would be worth pursuing.

I noticed the book was very cinematic in style. Is it essentially a novelization of the movie, or did things make it into the book that aren’t in the film?

Dallas: The book definitely has a lot of elements and subplots that aren’t in the film. It follows the same through line, and like the movie, it starts on the morning of December 24th and finishes at the end of the night. But the book really fills in a lot of gaps that we don’t have time to explore in a 100 minute film.

What did the process of writing this book look like as a father/son team? Did you trade off chapters?

Dallas: I did the initial writing, and my Dad did the editing and fine-tuning. Because it was my first time, there was plenty to fine-tune!

Jerry: I was surprised and thrilled with how it was developing by the time it’d get to me. Halfway through, I told Dallas that this would be “special.”

What would each of you say is the other’s best strength when it comes to writing a story?

Dallas: My Dad has an exceptional gift at communicating with the fewest words necessary. Maybe it’s not as poetic or artsy-fartsy as some literary people would like, but I think it makes for some wonderful characterizations and emotion.Midnight Clear by Dallas & Jerry Jenkins

Jerry: Dallas really does a great job of creating a world that feels real and identifiable. This book puts you in each character’s head in a unique way that I haven’t seen in any other novel.

Dallas, tell us a little bit about the making of Midnight Clear the movie. What sort of challenges did you face with this film?

Dallas: It’s a monumental challenge just to make a watchable film. So many things can go wrong, there are so many creative visions contributing. My primary challenge was to find a visual style that matches the raw, quiet, subtle nature of the story. Plus, we had a story that had five main characters and five disparate plotlines that eventually had to converge. But the actors were terrific, and it came together nicely.

Jerry, what was it like watching something you wrote literally come to life?

Jerry: It’s very special, especially with Dallas at the helm. I love the film, and the performances are heartbreaking.

Most memorable on-the-set-moment:

Dallas: Most memorable moments on films are the ones that you want to forget, like when we were shooting in the middle of nowhere at 3:00am and couldn’t get a dog to stop barking nearby. But a moment that turned out okay was when we had to re-shoot Stephen Baldwin’s part of a scene two months after we’d shot the original scene, and he’d buzzed his hair in the meantime. That night on the set, we had someone literally glue new hair strands to his head to recreate his original hairstyle, and no one has ever been able to tell the difference in the film.

Midnight Clear Still 1What is the number one message you hope readers and viewers take away from Midnight Clear the movie and the novel?

Jerry: That there’s hope even in the darkest of circumstances.

Dallas: I want people to see that seemingly small and random acts of kindness or moments of faith can make a life-changing difference. And, as one of the characters in the film says, “Sometimes you do the right thing because it’s the right thing.” That’s something my Dad has preached at me for years.

Is that message something you intentionally developed or did it come about naturally as you wrote the story?

Dallas: The original story had an intentional message of hope, but I think the concept of random acts of kindness developed as we wrote the longer story.Midnight Clear Still 2

Which of the characters is your favorite and why?

Dallas: Mary, the young mother who is dealing with her husband’s brain damage after a tragic accident, is a character loosely based on a close friend of ours. I don’t know if she’s my favorite, but she’s the one closest to my heart. I can identify most with the youth pastor, Mitch, who’s frustrated with his lack of impact, because I grew up in the church.

Jerry: Eva, the old woman attempting suicide, is the character I created years ago, and K Callan’s performance as Eva is extraordinary.

If you could change anything about Christmas in America what would you change?

Dallas: Well, obviously Christmas becomes less and less “Christmasy” as the years go by. We can’t expect the rest of the world to make it all about Christ, but even the Christmas traditions and iconic images that aren’t explicitly Christ-centered seem under attack. Also, I wish we’d get more snow!

Midnight Clear Still 3Can we expect any more novels by Jenkins & Jenkins?

Dallas: We’ll see. I wouldn’t rule it out, but writing isn’t my primary interest and ability, so for the most part, I’ll let my Dad take it on.

What do you wish Christians knew about the Christian movie industry?

Dallas: I wish Christians knew more about the movie industry in general. But to be fair, not everyone cares about movies, and that’s fine. I just hope that the church can be more engaged with popular culture and realize how important entertainment and media are in making an impact on society. Then, we can encourage our youth to develop their talents in this industry.

What can the average person do to best help promote movies that respect the Christian faith?

Dallas: Buy tickets and DVD copies to show Hollywood and the distributors that movies like these can succeed, so they’ll make more! Hollywood thinks in terms of money. Then, go to amazon.com, imdb.com, etc. and post comments about how much you love the film, and encourage friends and family to purchase the films and books as well.

Dallas, tell us about your next movie project The Man Who Moved A Mountain. Where does it stand in the The Man Who Moved A Mountainproduction process?

We have raised almost half of the budget and are in serious discussions with a few investors and production companies about putting together the rest. This story is so incredible and would make such a great movie, I’m desperate to get it made.

Jerry, we’d love to hear more about your next novel Riven.

Jerry: It tells the story of a man put on death row for murder, who wants his execution to be a recreation of Christ’s crucifixion. It’s the novel I was born to write.

What’s each of your favorite Christmas movies, tv specials and books? Why?

Dallas: It begins and ends with “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the greatest film ever made. It captures darkness and reality before introducing hope and faith, which is my kind of story. I’ve seen it over 20 times and I cry hard every time.

Jerry: It's a Wonderful Life, Scrooge with George C. Scott, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Riven by Jerry JenkinsWhat are some Jenkins Christmas traditions?

Dallas: We watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every Christmas Eve, and every Christmas morning my Dad reads the Christmas story from the book of Luke.

Jerry: And Church on Christmas Eve.

The ultimate Christmas dinner would be:

Jerry: Pork roast.

Dallas: Turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, soft and fluffy buns (no jokes, please), apple pie and ice cream, with my wife and kids with my family in Colorado.

The best gift you ever gave someone was:

Dallas: I got a tattoo of my wife’s initials on my wrist. To those who hate tattoos, I apologize, but she loved the gift.

Jerry: Anonymous cash for a family in crisis

Favorite Christmas carol and why is it special?

Dallas: I think Silent Night is the most beautiful Christmas song ever written, O Holy Night has the big ending I love, but the lyrics of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” are so poignant and bittersweet. I used some of the lyrics in the book because they were so appropriate—“Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.”

Jerry: Silent Night

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

Dallas: You can email me directly at dallas @ jenkins-entertainment.com (remove spaces). I love discussing these issues and can also put you on my email newsletter list, which comes out about 3-4 times a year to keep you updated on our projects and opportunities to be involved.

Watch the trailer for Midnight Clear:

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C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.