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Success in This Industry Takes Time, Hard Work, And Dedication Says Filmmaker, Jayson Johnson!

Updated: Aug 1

Hi Jayson, please tell me a little about your background. Where are you initially from, and what path led you to where you are today?

I'm from the West Suburbs of Chicago, but I used to visit the city as often as I could. My friends and I were avid video games and WWE wrestling fans and frequently hired a limousine to catch the wrestling matches at Rosemont Horizon. At that time, we all worked at Burger King but combined our resources to travel in style. I can still recall the looks on people's faces as they eagerly anticipated a celebrity exit from the limo, only to be disappointed when they saw a bunch of youngsters and one of our parents emerge. This experience of being watched and speculated upon has remained with me all these years. I resolved to exit a limo someday and have people be thrilled to see me stepping out. That realization motivated me to seek a more meaningful, significant, and impactful profession, though I wasn't sure what it would be then. Although television fascinated me as a child, it was unfamiliar to me how to become involved in it. Fortunately, that opportunity would come later.

What inspired you to be a filmmaker?

Media has fascinated me since I was a child, and I consumed it in a variety of ways, including television shows and video games. Despite participating in other activities, such as sports and spending time with friends, my fascination with storytelling never waned. However, growing up in Chicagoland, I had little exposure to the film industry and was unaware that it was a viable career path.

Despite trying various jobs, I found that I could only stay interested in something for a short time, and as a result, I was often fired. In college, however, I decided I wanted to pursue my passion for media, so I enrolled in the Radio, T.V., and Film programs in Communication Studies. My media experience included sketching cartoons for newspapers, announcing sports games, and working on the radio. It was not until I got my first job at the college television station, WEIU-TV, that I truly fell in love with the industry.

Even though I was making very little money, the satisfaction I got from my work at WEIU-TV was immense. Then, I realized I wanted to pursue a career in media, but I needed to figure out what form that would take. Regardless, I was determined to keep exploring my passion for storytelling and see where it would take me.

How do you see your primary role as a filmmaker, and what other roles can you perform well?

I love working with people and being creative. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head that becoming a film director is the perfect fit. I've done every job on a film set, so I know what it takes to get things done. That experience has helped me work well with my team and value their unique contributions. As a director, I am responsible for sharing my vision with everyone and being open to new and exciting ideas.

What are some of the things you love about filmmaking?

I find great joy in collaborating with a team of like-minded artists to create the best possible work of art that we can collectively achieve. There is something extraordinary about working with a diverse group of individuals, all with different backgrounds and perspectives, who share the same vision and then working together to bring it to life. This is the magic of filmmaking. It's a uniquely collaborative art form requiring a finely tuned village to create something remarkable. Everyone plays a vital role in the process; every contribution is valuable.

What camera do you use to make your films, and what are your preferred brands and equipment? Why?

We've used my friend's Red Digital Cinema for most of my films thus far. His Red Weapon offers up to 8K resolution and produces a good image. I'd love an opportunity to shoot on film just once. I love the texture and grain you can get with analog cameras, and your control in developing the film sounds impressive. So yeah, I'd love to have the experience, even if I need to learn more about cameras. But at the end of the day, it comes down to the visuals. Most people aren't going to the movies to look for technical specs. All they want to know is whether the visuals are dope. And for me, that's all that matters.

Do you have any favorite lenses? If so, which ones?

I've never been much technical, so cameras and lenses aren't my forte. Sometimes I wish I had a different skill set that would allow me to be more invested in that area, but I don't. Instead, I rely heavily on the cinematographer's expertise and input when choosing the right camera and lenses to set the film's tone. They bring a whole new level of artistry to the project, and I value their contributions.

How can your filming style be identified?

Have you ever watched a filmmaker go on stage where he/she talks about how they stylistically arranged their film? Yeah, me too. I don't know the filming style, and I won awards at this racket. I'm dim-witted, but what directors say doesn't make sense.

What awards have you won as a filmmaker?

I've won the best dramatic short for my film "Lifeline" and the best romantic short for my movie "T.H.O.T.?". I've additionally won four best film awards for my work as a producer on the short films "Rebel Child" directed by Juan Davis, and "Evergreen" directed by David Scott McDougal.

What are the names of some of the films you've produced, and how many to date?

I've produced 23 projects (three feature films, eighteen short films, a T.V. show, and a T.V. pilot), with some never seeing the light of day. My latest short film starring Grammy-nominated singer Adrian Marcel, "T.H.O.T.?"

What are the positives and negatives of working with actors as a filmmaker?

Working with actors can be both rewarding and challenging. On the positive side, actors bring characters to life and can add depth and emotion to a script. They can also offer unique perspectives and ideas that enhance the story. However, working with actors can be challenging as different personalities, schedules, and creative visions clash. It's essential to have strong communication skills and to be open to collaboration to work effectively with actors.

How do you efficiently resolve conflict on set?

Great question! To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how to answer this one. However, I do have an experience from my last film, "T.H.O.T.?" that taught me a valuable lesson. I was working with a new producer who would curse me out every day. Initially, I tried to brush it off as an isolated incident, but as it continued, I argued and said things I shouldn't have.

Looking back on this experience, I realize that having the right mix of people on a film set is crucial. It's no wonder many filmmakers work with the same crew on each project. I used to be puzzled by this, but after a challenging experience on my last film, I now understand that even if you have great actors, locations, and a large budget, the film will suffer significantly if you don't have the correct support network.

Are you also a screenwriter, and if yes, what is that process for you? What inspires you to tell the stories you tell or take on the projects you take on?

Initially, I didn't plan on writing my projects, but it became necessary. I had trouble finding a reliable writer to collaborate with when I started. Most writers I met weren't interested in writing, so I took matters into my own hands and said, "I'll do it myself!"

My early writing attempts could have been better. I didn't know how to write a screenplay, but as they say, practice makes perfect. Now, when I start a new project, I begin by finding something that interests me. For example, I'm writing a film about a counterfeit wine heist called "Counterfeit Cabernets" after learning that 25% of the world's wine is fake. I usually start with nothing: no characters, no settings, nothing. I start writing and let the ideas flow onto the page.

Once I've got a rough draft, I begin a series of edits to refine the ideas and shape them into a polished screenplay. It's a time-consuming process, but seeing my ideas come to life on the big screen makes it all worth it.

What is the best way to work harmoniously with other screenwriters, producers, and directors while on set in pre- or post-production?

I enjoy working in an environment where ideas flow freely and there is no hierarchy in the creative process. I have had the opportunity to work in several creative spaces and have noticed that the quality of the end product or project improves when everyone can contribute their ideas. Valuable insights can come from anyone, regardless of their position. I have seen janitors who have had better views than creative directors. Thus, everyone involved in the creative process should have the chance to leave their imprint on the project.

A common saying in the film industry resonates with me: there's the film you write, the movie you direct, and then the film you edit. This saying highlights how the creative process can lead to significant changes at each stage of filmmaking, resulting in a unique end product.

What type of movies do you do? What genre are you most drawn to and why?

I've mostly done dramas up to this point, but I want to venture into comedies and sci-fi. These days comedies are risky since everyone gets offended by everything, but you know what? I don't care. Society has gotten to the point where if you laugh at something and someone gets offended, then you need to apologize. What?? I'm not with that. People take themselves and their causes too seriously, straining their ability to laugh at themselves. Besides, I can't be the only one who's tired of watching preachy comedies that aren't even funny. Spare me with political correctness already. Nobody's got time for that!

What is the importance of using our talents as role models for our children?

Very! I didn't grow up with many role models in Chicagoland, so it was hard to figure out who to emulate. There was no shortage of pimps, drug drugs, gang bangers, and robbers, so many of my friends followed suit.

Would you consider yourself to be a role model for our younger generation? What is your responsibility to them?

Being a role model is crucial today, but I don't know if I can consider myself one. I've made several mistakes in my life that disqualify me from this title. However, it's subjective and depends on who's looking up to me. No matter how often life has thrown me off track, I've always managed to pick myself back up. So, if that's what it takes to be a role model, then I've got it covered. I may not be perfect, but resilience and determination in adversity are just as important as any other quality.

What moral boundaries, if any, have you set in your industry pursuits? What will you not do for fame?

I decided long ago that I wouldn't compromise my values for fame, recognition, or wealth. I've witnessed many individuals sacrificing their integrity to get ahead, but that's not me. I believe that God has given me the talent and passion for filmmaking, and it's my responsibility to use it to align with His principles. For me, that means not producing any films, or T.V. shows that follow the Hollywood system of indoctrination. If someone proposes an idea that conflicts with my beliefs, I won't pursue it. Ultimately, I'd rather receive praise from God for being a faithful servant than be accepted as an insider in "Hollyweird."

What's your dream?

I have many dreams, but my 'why' is to send one million at-risk kids to Bible college and to teach those kids how to use their God-given gifts for His Kingdom fearlessly.

What is the goal you want to reach in this industry?

I just want to continue to get better at what I do, keeping my focus on God and what He says is possible. Throughout my time in this industry, I've always had naysayers voicing their opinion that I'd never make it, so to have even made it this far is truly a blessing.

I would like to know what your ultimate dream film would be.

I want to win five Academy Awards. That would be my major, and this is my goal.

What are some of the struggles that you've had to overcome as a filmmaker?

I started my film journey twelve years ago when my ex-wife walked out on me and told me, "You'll never make a dime!" Since then, I've moved at least 30 times, been homeless, fired, stabbed in the back; you name it, it's happened to me. The film industry can be a brutal, unrelenting experience that'll keep you down if you let it. Ultimately, it's up to you to stay focused on your goals and keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles.

Now that we've talked about struggles let's discuss the opposite. What are some of the high points in your journey so far?

I've been blessed with many high points in my journey so far! One of the biggest was going to the Sundance Film Festival. It was such a fantastic experience to be a part of such a prestigious festival. Another highlight was working for Francis Ford Coppola. He's such a legend in the industry, and it was an honor to work with him. I've also had the opportunity to meet some incredible actors along the way, like Susan Sarandon, Lakeith Stanfield, Issa Rae, and Steven Yeun. It's always so inspiring to meet people who are so talented and passionate about their craft. So many great moments have made all the struggles and challenges worth it.

Do you see yourself being a filmmaker for the rest of your life?

It's hard to say for sure what my future holds in terms of my career as a filmmaker. While I love film, I also have a deep passion for clothing design, food, and teaching youth how to use their talents for God's Kingdom.

As for filmmaking, there are examples of filmmakers who had early success but haven't been able to sustain it and others who continue to create brilliant work despite their age. It ultimately comes down to whether or not I still have interesting stories to tell. I never want to reach a point where I'm creating content to remain relevant. If that were to happen, I would be better off transitioning into a producing role and using my experience to support and guide up-and-coming talent. Ultimately, whatever I do, I want to ensure it aligns with my passion and purpose. Whether through filmmaking or another avenue, I want to positively impact the world and inspire others to do the same.

What does a typical day in the life of a filmmaker look like?

Well, it's all over the place. Some days you're on the phone all day trying to get someone to invest in your next project; others, you're just hunkered down working on your script or editing footage.

When you're in the early stages of a project, it's all about research, scouting locations, and finding the right people to work with. You're constantly supervising the crew during filming and working with actors to get the best possible performances.

After filming wraps up, it's time for the lengthy post-production process, which can involve hours and hours of editing, sound mixing, and special effects work. And once the project is complete, it's time to promote it, whether at film festivals, screenings, or social media.

So, there's no typical day in the life of a filmmaker. It's constantly changing, and that's part of what makes it exciting. You have to balance the job's creative and business aspects and stay focused on your goals no matter what.

In short, what process do you go through to make a film?

The process of making a film typically involves several stages, including writing the script, pre-production (which includes casting, scouting locations, creating storyboards, and creating a budget), production (which involves filming on set or on-site), post-production (which includes editing, sound design, and adding visual effects), and finally, distribution and marketing. The process can usually vary depending on the project and the filmmaker's approach.

How difficult is it to raise a budget for filming?

So, as a former production coordinator for a T.V. studio, I've had a lot of experience with putting together budgets. That part comes naturally to me. However, what I need help with the most is finding the funding for those budgets. It's one of the most challenging parts of being a filmmaker and can be discouraging sometimes. I spend much of my time looking for money for my film projects, but I have to keep pushing through and staying hopeful.

What was the wildest experience you've ever had on set while filming?

I worked on the A.B.C. miniseries 'When We Rise' in San Francisco's Castro district about six or seven years ago. Since it was fall, I was anticipating some chilly weather, but I certainly wasn't expecting to see so many people walking around the streets completely naked. This unexpected sight caught me off guard, and I looked down at my feet for much of the shoot.

What was the most embarrassing experience while filming on set?

During my first job as a producer, I had an embarrassing incident with the Berkeley Campus security. It all started when one of the staff mistook me for a classroom intruder, and before I knew it, I was being chased across the courtyard by two security guards on a go-cart. The film crew found it all pretty amusing, and from then on, it became an ongoing joke throughout the rest of the filming. Looking back, it was a memorable moment and a reminder to always have a good sense of humor in this industry.

What are your plans regarding your filmmaking career? What's next for you?

I'm seeking funding for my first feature film, "Counterfeit Cabernets." I reverse-engineered this project, knowing I probably wouldn't get much money to do my first project, so it's a character study project with interweaving plotlines.

I don't have any money for this project, but I'm praying God will make a way where there seems to be no way! I don't know how it will come to fruition, but I have the faith to believe it will. Indeed, He didn't bring me this far to leave me. Pray for me!

What new films do you have, and where can they be seen?

Most of my films have been uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo. The best way to see them is to visit my website, where you'll find them under the completed projects tab.

If you could advise someone just starting in the movie industry, what would it be?

To aspiring filmmakers, I suggest taking the time to sit down and think about why they want to pursue a career in the film industry. Many people are drawn to the industry because they believe it's all about glitz and glamor, but they don't realize the amount of rejection, setbacks, and challenges that come with it. It's important to understand that success in this industry takes time, hard work, and dedication.

Therefore, budding filmmakers should take the time to study the business side of filmmaking before diving into this industry headfirst. The film industry is not for the faint of heart, and understanding the ins and outs of the business can be just as important as mastering the creative side of filmmaking. By taking these steps, aspiring filmmakers can better prepare themselves for the challenges ahead and increase their chances of success in this competitive field.

Photo Credits:

Kareem Gedra - Photographer

Devindra Sooknanan - Gaffer

Mimi Vazquez



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Disclaimer: The words of inspiration posted by The Indie Post, written within ( The New American Standard Version Bible Verse) are not the words of the above interviewed. "John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him." "Romans 10:9-13 9 [f]that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10for with the heart a person believes, [g]resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, [h]resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE [i]PUT TO SHAME.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13for “EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

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