"In the future, everybody is going to be a director. Somebody's got to
live a real life so we have something to make a movie about"
- Cameron Crowe
Welcome and thank you for taking the time to read this the first part of a series of interviews with the young, up and coming director Daniel Johnson. Johnson has been making short films for quite some time over the last ten years, and is currently in the process of finalising his web series, Sally the Life Coach starring former Coronation Street actress and current member of the Strictly Come Dancing series Natalie Gumede. The series is scheduled to go live in the early part of 2014.
Dan afforded the opportunity to talk to him at length about many aspects of his film-making career, but as one singing nun once said, 'Let's start at the very beginning, its a very good place to start'. I started by asking where did Dan get his passion for film-making from?
I don't really know! I've always loved stories, I was a big reader as a kid. I remember my passion for film coming more in my teens; when I started watching films at a ridiculous rate.
What was the first film you remember seeing and thinking I can do that?
I actually think it's the bad films that make you think 'I can do better than that!'. But I think with the films I really loved growing up, it was more an aspirational thing-- I'd think, 'I'd love to be able to create something that makes people feel something the way that film made me feel.' The films that make me want to make films are the great ones, or at least ones I consider great -- films that resonate with an audience, that leave you thinking about them for days after.
What did you do to enhance your film education? Did you go to a film school?
I watched films and re-watched films and wrote films and made films and then did all those things a hundred times over. I'm self taught in the sense that I have very little in the way of filmic education. I went to college at a time when the industry was going through a digital revolution, but they had us shooting on S-VHS and editing analogue. It was a really wasteful time for me, or would have been, but I kept making films in my own time and got to build contacts through my own work. The college improved a lot in the years after I left, they were just behind things at that particular moment. I got accepted at Bournemouth Uni but decided it wasn't for me. I started a film degree in London but quit after two weeks, I hated it. Its strange because a bunch of people from my course applied to me years later to be runners on my productions. There are no guarantees in this industry, the most important thing is how you educate yourself and who you work with.
What was the first script you wrote?
I wrote a 50 page script called 'Growing Up'. It was a coming of age comedy drama about a bunch of small town kids who were reaching 18 and trying to figure their lives out. It was pretty crap but my heart was in the right place.
Who are your major influences in writing and/or directing?
I like writer/directors who tell personal stories in their own unique ways; so in that respect I like Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Cameron Crowe and Woody Allen. They all have styles that are unmistakable. And they've alll made crap films too. But I much prefer a well-intentioned bad personal movie than a giant Hollywood film that dies in a puddle of intentional mediocrity.
Do you have a favourite film, or a film you keep going back to time and time again to remind yourself of your passion for cinema?
Nearly any Chaplin film. Or a Cameron Crowe film like 'Almost Famous' or Jerry Maguire'.
What's your favourite cinema? And most memorable cinema viewing experience with a full audience?
I love the Angelika in New York, and also the Film Forum. In London I like the obvious ones like the Prince Charles and the Screen on the Green. I also really like the main screen in the Cineworld Haymarket, it's big and old. I think the best screenings are on opening nights, when everyone is massively excited. Unfortunately I don't go to these much now, as they're not my type of movies but I think if there's a film like Harry Potter coming out, or a superhero movie, those audiences are massively energised and it becomes a communal experience.
What movies do you avoid and just generally avoid?
I find things that are very genre specific hard to watch. Like if something is clearly horror or sci-fi, I tend to get bored because those films are ruled by the conventions of their genre. And even if they break those rules, they're still doing it in reaction to an expectation. I prefer films that feel kind of genreless, they just wash over you and tell a story, like 'Almost Famous' or 'The Apartment'. Unfortunately these types of films are a rarity..
I hope this portion of the interview has been of interest to you. If you would like to see more of Daniel Johnson's short films then please seek out his website http://www.danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk/ and follow him on twitter @danieljohnsonuk
Stay tuned for more interviews with Daniel Johnson in the weeks to come all the way up to the release of Sally The Life Coach. Watch the trailer here