Derek Wayne Johnson [Interview]

 

Hey Folks! It’s officially the end of our first week back in 2020, and we are pulling no punches when it comes to making a triumphant return! Today we have a man who I would have once mistakenly far too simply called a brilliant documentarian. Which I have learned would be absolutely foolish, and I owe our guest a serious apology for this. Sorry Derek! It’s filmmaker and actor Derek Wayne Johnson, everyone!

To be fair to myself, Johnson has done some pretty great work in the field of documentaries, including the film that first drew my attention to him, which would be John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs. It’s a MAGNIFICENT film. I went on the hunt for films like this recently after having the wonderful opportunity to review a brilliant doc about the now late and always great filmmaker Larry Cohen. And what I discovered was a wonderful produced film in Underdogs, and was very anxious to get the film’s creator to grace our digital pages.

And as it often comes to be, we learned so much for about Johnson that we ever expected, as he was kind enough to give us some very insightful and thoughtful A’s to our Q’s. For a little insider knowledge, we never really know how Folks are going to respond to our (sometimes intrusive seeming) questions, and we are ALWAYS delighted when these incredibly talented (and obviously very BUSY) artists are willing to give so much thought into what we had to ask. Needless to say, Derek does not disappoint in this absolutely wonderful interview I have for you below!

So, Folks, please enjoy some incredible words from the brilliant Derek Wayne Johnson!

 

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What inspired you to get into the world of entertainment? Was it something you have always dreamt of doing as a youth, or did you happen to find yourself in this world one day?

I’ve been wanting to make movies since I was 3 years old. The first movie I remember seeing at the cinema was The Karate Kid Part II and I was mesmerized. Growing up on VHS tapes, movie rental stores and cable TV, there were so many influences. Something about movies and storytelling captivated me. While most kids were doing whatever it is that kids do, I was dreaming up scenes, shots, characters and stories while my imagination ran wild.

I started making short films in high school and that carried over to film school at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, LA, the productions moved upstate to Shreveport. Being an hour and a half away from Shreveport while making films at SFA, I got my foot in the door on Hollywood and Indie productions.

What was your very first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And were there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that you still utilize in your work today?

I wasn’t paid to make a movie until I was in my 20s, but my first official paying job was taping football practice every day my senior year of high school. The summer in between high school and my freshman year of college I was offered a job at my local radio station as a Radio Producer, to which I accidentally kept the phone lines On-Air one night and the whole town listened in as I talked to one of my buddies about girls and how bored I was. Thankfully an honest elderly lady called the station and alerted me of my mistake.

But I would say my first gig on a higher scale in entertainment, and certainly my first Hollywood gig, was as a recurring extra on a TV show called Thief starring Andre Braugher, Clifton Collins, Jr. and Mae Whitman. I was a senior in film school at SFA at the time and would drive over to set and absorb as much knowledge as I could. The main thing I learned from this experience was to never tell your friends and family that you were an extra, being that when they tune in to see you on TV and only see the top of your head out of focus in the background, it’s disappointing.

A couple of years ago you had an incredible documentary come out entitled John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs. I am curious to know, although it seems somewhat obvious, about what inspired you to develop this project about the legendary Mr. Avildsen?

l never intended to make documentaries but have always been a fan of them. For example, I loved I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale and The Kid Stays in the Picture and His Way, among others. I stumbled upon John Avildsen’s YouTube page while studying interviews of some of my favorite directors while preparing to shoot my fourth feature film, as a way to get inspiration and learn a few pointers before production began. While listening to an old interview of John I noticed it was posted from his personal page, so I sent him an email. The email was half fan/half business as he was one of my directing heroes and made my two favorite films of all-time, Rocky and The Karate Kid. I couldn’t believe it when he emailed me back.

From there, we began a friendship to which I offered him two scripts to direct. He turned me down, but not before I paid him $1,000 to script doctor the first one. Realizing the opportunity I had in my hands and not willing to give up, I asked him if I could make a documentary about him. He said yes, and then we were up and running. He and his films completely changed my life so this was a way for me to repay him for inspiring me as a kid and as a filmmaker. By the way, he told me a couple of years after I paid him $1,000 to script doctor that he never expected me to actually follow through, but he kept his word and critiqued and tweaked every page. It was the best investment of my life.

 

 

You have done so much incredible work as an actor, writer, director, producer, and more. So with that, I am curious to know what your favorite format is to work in? If you were only allotted the chance to work in one field for the remainder of your career, which would it be?

I am first and foremost a director and that is the field I excel in and would choose if I could only choose one. And it would be in narrative feature films. Don’t get me wrong, I grew to love documentary filmmaking, but my true calling and passion is narrative feature filmmaking. As a kid, I wanted to be an actor and a director, but I realized that acting was more of a way for me to make connections, get an agent and get noticed.

I always say this: As a kid I wanted to be Indiana Jones. As an actor, I wanted to play Indiana Jones. But what I grew up to realize is all that time I really wanted to be the filmmaker who MADE Indiana Jones. To me, telling a story in 90 to 120 minutes is a high art form, but I don’t mind an occasional documentary if that is the medium the story would work best as. Case in point, my latest three documentaries: John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic and STALLONE: Frank, That Is. But, I cannot wait to get back in the director’s chair on a narrative feature.

If you were handed the opportunity to create and portray any legendary figure in American history in their biopic, who would it be?

This is a tough one. Since I no longer am an actor, I must say that as a filmmaker I would want to tell the story of…geez, I just can’t think of anyone at the moment! Haha.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Recently, my producing partners and I formed Cinema 83 Entertainment, focusing on feature films, and Cinema 83 Documentary Films which focuses on documentaries. We intend to balance productions in both mediums of narrative features and documentaries and I am currently hard at work on rewrites on my feature scripts. However, we do have a couple of documentaries releasing this year including 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic, narrated by Sylvester Stallone, and STALLONE: Frank, That Is about Sylvester’s Grammy and Golden Globe nominated brother Frank.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I was going through some emails this morning and found one from Sylvester Stallone from a few months back where he said to me, “You are a man with the soul of an artist.” That made me smile and it reminded me to keep moving forward and tell stories that need to be told in the way that only I can tell them.

 

 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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