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David Johnston | SHOOT New Directors Showcase Event
David Johnston

Breast Cancer Awareness’ “Stare” (PSA)

David Johnston

1) How did you get into directing?
I got into directing by way of being an editor. I wanted to start making my own images to manipulate, rather than always using someone else’s. I started off by making little edits of everyday things—taking the dog to the park, riding the train, going fishing—just to get practice making images and editing. Then people started telling me that my work was great and that I should think about directing. From there I started to think about a way to make my images into something more. Sometimes editing can be a little reclusive for me. I really like getting out and about from time to time. The interactions you have with people when shooting align well with my personality.

2) What is your most recent project?
I most recently collaborated with a few co-workers to do a PSA for Breast Cancer Awareness. So many people have been affected by breast cancer and lost love ones, friends and family. It was a great opportunity to use our talents to give back and honor those who have fought this terrible disease. It was amazing to see a team of people so passionate about giving their time to do this piece. I’m very proud of what we accomplished.

3) What is the best part of being a director?
For me the best part is looking through the lens and imagining the edit. As images appear in the viewfinder of something happening real time, I’m already bouncing a composition off of other images and thinking about how they’ll work together. It’s really exciting. It inspires what to shoot next and how to shoot it. The edit is already starting well before the footage is offloaded onto a hard drive.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
I think the most difficult thing is having a clear image, idea or look in my mind and being able to communicate that to someone else and have them understand. Whether it’s a client or a colleague on set, the hardest thing is getting everyone to understand your vision, embrace it, and then execute within that vision. It’s easy to get frustrated when people don’t understand, but you need to keep that in check, be patient and explain.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I love graphic, in-your-face images mixed with natural textures and motion. I love candid moments, natural interactions, spontaneity, travel, nature and the great outdoors. My career focus is being able to align my passions of my everyday life to what I shoot and what becomes my work. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself because I think you can take your own perspective and approach and apply to any discipline.

6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
My mom is my life mentor. Everyday she wakes up she could tell you that she loves her job. It still excites her to go to work and she embraces the challenges and genuinely loves what she does. Although I work in a very different profession (she’s a physical education teacher), I’ve always aspired to love my work, not dread what I do, but instead feel fortunate for all I have. We are lucky enough to work in a creative industry. Everyday we get to come to work and come up with ideas and exercise our passions. It’s easy to lose touch with how lucky we creative types are. For many, this is the job we always dreamed of and many aspire to, it’s time to embrace it and not self-loathe because of stress, pressures or deadlines.

7) Who is your favorite director and why?
Most recently I’ve been inspired by Romain Gavras’ work. It’s real, and gritty, and from an international perspective. Watching one of his videos takes you on a trip without the airfare. You see the sights, hear the sounds, and it almost feels like you can smell the air.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Dances with Wolves was my favorite movie growing up and still is to this day. I remember when I first watched it, feeling a sense of being there. Like I had been transported back in time to fields of bison, living on the frontier. The scenery was so breathtaking in that movie and I always had a fascination with the Plains Indians. I must have watched that VHS 40 times with my sister. I have passion is shooting landscapes and nature and a lot of that can be attributed to watching this movie so many times.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
Before getting into editing/directing, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa, for two-and-a-half years doing Agroforestry work. I lived as the only American in a village of 1,500 people. During this time I was able to explore my passions for photography, music and language, while also contributing to an amazing program.

I grew up in Minneapolis, MN, and kind of ended up in New York by accident. New York was never really a place I aspired to live, but it’s really stuck with me. I love how diverse the city is and the challenges that it presents on a daily basis. The in-your-face nature of the city helps break us out of a routine sometimes and makes us more aware what’s going on in the world around us.


Sarah Roebuck
Executive Producer