John Ryan Johnson
How did you get into directing?
I was 20, in college, and working at a Chinese restaurant. I worked in takeout and made friends with one of the food runners. All shift, every shift, he and I talked about movies. One day he comes in and tells me he’s applying to film school. Says he wants to direct. As much as I talked about films, I had never considered that as a career until that moment.
A month later, I borrowed a cheap camcorder and started shooting high school sports and editing highlight reels. Eight years of production experience later, I’m finishing up my MFA in Writing/Directing from NYU’s Graduate Film program.
What is your most recent project?
I’m currently directing and shooting a feature documentary, Dreams Don’t Die, which is about a 28-year-old Air Force Captain and his ongoing pursuit to achieve his childhood goal of playing in the NBA.
I’m also continuing to build up my commercial reel and developing a narrative feature film.
What is the best part of being a director?
People are different versions of themselves depending on the present company or situation, but when you’re on set directing, all that goes away. The responsibility, the story, the stress, the money–it all weighs so much, you don’t have time for self-consciousness or self-interpretation.
When you direct, you are who you are, and who you are is in the film.
Also, the moment when you’re watching the monitor and it matches what’s in your head.
The reaction of an audience watching your work, whether that means silence, laughter, fear, or applause when it’s supposed to happen.
What is the worst part of being a director?
There is no worst part. You’re the director.
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.?
My career focus is storytelling. Films, commercials, and music videos are the methods I’m concentrating on. Why limit yourself to a genre? I want to try everything at some point. If it works, it works.
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 most with you?
Professor/filmmaker Carol Dysinger from NYU is my film mentor, guru, and sage leader.
No one is patient. A filmmaker should be. That’s all I’m giving out. Get your own guru!
Who is your favorite director and why?
In terms of a body of work, I think it has to be Scorsese. There’s no other director who has so many films that I’ve watched over and over again like his.
What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
I love the simplicity and style of Jordan brand ads. A well executed non-classical ad like Epuron’s “Mr. W” is a great example of a company that champions creativity. Hilarious, thoughtful, effective.
Tell us about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up mostly in Sugar Land, TX, a suburb outside of Houston. Baseball and basketball consumed the majority of my life until the end of high school.
In my early 20’s, I did just about every random job you can think of: waxed floors, dealt blackjack, coached basketball camps, sold jewelry, waited tables, stocked liquor, etc.
I worked non-stop and met a million characters. I’d do it again.