An Interview with CJ Johnson – By Brian Morton

Back in May, I had the chance to check out a very cool short called Creepers, a movie about aliens, terror and isolation. Well, one of the filmmakers involved, C.J. Johnson really caught my attention. His intensity and charisma make him a real stand out in this movie! But, as it turns out, C.J. is far more than just an actor, he wrote and produced Creepers as well! So, I thought that someone with this amount of talent and energy was definitely someone that our Rogue Cinema readers should get to know, after all, he’ll no doubt be showing up again.

*   *   *

 BM – CJ, thanks for taking the time.

CJ – No problem, thanks for asking me.

BM – Creepers was an excellent short, are there any plans to turn it into a feature?

CJ – Yes, there are plans to turn "Creepers" into a feature. When Nick and I first came up with the idea for "Creepers” we said, "let’s create something that feels like it should be on the big screen". The story is pretty epic, so, a feature would do the world we created some justice. In fact, I’m currently writing the first draft of the feature version. With a feature I’m able to give our story and characters more exposition and really polish what I thought didn’t work for us in the short film. The story is really flowing right now and the feature version of "Creepers" will definitely be a thrilling ride that promises to deliver big scares unlike anything you’ve seen before.

BM – I thought Creepers was great, what did you think didn’t work in the short that you’ll change in the feature?

CJ – With a feature I’m able to give our story and characters more exposition and really polish what I thought didn’t work for us in the short film. I think now, horror films have lost it’s meaning. "Horror" used to be something that will scare the living hell out of you and because it scared you so much you can’t help but love it. Now, we’re loaded with gore, cheap scares, and a predictable ending…I hope with a feature version of "Creepers" we can really do what "Jaws" or "The Shinning" did for audiences. The "Creepers" feature will be a lot scarier on a visual sense and "Bridget" and "Thompson" will be trapped in a house with two other main characters. So, it’s got twice the action, twice, the scares, and hopefully it can be made the way we always dreamed of and deliver big scares unlike anything you’ve seen before.

BM – How difficult is it to be the writer, an actor and the producer in the same movie?

CJ – The writing and acting aspects of “Creepers” went pretty smooth for me. Acting has always felt natural and I felt comfortable being able to bring a character I created to life. It also seemed easier to communicate with the rest of the cast about dialogue, characterization, and just the whole creative aspects of the characters. Now, the producing part was a totally different animal. It was the most difficult position I had because I had to switch off that creative mode and get down to business with scheduling, budgets, e-mails, phone calls, etc. Even while in production, as soon as Nick yelled, "Cut!" I made my rounds with cast and crewmembers to make sure everything was running smooth. It was exhausting but once you see that final product you can’t help but feel satisfied.

 BM – The budget on Creepers was obviously low, what would you have done with a bigger budget that you couldn’t get done as is?

CJ – Well, in the script, there were a few things we had to side step and change because of our budget. If we had a larger budget we would have shown actual UFO’s in our news broadcast scene and the visual look of the menacing creatures known as the "Creepers” would be a bit different. But, I like working with a small budget on some projects because that’s usually when the creative juices tend to pour out more.

BM – When you were growing up, you were what’s commonly referred to as an ‘Army brat’, do you think that had anything to do with you becoming a performer?

CJ – Since I moved around so much, I did gravitate to film and television because it seemed to be the one thing that no matter where I moved, it would always be the same. I watched TV shows and movies almost all the time. I used to act out characters I would see in movies. The one story, I still hear about is when I was a small kid crawling around with a toy knife in my mouth pretending to be Kurt Russell in John Carpenter’s "Big Trouble in Little China". It sort of evolved from that, a love for entertainment.

BM – You toured London at the young age of 15, doing Of Mice And Men, what was that like?

CJ – I was a part of a theatre program at high school where only the upperclassmen were able to audition for roles to go to London to represent our school. So, as a freshman, I auditioned for "Crooks", and my drama teacher really liked my audition, and basically bent some rules to let me be a part of the play. I trained with an acting coach from Los Angeles that was flown out to help us with our performance. He helped train Sarah Michelle Gellar before she hit that "Buffy" stardom. I was able to create the way the character "Crooks" should walk since in “Of Mice and Men”, the character of “Crooks” received his name from being kicked in the back by a horse. So, after all of our rehearsals, I was cut loose from my parents with a bunch of eighteen year olds in another country. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. I had to work with a high level of maturity because everyone I was surrounded by was older than me. Working with British theatre actors and just seeing the history in London made me really understand that acting is an art form that comes from the soul. I also learned the acting techniques that worked for me. So, it’s an experience I will never forget.

 BM – How did you begin collaborating with Nick Thiel?

CJ – Nick and I majored in film and TV production at the Art Institute of California – Los Angeles. So, for most of our time in school, our classes were together. We usually worked together and always seemed to be on the same page. Most of the time I don’t even have to say anything because Nick already gets it. He has a real great skill at listening and silently drawing out excellent performances in his direction. It’s very rare to work with directors like that, who are very humble. Our work just evolved from student projects into independent projects.

BM – What are you guys working on next?

CJ – We’ve been really happy with the all the positive feedback we’ve gotten with "Creepers" so, we’re really building on that. Right now, we’re still promoting "Creepers" and I’m writing the first draft of the feature version. Besides that, Nick has been brainstorming about some new ideas and I’ve been busy writing several projects and developing a promo for a new web series.

BM – How long until we’ll see that Creepers feature?

CJ – Hopefully, not too long but, the entertainment business is a beast. I’m knocking out the script and an estimated budget right now. So, from that point it’s pitching it to the right people in the right places.

BM – What can you tell us about the web series you’re working on?

CJ – I’m shooting a promo for a web series called “Venice Boulevard”. It’s a comedy about three best friends making their first film together in Hollywood. One of the best friends is an actor who’s a rising star, the second friend is a sell out still looking for a big break, and third one is named “the next Spielberg”. The promo should be down very soon.

BM – What would you tell someone who wants to make their own movie?

CJ – First, understand there is a lot of focus and dedication that’s involved with filmmaking. It takes a lot of time and energy that you have to be willing to give. If you’re looking to make your own movie, make sure there’s a solid plan that you want to execute. Once you’ve made that master plan of what your goals are with your project, make sure knock them out one step at a time.

BM – Good advice from someone who’s been there. Thanks for chatting with us CJ.

CJ – Thank you.

*   *   *

If you haven’t seen Creepers, then you should head over to the Creepers MySpace page, or to find out more about CJ himself, you can check out what he’s up to now by going to CJ’s home page. CJ is definitely someone who’s got the drive and passion for this business and we here at Rogue Cinema predict that we’ll be seeing much more from him in the future…plus, we can’t wait for a feature length Creepers, so get back to work CJ! We here at RC wish CJ nothing but the best and we’ll be keeping our eye on him so we can keep you up to date.