Jayson Johnson of Strike Five Films: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A…

Posted on

Jayson Johnson of Strike Five Films: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

This filmmaking journey of mine has been a wild ride. There’s been so many ups and downs. Looking back it’s certainly not just about cameras and lights as I thought going into this. Over the years I’ve learned this journey is more growing as a person than a filmmaker. I’ve had to level up my health, my skills, my mindset — everything! I can honestly say I’m a completely different person now compared to when I first set foot on this crazy path.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jayson Johnson.

Jayson Johnson is an independent screenwriter and film director. Born in the Chicagoland suburbs to a creative family, he was challenged to seek out his own form of artistic expression and ultimately found himself drawn to TV. As a certified couch potato, Jayson used to watch 7+ hours of television every day. So when it came time for him to choose a major in college, it was an easy decision — Film and Television! Jayson attended Eastern Illinois University and studied Radio/TV/Film while working on several college peer projects. After college, Jayson landed a job with legendary filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola and worked for his “Crazy Ideas Department” traveling the country for a stage performance titled Wine, Daydreams and Memories. 4,000 miles and 23 shows later, Jayson left Coppola to work at Discovery ID and produced over 1,400 hours of show content. In 2017, Jayson launched Strike Five Films with the goal of writing and directing his own content. Since then he has made five films that have been selected to over 75 film festivals winning five times.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I rep the Bay Area, but I’m originally from the West Suburbs of Chicago. Back in the day, me and my mom would bond over comics and binge-watch all sorts of stuff. We’d go from badass action flicks to sports to cheesy soap operas. What was on didn’t really matter it was mostly just time spent with my mom. Afterwards we’d talk about what we watch breaking down scenes, lines of dialouge, SFX, etc… At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but looking back, I think this what sparked my passion for film.

Around this time, I started developing an interest in drawing and writing short stories. Me and my boy Scott Holdridge would take those stories and bring ’em to life, acting ’em out with our props and action figures. We were total dorks, but it was fun!

When it came time for college, I was clueless about what I wanted to do. So, I chose the College of Speech Communication as my major because I saw the the dean of admissions rocking a red bowtie while everyone else was stuck in their boring-ass neckties. A hasty decision? Sure, but later I learned the college had a Radio/TV/Film concentration which I happily jumped at the opportunity.

After college my girlfriend convinced me to move out west to California. I was a bill collector in Illinois and hated the job so I took the chance. What can I say I love taking risks. Once in California I landed a job working for none other than Francis Ford Coppola on his creative marketing team. Over the next four years I worked on a lot of creative projects but longed to do more. I felt I was a small fish in a really large pond so I decided to take another leap of fath and started working as a freelance filmmaker.

Over the few years I cut my teeth learning on low budget TV shows like “I (Almost) Got Away with It” and “Wives With Knives”. Eventually this got old so I ventured out on my own starting Strike Five Films. Since then I’ve made nine short films that have been selected to 80+ film festivals winning best project six times.

So, yeah, that’s my story, my journey from a comic-loving kid in the West Suburbs to a filmmaker making waves in the Bay Area. With any luck I’ll keep riding the filmmaking wave with my first feature film “Counterfeit Cabernets”. Stay tuned!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always loved film and wanted to be near it so when I saw there was an opportunity to audition for a low budget film in college, I leaped at the opportunity. The director held the audition in a hallway at the library so it was one of those are you in or out moments. I remember people looking at me hella crazy delivering these lines as “Siperian Barbarian” but in the end I didn’t care. This was something I always wanted to do so I just went with it. After I got the part I remember thinking this isn’t like any job I’ve ever had. At most jobs I looked at it as something I had to do, but with film it was something I wanted to do. After this experience I knew I wanted to continue in the industry, but little did I know it wouldn’t be as an actor.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I’ve had a lot of interesting moments on the film set but so far the best is when we were stealing a location at Cal Berkeley and the security caught wind of our activities. I

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I had the extraordinary opportunity to work alongside Francis Ford Coppola as the prop master for a traveling magic show called “Wine, Daydreams, and Memories.” This experience holds a special place in my heart because it allowed me to step into the role of a prop master for the very first time. It was all thanks to the unwavering belief and support of my friend and boss, Jimmy DiMarcellis, that I was given the chance to prove myself in this remarkable endeavor.

Over the course of several months, I dedicated myself wholeheartedly to crafting an array of props that brought a touch of magic to the show. From a hot sauce bottle that emitted a stream of fire to larger-than-life replicas of Coppola’s All Story Magazines, I poured my creativity and craftsmanship into every detail. Together, we embarked on a grand adventure, traversing the length and breadth of America, stopping at eight major cities along the way.

Among the many memorable moments, one particular show in Los Angeles stands out vividly in my mind. Amidst the hustle and bustle, I found myself in a predicament — I had inadvertently left the colossal Coppola All Story Magazine behind on the shipping truck. As the show commenced and I stood behind the curtain, a sinking feeling of dread washed over me. I knew that this mistake would disrupt the seamless flow of the performance. I braced myself, anticipating the consequences that would likely follow — possibly even losing my job.

However, to my astonishment and relief, Coppola simply shrugged off the mishap and calmly remarked, “We had a trick planned, but it seems we don’t have the magazine here. Let’s move on to the next one.” I couldn’t believe my ears. He effortlessly bypassed the setback, displaying a level of understanding and empathy that I had not anticipated. After the show, he approached me and kindly requested that I take my time in setting up the props, ensuring everything was in place. His casual demeanor and gracious response left an indelible impression on me. What an incredible guy he truly is. The Godfather himself!

The experience of working with Francis Ford Coppola taught me invaluable lessons about resilience, adaptability, and the power of forgiveness. It reminded me that even in the face of mistakes, it is possible to find compassion and understanding. I am forever grateful for the chance to be a part of such a remarkable production and to witness firsthand the humility and magnanimity of a true legend in the film industry.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Jesus, who has been a constant source of inspiration throughout my entire film journey. Although Jesus may not be a physical presence, his teachings and example have guided me in ways that words cannot fully capture. While there have been individuals who have lent their support in moments of need, it is my unwavering faith in God that has truly propelled me forward.

In the face of countless challenges and setbacks, God has always been just one prayer away. During the darkest moments, when everything seemed insurmountable, I found solace in my prayer sessions. They provided me with the unwavering belief that I could persevere and overcome any obstacle, even when it appeared impossible. Frankly, I struggle to comprehend how any aspiring filmmaker can endure this arduous journey without seeking guidance and strength from God.

I am eternally grateful for the unwavering presence of Jesus in my life, providing me with the courage and determination to pursue my dreams. His love and grace have sustained me during the most difficult times, reminding me that with faith, all things are possible.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

So, here’s the deal: I’m hooked on motivation tracks. I mean, I listen to those bad boys just about every single day. They’re my secret weapon for tackling the tough times that come with being a filmmaker. One of the guys who really gets me is Les Brown. The way that he speaks gets me everytime. One of my favorite truth bombs he drops is when he talks about, “You don’t get what you want in life. You get who you are!” I couldn’t agree any more.

This filmmaking journey of mine has been a wild ride. There’s been so many ups and downs. Looking back it’s certainly not just about cameras and lights as I thought going into this. Over the years I’ve learned this journey is more growing as a person than a filmmaker. I’ve had to level up my health, my skills, my mindset — everything! I can honestly say I’m a completely different person now compared to when I first set foot on this crazy path.

But you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve grown in ways I never thought I could. Even if I don’t achieve another thing in my filmmaking journey I can truly say the positive changes I’ve made along the way are well worth it.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity in film and television is a game-changer, and here’s why: It unleashes a vibrant tapestry of stories, breathing life into untold narratives that deserve to be heard. It’s an empowering platform for culturally diverse filmmakers, propelling their talents into the limelight and enriching our screens with fresh perspectives. Moreover, diversity confronts stereotypes head-on, expanding our horizons and nurturing empathy, dismantling the walls that divide us. In a nutshell, when we wholeheartedly embrace diversity in media, we pave the way for an inclusive and empathetic society, where every voice finds its rightful place in the rhythm of storytelling.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working on finding funding and distribution for my first feature ‘Counterfeit Cabernets’. If I had to explain it, it’s ‘Sideways’ meets ‘Pulp Fiction’ with some of that Bay Area shit sprinkled on top. To all of the readers we do things a little differently in the Bay so you’ll just have to tune in to fully know what I mean.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

Throughout our journey, we’ve achieved remarkable milestones, including participation in over 80 film festivals, winning six prestigious awards, and garnering recognition from notable magazines (special thanks to Authority Magazine!). While these achievements are undoubtedly gratifying, what truly fills my heart with pride is the profound friendships I’ve cultivated along the way. There’s an unparalleled joy in collaborating with a team of passionate individuals, where we harmoniously align our visions and work towards a common goal. Being on set with fellow filmmakers is an incredibly powerful experience, and I consider myself blessed every time I have the opportunity to share that creative synergy with such talented and inspiring individuals.

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

I start with a story or idea that’s first interesting to me. I think we’ve all seen a million films or TV shows where the whole intent was to bring in a shit ton of money and while I get it (it’s a business) that’s not the really cinema to me. I’m interested in telling a good, quality stories audiences can enjoy. I like take on issues audiences might find interesting. For example there’s a big black market of counterfeit wines so that was a driving inspiration that went into writing my first feature film, “Counterfeit Cabernets”. To be honest I’m a little bit fatigued of reimagined 80/90s franchises and superhero flicks. I for one would like to see original ideas that helped me to fall in love with cinema and I don’t think I’m alone here. Overall I think as long as I’m true to my love of film keeping audiences in mind, everything else will take care of itself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I had the power to start a movement that could bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be centered around promoting empathy and compassion. This movement would strive to break down the barriers that separate us and foster a deep understanding and respect for one another.

The core idea behind this movement would be to encourage people to step into the shoes of others, to truly listen and seek to understand their experiences, struggles, and perspectives. It would emphasize the importance of acknowledging and appreciating our shared humanity, despite our differences in race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any other aspect of our identities.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’d love a chance to meet Elon Musk and Marc Andreessen. Starting with Elon, I’m just a fan. I love his humble beginnings on how he and his brother started their first company sleeping on the couch and showering at the YMCA to who he has become now. He’s truly the most impactful inventor/entrepreneur of our time. Second, I’d like to meet Marc Andreessen. I love his investing track record and I’ve always heard of all of the VC investors firms, Andreessen Horowitz is one of the most fair and generous.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Website: http://jaysonjohnsonproducer.weebly.com

YouTube: @JaysonJohnsonshow

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaysonjohnson1/

Twitter: @jjtweet

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Jayson Johnson of Strike Five Films: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.