Exclusive Interview: Filmmaker, John Charles Gerald (JOHNNY)
What made you want to get involved in the film industry?
I believe I was born to be a filmmaker and didn’t even know it. God had a plan for me, so I was just getting prepared in the technical side to filmmaking for many years without knowing it. I made music for over twenty years and earned an audio engineering degree from one of the best and toughest audio universities in the world. I always wanted to be involved in Cinema. When I was five years old, I wanted to be an actor and I dreamed of being on the big screen one day, somehow, but I never thought I would be in my own movie. How ironic is that? I’ve always loved Cinema and today I can’t live without it to the point where I try to watch two films per day in my movie projector at home. I’m not one of those people that believes anyone can just grab a camera and instantly become a filmmaker. I think nowadays the concept of being a filmmaker is very distorted and far from the reality. Being a filmmaker is like being a brain surgeon; you are at the top of all the surgeons, you have to know so much and have so much preparation, discipline, organization, perseverance, patience, drive, consistency and so many hours of film study – wether is self taught or from film-school to truly be called a filmmaker. I think it takes time to make a good film and it takes time to become a good filmmaker; that time lived in the world as generic experience, solving personal problems and just simply existing, is essential to be a film director. You have to live life to understand how to tell a story. That common trend today of “I’m an 18 year old filmmaker“ just doesn’t cut it for me. No you’re not. You are an 18 year old that needs to experience what true emotions are, what real problems look like in order to represent them on the screen. One must live first to truly express the reflections of the world that surround us in a more accurate way. I’ve done several masterclasses with the world’s best writers and they all agree in the same thing. You have to live first to be a great writer. It applies to filmmaking as well.
From script–to–screen, how close did JOHNNY come to its original vision?
It didn’t come even close. At some point I just discarded the script and just started writing the scenes that we would shoot in the next week. Believe it or not, nobody knew what the film was about until they watched it when it was complete and finished in the first private screening. Please don’t try this at home! This is somewhat of an unorthodox approach but it happens, and I know I’m definitely not the first. Do I want to toss the script halfway through the film in every movie that I make? Absolutely not. Could it happen again? Who knows! Making a movie is an unpredictable process and a constant problem solving nightmare that eventually turns into the most wonderful, fulfilling and rewarding accomplishment a person could ever experience. A film rarely comes out as you plan it to be. I have never heard of a film director who wrote their own movie or even working with a writer, that had a finished product 100% exactly as it was, when originally written. Maybe with the exception of Ridley Scott because he is a machine and everyone knows it. He’s an alien!
What was your favorite day on set and why?
I love this question. There were many funny and memorable moments specially when filming with Gary. I remember when we were shooting the dining room sequence between Floyd and Johnny when Floyd slams his fists on the table and spills the milk. That night I was recording the sound in the field with the boom mic. I did not want to do ADR because I wanted a very authentic reaction and I needed the original sound so I was locked in my mind of getting the sequence all done in the field with minimal editing. That night, Gary’s refrigerator was sounding like a whale that had swallowed Big Foot and both the whale and Big Foot where screaming at the same time. We laughed so hard for so long making fun of that fridge that we just eventually disconnected it in tears of laughter. But the funny thing is that after the fridge was finally quiet because it had been unplugged, we started to hear the toilet dripping; so we went from the loud fridge to the toilet droplets and everything was being recorded crystal clear by the Sennheiser 416 shotgun into my Sound Devices preamp which makes it much worse because that is an extremely great audio set up. I believe we were still laughing a few days later about that night. Another memorable moment was when Gary steps out of the car and you see his pants dropping down covering his white socks. We must have laughed for about four hours straight about Gary’s white socks in the scene. My stories with Josh aren’t funny, Instead they are scary because I would go out filming extremely late at night with Josh, In order to minimize crew visibility and avoid bringing attention to us. We would go out packed with tons and tons of expensive and quite large set-ups of gear to the point of almost needing a truck load and we would set up in these pre-meditated locations and wait for the right moment to roll camera. One time, there was a homeless man who approached us claiming his territory with a box cutter infected with HIV telling us to leave or else. We had tons and tons of equipment splattered on the location. I remember even having a crane set up with a Ronin stabilizer attached to it and a Zeiss 35mm Compact Prime Cinema lens on the camera worth more than the vehicle we had arrived in and all kinds of extremely expensive gear laying on the floor and I was so afraid to get my equipment stolen, that I forgot about the infected HIV box cutter being waved at my face. I had a very funny moment with Bruce editing the sound of the bus stop sequence making a pitch shift to his dialogue in post but I will save that for another time.
What scene did you enjoy directing the most?
There were some sequences in the movie that I was ready to jump out the window and quit and other ones that I enjoyed. I cannot tell you a specific one but I enjoyed filming most of Josh sequences because his character is very cool. If I ever make a part two, I will definitely extend his time on screen. Filming with Gary was relaxing for me because he’d always make me laugh on set and aside from all the laughter, I absolutely loved his character. One of my favorites with Gary is the blood-squirting-belt-whipping, insane punishment scene. It was fun! Lots of fun!
What is the biggest obstacle you faced while making JOHNNY?
Everything was an obstacle from start to finish to be honest with you, but I would say the biggest obstacle was just dealing with the location and replacing bad cast and crew. The process of looking for cast and crew is just a terrifying nightmare. At first, I had my 1st AD who would help me a lot but towards the end, I had nobody to help me with anything. it’s a terrifying thing to be the only man navigating a giant boat in the middle of an endless storm.
What was your proudest moment during production?
It was when I realized I had finally finished the film. At a point, I didn’t think I was ever going to finish my movie. Doesn’t that happen to us all towards the end? Heck, even at first, I was like “How the hell am I going to pull this whole thing off? What did I just get myself and the others into?”
How do you get a film to stand out in the crowd in today’s landscape?
Great question! The most important thing in making a film is the story. There’s no question in my mind about that! I also believe that in order to stand out you have to gather a lot of checkmarks to really be considered greater than the rest and that includes many technical aspects that serve as an enhancement to the storytelling process. And this goes back to why I think anyone that claims to be a filmmaker because they made a five minute short with a photography camera that happens to shoot video or even worse, with their phone nowadays, is living a delusion far from reality. You have to use great tools. You have to take the time to light a scene properly beautifully and with a purpose that serves the specific moment in the story. You must have a strong reason behind every angle selected, your lens choice and so on. Was the story great? Yes, but was it poorly executed in the technical aspect of things? I believe there can’t be too many but’s or if’s to be considered great and that’s very hard to achieve. “Making a great film is a miracle” as the great Alejandro Iñárritu said.
What other filmmakers inspire you to do what you do?
I’m going to copy the following info from my website to answer this question only because I would not change a word.
My biggest inspirations are George Lucas for his perseverance and vision with Star Wars, Alejandro González Iñárritu for his impressive storytelling skills, Alfonso Cuarón and David Fincher for their outstanding broad range of technical skills, Stanley Kubrick for his mastery in composition and elaborate innuendos, David Lynch for his unique style and sound design involvement and Darren Aronofsky for his brilliant execution of dark psychological subjects that often torment his characters. Paul Thomas Anderson is also among my favorite directors. My vivid color and high contrast style is inspired by some of Scorsese’s films from the 70’s and some modern films such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie and Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water.
What is your favorite horror decade and why?
Even though there’s a nostalgia to films from the 80’s and early 90s, while I was growing up, such as Child’s Play, Poltergeist, Halloween, Friday The 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pet Sematary, Cujo, and even Christine and Predator, I still like the latest horror films though because of the technology enhancements. Yes, I did say predator. I was scared shitless of that thing and still am. It just gets more and more real with technology and the more real it gets, the scarier and becomes if the story is executed right.
What is the next step in your filmmaking career?
As I said in another interview, I want to explore the spiritual realm that nobody is stepping into in filmmaking other than Mel Gibson who is starting to show that spiritual interest in film. A person dies in an accident hit by a bus; now what? I want to show what people can’t see; and yes, it’s been done before but not the way I’m thinking of doing it. I’m not going to say too much about it and get too much in detail because I don’t want to be copied or give it all away too soon. I like mystery. I am a mysterious guy.
What I am planning on doing is absolutely amazing and rarely done before. The first film I ever watched in a movie theater was Ghost with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze.
I was eight years old and I was snuck into the theater by my mom (sorry mom) almost under a coat because I was under the age rating. That film struck me because it was so real to me to the point where I cried sitting in the movie theater at eight years old. Why don’t they do that nowadays? Why does it have to be so exaggerated and so out of context? Why not do something so real, it becomes a mind blowing experience and so scary at the same time? A good example is The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Now that right there, is a truly scary and petrifying film. I like the scary feeling when you watch a thief movie and you lock your doors and windows when you come home from the theater because you think you’re going to experience what you watched on the screen that night or you went to the theater and the experience was so realistic and supernatural at the same time, that you cannot sleep that night. That is what I want to do! On top of that, I want to deliver very clear, concise and impactful messages in my films where people actually go to bed and think “Shit, I don’t think I would ever want to experience that in real life”
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