Monday, 13 July 2020

I Interviews

Interview: A Visit With Jace Johnson

by Sherry Perkins

A few years ago, I requested an interview with Jace Johnson. As a freelance writer, I was looking for a story and Jace was in town shooting some scenes. With all the must-deserved prior Little Chenier buzz around Southwest Louisiana, his work schedule and my hectic schedule, the timing wasn’t right. It never happened. Or… maybe he never received the email I sent requesting said interview? Or… maybe he thought I was a stalker?! Who knows. Life happens.

Last month, I received an email asking if I’d like to interview Jace for this publication. I couldn’t believe it! “Of course,” I replied. When opportunities like this fall in your lap out of the blue, the best things to do are: 1) say, “yes,” 2) be thankful, 3) grab it, and 4) run away happily screaming like an idiot. I did all of the above!

Join me as we get to know actor, director, producer, writer, and Lake Charles native Jace Johnson who currently works in the film industry in California.

1. Q: As a writer, what has been the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Or the worst?

There are two things I often remind myself, and they are cyclic. The first is that failure is part of the process, and the second, is that there is no quick way to becoming a good writer. No matter the level of one’s talent, becoming a great writer is about the wisdom gained from experience—learning slight variations in tone, order, etcetera--nuances which affect the pathos of the overall objective--without being forceful, pedantic, or sanctimonious. Everything should evolve around the pathos—as the whole point of writing is to make the audience feel. There is a psychology to this process, and it takes many years to develop a sense as to how best to be affecting—shifting variables around to find optimum poignancy while maintaining a relationship with levity, to allow the film time to breathe. We need to not only be poignant, but provide emotional balance within the pathos and ethos. This is a sixth sense developed as one writes. One may get lucky and have some monetary success with writing early in their life, but that doesn’t equate to being a good writer. I wrote Little Chenier 15 years ago, and I would categorize that endeavor as being more lucky than good. I guess my point is, if you want to be a good writer—it’s going to take some time.

2. Q: There are so many forms of media for a writer: blogs, magazines, screenplays, television, novelist, short story writer, poet, etc…What prompted you into screenwriting?

I started out as a poet—just because I enjoyed the puzzle pieces of poetry--the symbolism, the flow, the rhythm. I was a Neurological Psychology major at Claremont McKenna College in California, and I had planned to go to medical school. Something didn’t feel right about that choice. I realized choosing that path would be solely to appease the worries of my parents. After graduating I went back to Lake Charles for the summer to make a decision. I realized writing was a rather precarious profession, but I’d rather die trying than die regretting. I had to accept that monetary success may never come from it. I packed my bags into my crappy truck and headed back to CA. As far as deciding between novels and screenplays it basically came down to me asking myself a question: When I conjure these scenes, do I envision them as a film or do I just envision them? My inspiration, though, had been novelists--mostly of a Southern bucolic nature. Faulkner, Twain, Steinbeck, George Washington Cable. I also had a fascination with Colleen McCullough and Gore Vidal. So, today I mostly write historical fictions and rustic Southern dramas. Occasionally there are fantasy and Sci-Fi elements. I guess I don’t discriminate much. I enjoy it all. I started at the bottom in film. Taking whatever menial jobs I could find on set, and I realized I enjoyed not just writing, but the entire artistic process of making films.

3. Q: In your opinion, how important is it to have a thick skin when it comes to rejection?

What other choice do we have? Give-up? Where is that going to get us? There’s something to be learned from all of it. I don’t believe in compromising, though. I’ve done that in the past and it ends in heartache. I’ve had distributors force my hand. I’d rather make something of a smaller budget that’s mine than lose artistic freedom. Embrace what makes you different and in the end it will pay off. We have too many writers obeying “the formula,” and that’s why we get the same banal stuff year after year. Take their advice and coverage and consider it, and sometimes it will lead you in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree. Never conform. Think for yourself. I think that is one reason I have kept my Christian faith after all these years in CA. I think for myself rather than doing what is popular or easy.

4. Q: Winning many awards, Little Chenier was a massive hit. Obviously, this character-driven drama resonated with many people. What do you think caused such a connection with viewers?

Honestly I think Little Chenier was a good film but not a great one. I was so young when I wrote it. I’ve learned a lot about life, love, loss, health, death, and failure, in the last 15 years since I wrote it. The last 10 since we shot it. All those things have made me a better writer. Little Chenier didn’t turn out to be exactly what I had envisioned. The original manuscript I wrote was set in Little Chenier from 1931-1952. It turned out to be a decent film, but I think the main reason it was popular, is because it was an attempt to portray part of our Southwest Louisiana culture in a positive light. The brothers were of love. There was an underlying Christian element to it that I think resonated with people. We did break our backs to get the actors into beautiful scenery which created an almost magical milieu--an atmosphere which most people around the country had never seen. That translated to wins on the festival circuit. It was average writing; I just got kind of lucky. I worked hard and there was some talent involved, but I didn’t know what I was doing yet. I think the film’s success was purely a result of hard work. Sometimes hard work beats talent.

5. Q: In your current project, The Sound of Southern Rainbows, you have an Indiegogo Campaign going to help you with funding. Can you explain a little how crowd-funding works?

Basically crowd-funding is an online source which allows a project to get to the masses, wherein, they can donate to causes they believe in—in exchange for certain perks. The good thing about them, if one gets the funding for their project, they are not beholden to an investor or a distributor—so no one can force your hand artistically.

6. Q: Can you give us an update on Charles Claiborne: Sojourn in Lake Charles? Back in 2012, scenes were shot in Lake Charles. Is the film complete and if so are you shopping it around?

Charles Claiborne, it became apparent, works better as a television series than it does as a feature film. I have some interested parties eagerly waiting for the first 5 episodes—which is why I returned to Los Angeles. I am working on the first season titled, “Charles Claiborne: The Cost of Blood.” This is a historical fiction which takes place during the Kennedy Administration--particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis and the start of the Vietnam War.

7. Q: Why do you prefer shooting your projects here in Louisiana? Is there a deeper reason other than growing up here? How significant is it for the economy to use local resources, such as businesses, personnel, landscape, etc…?

I love Louisiana and I prefer being there. Everything I enjoy doing is there—hunting, fishing, etc. I think most of my stories are Louisiana themed in some way. I don’t think there is any deeper reason for it--it’s just what I know and like. However, I do feel it incumbent upon me to try to make my films in Louisiana. I found Louisiana is a tough place to be as a screenwriter, though. It’s a great place for crew and actors at the moment, but there’s still not one literary agency I know of that represents screenwriters. All the screenplays still come from Los Angeles. I brought this up to the Louisiana Film Commission and they just shrugged their shoulders about it. Maybe that has changed some by now. I hope so. Anyway, Charles Claiborne is the only thing I’ve written that has scenes in places other than Louisiana. However, even that has sojourns in Louisiana. The character Charles Claiborne is a cousin of the first Governor of Louisiana, William Charles Cole Claiborne, and in one of the seasons they cross paths in New Orleans.

8. Q: Do your films have a spiritual connotation?

I’m Christian, and all my films reflect the deeper spiritual logos of creation. That’s the entire point: to make one feel, to move one to the realization that there are moments beyond the corporeal, to move one to do more than just exist. In some of my films it’s a little more overt, in others it’s symbolic or abstract—but it’s always there.

9. Q: What advice would you offer writers who may be afraid to step out of their shell? Whether it’s pitching for a publication, increasing our network of contacts, attending writing conferences, experimenting in different genres/forms, or simply trying something new, how important is it to put ourselves “out there?”

I’ll reiterate what I said earlier. Sometimes hard work beats out talent. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. Most of the time, hard work beats out talent. No one is going to knock on your door and offer you a contract. Hustle, get your stuff out there, but also expect it to be a long and hard journey. It’s not going to be easy, there are a lot of talented people out there that are willing to work hard—just keep your feet moving forward.

10. Q: Without writers, there would be no films, actors, directors, or producers. There would be no television shows, no radio, no books, no blogs. Writers are the building blocks, the universal element, in every form of media. How did you get started on your writing journey, and how has it evolved?

Well, I talked about most of this earlier, but, the first step was being willing to take a risk. I got myself to a place, Los Angeles, that increased the odds of being discovered by an agent. One can’t do this half-way. One can’t wish to make films and not take the risks. There’s no, “you’re a good person here’s a few mill to make a film fairy.” I had to leave my comfort zone. I was young and it was scary. I was only 17 when I first left for California. Just don’t take no for an answer. Make it happen. Start in a menial position and learn the craft. After a few years of being on sets, covering scripts, and being someone’s assistant, when you have a grasp for the basics, then start writing and make a film. However low-budget it may be, just make a film. Go from there.

11. Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say a little about The Sound of Southern Rainbows.

This film is a well-balanced drama about a rice-field cowboy’s spiritual journey to free the soul of his murdered daughter.

I believe the rice-field is the butter of our culture here in Southwest Louisiana. It has influenced everything from our music to our boudin, and this film is a celebration of our culture. The protagonist in the film, Kip Montet, was inspired by my favorite rice-field cowboy, my grandfather Douglas Price. The film is something we can all be proud to claim as belonging to our home.

You will walk away from this film knowing that there is something more than just flesh and dirt. You will feel God in your heart, gut, and soul.

To learn more about Jace Johnson, visit his website www.charolaisfilms.com and see how you can help support Louisiana talent. Jace is also on Facebook and Twitter.

After all the blood, sweat, and tears, the writing, editing, pitching, rewriting, wondering, emails, phone calls, laughing at yourself for having enough nerve to even call yourself a writer, and of course rejections, sometimes it all boils down to simple timing, and as Jace says, “…hard work.” Isn’t it odd when things come full circle?
 

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Sherry Perkins wears many colorful and crazy hats. As editor, ghostwriter, grant writer, interviewer, playwright, screenwriter, speaker, author of three chapbooks and a book of photography, she is constantly in motion. Her articles appear in over a dozen print publications and on various online sites. From flash fiction to marketing flyers to a blurb on a national tourism website in Ireland, Sherry loves the diverse creativity which writing brings. Visit Sherry’s blog at www.copperhead1864.blogspot.com. Her chapbooks of poetry, short stories, and flash fiction can be found at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00KWD9WEU

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