I always knew my path. I would make short films, for no money; and I would get better and better at what I was doing until I was ready to make a feature film. And now I’m in pre-production on my debut feature film ‘Side By Side.’ It’s funny how things go.
Has the path been as smooth as I expected? Probably not. But things are falling into place – and I have never been more confident about my work, and the reasons why I am doing it.
Independent filmmaking is hard. You have to be prepared – and I think that’s what all my experiences up until now did; they prepared me. Those big opportunities that almost-happened-but-never-did. Those screenplays of mine that were going to get made but never got the greenlight, or those short films I directed which were up for awards but never won. They seem like failures at the time – but when you finally, years later, find yourself exactly where you wanted to be; you realize they were really just pointing you home.
Screenwriting, and directing, were always about personal expression to me. What I like about Cameron Crowe films or Charlie Chaplin films is that you see them in their work. You feel their voice. You sense their humanity. By them being themselves; they create something truthful.
When I look at most of my failures; they were times when I was trying to please other people. I was trying to write the screenplay that the production company insisted on, or I was making a different type of short film because I thought I should appeal to people in a mainstream kind of way. But the truth of it now, on the lead up to my debut feature film; is that what it’s really about now is doing things exactly in my own way. The Daniel Johnson way. That’s why the producer believes in me, and that’s why the actors are dedicated. They believe in the script, they believe in what we’re doing. It’s about the story. It’s about doing something meaningful. And in so many ways – that’s more important than winning an award or impressing a Hollywood producer. We’re creating something completely in line with who we are.
I’m 26. Spielberg was 26 when he made Jaws. Chaplin was 26 when he cracked America. Michael J. Fox was a similar age when he landed ‘Back To The Future.’ I’m not comparing myself to these amazingly talented people; apart from to say – I always looked up to them and believed in their journeys, as creative people. They did their own thing and followed their instincts, and 26 always felt right to me. And here I am now, making a movie. In some strange, mystical way, it feels completely right to be doing it now.
I always thought my first feature would be a coming of age tale, about eighteen year olds deciding what to do with their lives. Instead, I wrote something else. But now I look at it—it’s exactly about that. It’s about approaching thirty and being desperate to leave a legacy; whether that legacy is the music you make or the babies you bring into the world. It’s about what happens when you not only focus on those, but you’re forced to; because of circumstances and road blocks life throws in your way. And looking at the world politically and environmentally right now, as I write this, in March 2011; it feels like the Universe is sending us all the same message. Stand up for something, do something important. For me, it’s making this film. It won’t matter to all the people but it will matter to some of the people. That’s what you hope for when you make an independent film; you want it to appeal to the people who are looking for something slightly outside of what Hollywood is offering. I hope ‘Side By Side’ can achieve that.
For more on the Indie GoGo campaign for Side by Side, please click HERE.
Daniel Johnson is a 26 year old London-based writer/director. He likes films that are authentic, that have integrity; much those like of his filmmaking idols such as Charlie Chaplin and Frank Capra. His debut feature film, ‘Side By Side’ is currently in pre-production. http://www.danieljohnsonfilms.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @danieljohnsonuk