Friday, June 27, 2014

Rian Johnson

With the recent announcement that Rian Johnson will be playing a major role in Episode 8 and 9 of Star Wars, I figured it was my due-diligence as a Rian Johnson and Star Wars fan girl to make my first “Behind The Scenes” post about the writer/director/folk music artist, Mr. Rian Johnson.

Johnson's films speak volumes of his talent. The executives at Disney made a perfect decision to utilize his skill and vision in Episodes 8 and 9 of the franchise so near and dear to all of our hearts. His motion picture body of work, Brick, The Brother’s Bloom, and Looper (thus far), are absolutely astounding, but what about the man who brought us these wonderful cinematic masterpieces? What is he like in real life? What are his hobbies, likes, and dislikes? How does he take his coffee? Does he even drink coffee?

This is what the people need to know. While I most likely won’t be able to answer all of these questions, as much to my dismay I'm not a personal acquaintance of Johnson, I can do my best with the resources of the magical Internet to try and get a better idea of what this man is like. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the gentleman who made me laugh and cry whilst watching The Brother's Bloom, cringe watching Brick, and sit on the edge of my seat during Looper. 

So, let’s begin at the start of his life. 

Rian Johnson was born in Maryland on December 17, 1973. He moved to California at a young age and ultimately graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1996.

The majority of his first film, Brick, was actually filmed where he attended high school in San Clemente, CA. 

Johnson finished the script for Brick when he was 23. Filming for Brick didn't begin until he was 30. This was due to lack of financial backing for the "unusual" script.

In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes in 2006, Johnson said this in regards to getting Brick off the ground:

"But it (getting Brick financed) was just a matter of sticking to our guns, refusing to change the script to make it easier to swallow, and not giving up until it came together. And eventually, it did. We figured out the smalled amount we could shoot for on 35mm, then begged and borrowed from friends and family. At the end of the day, Brick was financed entirely independently for just under $500,000. We then lucked out and got into Sundance, where we doubly lucked out and were picked up by Focus Features."
As an independent author, this is inspiring. It took them six years to get Brick up and running, and Johnson never gave up. I'm sure there were many times doubt and fear crept into his brain about his script, yet he never actually changed it to make it conform to any one's expectations of what his film should be.

After Brick was picked up by Focus Features and released on DCD, Johnson was free to start on a second project, The Brother's Bloom; my personal favorite of his work. For those who haven't seen The Brother's Bloom, I suggest you find a copy to purchase as soon as you finish this article. 

You can feel Johnson's passion and love for film making while watching this picture. From the actor's portrayals of their characters, to the intriguing and witty plot line, Johnson directed a true masterpiece. I've nearly worn out my copy from watching it so many times, my poor XBOX must be sick of reading it. 

The Brother's Bloom is the story of two brothers (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) who were con-men from a very young age, and what happens when one brother (Brody) decides he wants a change. Together, they meet a rich, eccentric woman who collects hobbies (Rachel Weisz) and hi-jinks ensure from there.

This being only Johnson's second motion picture, and the first following an entirely independent operation with Brick, the process was obviously completely different. This time he was working with bigger stars, larger sets in Eastern Europe, and with the financial backing of a major studio.  

In an interview with, Johnson had this to say about the changes:

"It was a concern of mine coming into this, because it was a much bigger production than Brick. We were working with bigger scale, bigger elements, bigger stars and all the rest of it, but it ended up being just as much of a pleasure. It ended up feeling very similar to Brick in terms of the environment on the set, so I was happy."

It speaks a lot to his character as a director and a human being that he can be thrown in a completely different scenario than his first film, and keep a similar morale on set. 

This film has a lot to do with the concept of brotherhood and what is means to be family and loyal to your kin. Johnson is actual a part of a folk duo with his cousin called "The Preserves". His brother is also an accomplished musician and Johnson himself plays the banjo. His love for his family especially comes across in The Brother's Bloom. 

After The Brother's Bloom came Looper, a film I'm sure most of you have seen or heard of. It was a wide release major motion picture that came out September of 2012.

Johnson reunited with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this sci-fi adventure with a much different tone than any of his other films. 

Which brings me to another aspect of Johnson's career I admire:

All of Rian Johnson's films are unique and can stand alone. 

I feel most directors fall into a funk at some point in their career where all of their projects have a stagnant feel to them. Which I suppose is a natural course of things, I know it happens to many an author, actor, and artist of other mediums as well, so it is only natural for it to happen to a filmmaker. 

And by no means am I saying this is an absolute. Plenty of directors and writers have more than successful careers staying away from this "funk", but unfortunately a vast amount do not. Johnson however is an exception, maybe not a rare exception, but an exception to the "slump" rule nonetheless. Brick, The Brother's Bloom, and Looper are all fantastic films, and each individual movie is completely different from the other. 

He has also directed a number of episodes of the hit show Breaking Bad that are critically acclaimed and have been nominated for several awards. 

I could probably go on talking about Rian Johnson and his truly gifted film making prowess for much longer, but I know you really want to go watch all of the Rian Johnson movies in your collection. So, in closing, Rian Johnson is a class act film maker. He makes entertaining, meaningful, thought-provoking movies, and most importantly, he makes them well. That is what Rian Johnson does, and I personally am so grateful for them all, and can't wait for more to come.

If the past is any indication to the future, Episodes 8 and 9 of Star Wars will be epic and awe-inspiring masterpieces that we'll be lucky to experience on the big screen. 

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