Tyson Wade Johnston
By Leslie Wong
Tyson Wade Johnston was born in a small town in Australia that you’ve probably never heard of (Albury-Wodonga? Say that three times quickly without stuttering). According to this young talented director, “There was no better place to grow up & no better people to grow up around – but it reached a point where if my family didn’t leave, we would be tied down in that town forever… So we packed up & moved to America.” A bag packed and his family in full support of his dreams, Johnston moved to America to pursue a career in filmmaking. In the time he’s been here, this young man has done more than most people in their early 20’s, some would say even more than most in their lifetimes. He says, “My life is literally just binge-working through the week, binge-drinking through the weekends & binge-meeting-new-faces as much as possible.”
But not only is he spending his time “binging,” Johnston is also making amazing strides in filmmaking. Best known for his music video work and his short film Lunar, which he directed and wrote, Johnston’s career is taking off and Bellus Magazine got an exclusive interview into this brilliant man’s world. Watch out for this guy, he’s about to make some history. #tysonwjohnston
BELLUS MAGAZINE [BM]: What projects are you currently working?
TYSON WADE JOHNSTON [TWJ]: I’m about to move into development on a TV series I created inspired by Australian History – specifically the convict settlement & penal colonies of the 18th century. There’s a really cool project set up at Paramount that I’m a part of… I’m also reading a lot of scripts that come in from CAA & producers. I’ve really just been waiting to find the right one that fulfills all of my filmmaking fetishes.
[BM]: Do you feel you have total creative control when you’re directing or are there other powers that be that have an influence on how you direct? If so, how does that make you feel?
[TWJ]: Not at all. Every film with my name on it right now is the product of guerrilla/illegal filmmaking. No permits, no permission, no crew, no control over any of the locations. I love it, & I hate it. It forces my crew & I to travel light, improvise, think on our feet & it’s great to have my actors in real/raw locations… but the unpredictable nature of it does get frustrating. We’ll be shooting on an incredible location & someone will come out & say “fuck off”, and we kind of have to.
The aesthetic of my films should change once I have the time/money/crew to execute properly. I hope it’s still as fun.
[BM]: Do you like collaborating on projects or would you rather it be closer to your personal vision?
[TWJ]: I love collaboration. Working with concept artists/VFX artists/sound designers/composers/ cinematographers/etc, is definitely the most rewarding part of the process. These professionals are all incredible at their specific craft and they each one of them brings a crucial ingredient to the recipe of the film. As for the directing, I try to keep it personal. Selfishly speaking, it’s hard to invest so much time, stress & effort into somebody else’s kid.
[BM]: What do you think are the biggest challenges of being a director in Los Angeles?
[TWJ]: It’s really tough to grasp usable life experience & inspiration out here. It’s very shallow & repetitive – beach, hikes, restaurants, clubs, superficial people & places… None of that bullshit can encourage or influence art. You visit these textured parts of America like Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York & you’re so inspired by the location & culture… That doesn’t exist here.
Once or twice a year I go on a belligerent vacation with my mates from Australia or Colorado just to experience some intensity of life that you can’t get here. We’ve lost our minds in Guatemala, brawled in Mexico, gotten robbed in New Orleans, met the most insane characters from all over the world… It’s important & I pull from all of it. Next up is Europe.
[BM]: Do you think your age is a crutch or an advantage to where you are in your career?
[TWJ]: Age is nothing but a number. It’s irrelevant in this industry – all that matters is your knowledge of film, personality, talent & relativity to the audience. It’s never been an issue.
[BM]: What kind of movies do you love? Do you have plans to direct that genre of film?
[TWJ]: I love all films & genres – but the world building, design & imagination that fits into the Science-Fiction genre has to be my favorite. It provokes so much thought. I definitely plan on pursuing the genre heavily.
[BM]: What do you think drives you the most as an artist?
[TWJ]: The haunting thought of doing something that isn’t this for a living…
[BM]: If someone came to you and said they would fund your next project, no questions asked, no budget too big, what kind of movie would you make?
[TWJ]: Something small. In the $100K-10mill range. Some sort of contained, intimate Science-Fiction picture with a large spectacle. I like the first-time directors that come in with an impressive overachievement –Gareth Edwards, Duncan Jones, Josh Trank, Neill Blomkamp, etc.
[BM]: Name your Top 5 Movies of all time…
[TWJ]: Every day this question is asked I’ll give a different answer. Today I would say — Taxi Driver, Children of Men, The Hustler, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Irréversible.
[BM]: Who are your role models and why?
[TWJ]: Strictly speaking directors here – I like 4 breeds. The first being the type who make timeless films that stay relevant forever — Orson Welles, Kubrick, Coppola, De Palma, Scorsese, Tarantino, Leone, Hitchcock, etc. The second being the guys that make MASSIVE cinematic experiences — Peter Jackson, Spielberg, Cameron, Bay, Ridley, Nolan, Abrams, etc. The third is the directors who took the route I’m taking & have found success — Neill Blomkamp, Gareth Edwards, Fede Alvarez, Ruairi Robinson, etc. The fourth is the crazy European directors — Alfonso Cuaron, Andrei Tarkovsky, Gaspar Noe, Nicholas Winding Refn, Romain Gavras, etc.
Every name I just listed – they will come in and give you a film that NO ONE else could do. They’re not directors for hire, they’re unique. I feel like 100 people could have directed most of the films that we see in the cinema today. I hate it.
I need to find a way to be a hybrid of all of these guys – because they all influence me so much.
[BM]: In 20 years, what would you have wanted to accomplish by then?
[TWJ]: Just to have a great string of films under my name…
[BM]: Do you have advice to aspiring directors?
[TWJ]: Find a voice & a point of view that is consistent in your work. Abuse technology. Live in situations of madness. Live in the worlds of your films. Build a team. Expand your network. Watch a lot of film. Move forward every day.
Oh, and watch DVD commentaries/special features. It’s greater knowledge than any film school can give you.
Check out his short film “Lunar” here…
To find out more about Tyson Wade Johnston visit his website! www.tysonwadejohnston.co
Below are some production stills from his set…