24 years: And 69 movies for young filmmaker
John Johnson looks like a normal 24-year-old, munching cheese nachos in a local Mexican food joint. But underneath his mild demeanor is a driven man.
In his short life Johnson has filmed 69 movies, including six full-length feature films and two 21-episode television series. His 14-minute video Darkness won "Best Short by Audience Pick" at the Blue Ridge-Southwest Virginia Vision Film Festival in Roanoke in April.
Currently the Charlottesville native is directing Alucard, a film version of Dracula. His will be the only film version, according to Johnson, which truly follows Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. "It was almost copied and pasted," he said. The action takes place in historic mansions such as Swannanoa in Afton and other local spots like the Downtown Mall.
The movie is an interesting mix of 19th century language and a modern setting. Instead of writing in a diary, for example, the protagonist, Jonathan Harker, writes on his laptop. The original soundtrack will combine medieval instrumentation with urban beat. "I think it's so unique in the way it's been done; it really gets your attention," Johnson says. "We're kind of inventing our own little world."
The Waynesboro High School graduate is also putting the finishing touches on FearFighters, a TV series that he describes as "comic superheroes meets universal monsters and phantoms." The show will premiere on Charlottesville's public access channel in July.
When Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards) wraps up, Johnson will begin filming the sequel to an earlier film, Skeleton Key, called Skeleton Key II: 667, The Neighbor of the Beast. He has another full-length feature called Aces, a fantasy film set in the 1940s, scheduled for production in late summer, and a horror musical, Organ Donor, in the fall.
In his spare moments, the young director is writing a book coming out at Christmas that will tell other film aficionados how to make movies with no money.
Johnson should know. The $954 budget of Alucard covers only film and special effects. The mostly local 100-member cast and 20-person crew work as volunteers, although lead actors and crewmembers will receive a percentage if Johnson sells the movie.
Which could happen, Johnson says. A distributor is interested in buying the film for release in video stores and might test it in movie theaters in big cities. If it makes money, it could be released to theaters nationwide.
Until then, Johnson's staff, like his personal assistant, Jamie Kollar, will work for free. Kollar quit her paying job to assist and chauffeur the carless Johnson. "I drive him everywhere," Kollar said. "I'm not getting paid. I've been doing it since October. If he weren't a cool guy, I wouldn't be doing this."