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Rising Star Filmmaker Megan Freels Johnston: “Don’t try to please everyone but yourself; If you stay true to your creative vision, people will feel it”

Don’t be afraid to market yourself. There is a lot of competition out there and a lot of content. Artists and filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid to plug their work to their community.Create for yourself. Don’t try to please everyone but yourself. If you stay true to your creative vision, people will feel it. As a […]

Don’t be afraid to market yourself. There is a lot of competition out there and a lot of content. Artists and filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid to plug their work to their community.

Create for yourself. Don’t try to please everyone but yourself. If you stay true to your creative vision, people will feel it.


As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Freels Johnston.

Megan Freels Johnston is a critically acclaimed writer and director whose work is known for bold characters and equally bold twists.

Megan’s second feature film, THE ICE CREAM TRUCK, stars Deanna Russo, Lisa Ann Walter and Jeff Daniel Phillips. The film premiered in 2017, and was hailed by critics and moviegoers alike. It’s Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, on several “Best of 2017” horror movie lists and Variety compared it to Blue Velvet.

Megan made her feature directorial debut with REBOUND in 2014. Of the film, Rue Morgue said it’s “worth watching to the end for the unnervingly realistic twist ending” and Film Threat praised it for being “almost David Lynchian in its strangeness.”

Megan’s work as a writer/director builds on a successful, decade-long career as a producer, adapting and developing the beloved crime stories of her grandfather, Elmore Leonard. Megan produced Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, SPARKS, starring Carla Gugino and Eric Stoltz, was in competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Megan co-executive produced drama pilot THE ARRANGEMENT (USA Network), which later inspired her to write and direct her own material. Her most recent short film DEAR GUEST premiered at the Monaco International Film Festival and will be continuing to play the festival circuit in 2020.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Megan! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Igrew up in the suburbs of Detroit. I’ve always loved movies and have been interested in how they’re made. And although I considered myself a movie buff it wasn’t something I thought I would do as a career. I initially wanted to make a living as an artist. I had a few shows in New York and then quickly realized it was extremely difficult to make money as an artist so I moved to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had always wanted to live in Los Angeles. So I finally made the move out and got a job at a Talent Agency. I started out as the receptionist and worked my way up to being an assistant. I then moved on to work for producers and directors and just learn every facet of the business I could.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was working in a job I hated for this producer who I was just not a fan of. He was difficult to work for to say the least and then I got an opportunity to go work on a film on location in Canada. I would be going alone and it would be for about 6 months. Although I had moved to Los Angeles, I had known some people so this move felt riskier. What if I didn’t like it? It ended up being one of the most important things I did in my career because it really solidified what I wanted to do. I wanted to make films. I worked for director John Madden and he really taught me so much. After working for so many difficult bosses it was such a change working for someone so talented who could still be such a nice person.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember one of the first times I was on set I sat in someone’s director chair. It was a producer’s chair. Let’s just say it didn’t go over well and I never ever made that mistake again.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have a few feature films that were supposed to shoot this year. With everything being on hold I don’t know when productions will start up again. But in the meantime I have a short film DEAR GUEST which is playing the festival circuit right now.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity is extremely important in film and television. We have had the same stories for so long. Mostly from the male point of view and often the white male point of view. It’s time to hear more from other filmmakers. I think it’s starting to change but I think we have a long way to go. I’d love to see more than one woman win best director at the Oscars.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Get started earlier. I didn’t direct my first feature until I was 34. It takes a long time to make a name for yourself as a writer or director so I would tell people to start practicing as early as they can.

No one is going to work harder for you than you. This is something I learned along the way. If you are waiting for someone to make your dreams come true for you, you’ll be waiting a long time.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This one took me a long time to learn. I am always happy to help others but for some reason I’ve always had a hard time asking for that help myself.

Don’t be afraid to market yourself. There is a lot of competition out there and a lot of content. Artists and filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid to plug their work to their community.

Create for yourself. Don’t try to please everyone but yourself. If you stay true to your creative vision, people will feel it.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

That’s a hard one. I don’t think everyone has the stamina to do this. If you are familiar with Sisyphus the Greek mythology of the man who spends his life pushing the bolder up the hill, that’s kind of what it’s like.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I wish each studio would take a percentage of what they make from each superhero movie and create a fund for movies by minority filmmakers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My grandfather was the author Elmore Leonard. I think having a famous storyteller in my family and being exposed to the film industry at a young age from that vantage point was extremely inspiring. I also think having someone in your family achieve success in a creative field has a way of letting you see that you can make it if you work hard enough.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve always loved the quote “The biggest risk in life is not taking one.” I think it’s a good quote for life in general. People are afraid to try things and I think it’s so important or you might end up stuck.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with the director Kathryn Bigelow. I’d love to hear how she dealt with so much adversity and what it was like paving a way for so many women directors.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My twitter is @number1megan and my instagram is @meganfreelsjohnston I also have a facebook page.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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