Don’t let ideas fade away; Store them. In the last few years, I’ve designed my own filing system for capturing creative ideas. Whether they’re dialogue-related, something I witnessed or overheard, a story that was shared to me, or an article I read, find a way to start archiving these so that you can sift through them at a later time in an organized manner.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Johnny Healy. Johnny is an actor, writer and director who was born in San Francisco and grew up in a small mountain town northeast of Napa, CA. After studying film at the Academy of Art University San Francisco, he moved to Southern California where he continued his studies at Santa Monica College while working as a videographer and interning on the TV show “House M.D.” Johnny’s work blends dark, eerie storytelling with nonsensical comedy. His most recent short film is “Queen Bee,” arriving on the heels of the gripping five-minute short “Realm,” which recently had its world premiere at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, and the 16-minute “Baggage,” which won a slew of awards on the festival circuit in 2016.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Johnny! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a mountain town named Cobb, aka Cobb Mountain, located Northeast of Napa County, California. This was a remote, wilderness location, with nearest restaurants and movie theater being a 40-minute drive. My sister and I, along with other neighborhood kids, would play outside and make up our own games that usually involved running, hiding, throwing pinecones, and catching bugs.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had spent the night at my friend Casey’s house and we discovered an old 8mm video camera in a closet. So we stayed up all night making our own James Bond film, incorporating our own laughable stunts. It was one of the most fun things I had ever done. My grandpa bought me a video camera one Christmas and from then on there was always a camera with me when we played outside. Cobb Mountain became one giant movie set, and its inhabitants were my cast (willing or unwilling in some cases).
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was about 30 years old and I decided to seek mental health specialists for support because I wanted to know why I couldn’t pay attention, read and retain information well, and some other things. Apparently I was living with ADD, dyslexia, social anxiety, and depression too. In the last five years, I can say what helped me the most in these areas are creating films. The note-taking and to-do lists required for a production, the writing and reading of scripts/breakdowns/schedules/callsheets, the responsibility of communicating to groups/artists/producers/technical personnel, and the just plain being busy have challenged me in a good way. I am so grateful that I have had these experiences so far, and I have every intention of keeping it going.
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 used to be an intern in the camera department on the show “House M.D.” I arrived late to the stage one night and couldn’t find anyone, so I wandered around the set until I suddenly heard the bell ring and someone call “Action!” When the cast and Steadicam rounded a corner and headed right for me, I realized I was going to be in the shot, so I pretended to be waiting for the fake elevator and they all passed right by me. I snuck off stage once I heard “Cut!” Lesson learned: Find the video village before you walk on set.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just performed as an actor in a short film directed by up-and-coming director Aris Mendoza. I am marketing my latest short film “Queen Bee” to festivals and I am ‘in the lab’ for the next couple of months writing a feature-length project that I intend to produce next year.
I’m 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?
Filmmaking is a universal art form, and we should be able to reach audiences all over the world. It is important that our films are relatable to a diverse group of people so that the stories we create can be celebrated and enjoyed by as large of an audience as possible. Also, including filmmakers with all different life experiences from different backgrounds opens the door to so many new styles of storytelling, which contributes greatly to our craft as a whole. We all learn from each other and the more people who contribute the better.
On a personal note, it’s heart-wrenching when I imagine my mother, who had a fair amount of challenges raising me and my sister, to not have been offered the same opportunities that I have had. It’s painful for me to imagine if my sister sells herself short because she is not able to visualize her own potential in a male-dominated industry. And it kills me to imagine my girlfriend deciding not to audition for a lead role simply because she is Filipino-American.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
I believe the awareness over this issue has been powerful over the last couple of years. Now it is a matter of action: I think we need to end nepotism in the industry, workers’ unions need to do more about enforcing a female workforce on shows, and producers need to carefully hire and cast a diverse creative personnel that can bring authenticity to the stories they want to tell.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Don’t let ideas fade away: Store them. In the last few years, I’ve designed my own filing system for capturing creative ideas. Whether they’re dialogue-related, something I witnessed or overheard, a story that was shared to me, or an article I read, find a way to start archiving these so that you can sift through them at a later time in an organized manner.
Be aware that this is a long-term game, not a quick payoff. Whether it is filmmaking or another industry, if you do not come from money, and you do not have family already in your chosen career field, this is going to take a lot of diligence and patience.
Invest in people. Your friends and co-creators are the most important aspect in your projects. Treat them well, always. You should collaborate with skilled professionals whom have more experience than you do; they will elevate your projects to a new level.
Don’t get cheap on yourself: Strive to make professional grade material. If you are creating a project, and I don’t care if it is a PSA, spec, short film, or a feature, if it represents your work go all out. If you cut corners it will usually show on the screen. I would much rather have a 10-minute film of high production-value looking footage on my resume instead of a feature film that looks homemade. Study your favorite movie scenes online and decide what makes them so great on a technical level as well as artistic.
Make short-term goals. Literally write them down and put them somewhere where you can constantly see them. Once you do that, you have to work on them a little bit every single day. You’ve lost a day, each day that you don’t work towards those goals. Bully yourself a little bit, some pressure is good if it makes you act.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would remind them that there are plenty of open spaces left for good filmmakers left in this world. No matter how much competition there is or appears to be, we need more talented storytellers based on what is being released these days.
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?
There are many people, especially my parents, that deserve recognition here, but I will take this moment to acknowledge my friend and mentor, Geoff. On a vacation up in Northern California, he came into the cafe I was working at when I was 16. He was a camera assistant on “Sabrina the Teenaged Witch” at the time and told me all about working in Hollywood. I stayed in phone contact with him and after high school he rented me a room in his Burbank house for a couple years until I could get my life started. I didn’t instantly become a movie star like I wanted, instead I had to mow lawns and deliver pizzas (among many other jobs), but Geoff challenged and encouraged me to keep working hard and to continue creating films and ultimately gave me what everyone in this town wants — a chance.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was in Karate as an adolescent, there was a poster on the wall: “When you are not practicing, someone else is. When you meet them, they will win.” I frequently have this thought of other filmmakers staying up late at night, creating brilliance, while I go to sleep in preparation for my ‘day job’ the next morning. So, I often don’t sleep enough.
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. 🙂
A lunch with Quentin Tarantino would be unforgettable, no matter what the discussion. I think he has mastered suspenseful story construction, and I had studied some of his scenes prior to my recent film, “Queen Bee.”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Instagram: @the.johnny.healy
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!