The Introduction (AKA It’s all about me) bit.
Over the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in my own small way with the promotion of a rather tasty slice of Sci-fi film making, Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter. For those of you who may have missed the news about this movie (it’s not all about Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Thor, you know) written by Neil Johnson, the science fiction film is set in the distant future depicting the overthrow of humanity by artificial intelligence on Earth and other worlds. The film stars Tracey Birdsall, William Kircher (The Hobbit), Daz Crawford (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Stephen Manley (Star Trek III), and Marilyn Ghiggliotti (Clerks).
It’s safe to say that 5D loved Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, for a start it looks wonderful, making the full use of some stunning locations both in the States and down-under in Australia. Some of the panoramic aerial shots in particular are incredible and fully utilise the use of drones (a genuine boon for any low-budget filmmaker) to provide a richly textured and fluid look to the movie. If you add to that some inspired lighting and taut direction, the result is that unlike other films of a similar nature in terms of limited finance.
It all serves to provide the viewer with a genuine sense of planetary and interplanetary scale. The irony that a film that deals with the notion of technology becoming dominant beyond belief in fact benefits from the increasingly complexity of technology, such as drones, is rather amusing methinks. This movie is quite simply a delight for the visual senses.
If all that wasn’t enough, the movie boasts not only a stellar performance from leading lady Tracey Birdsall, but also a fine ensemble supporting cast with the likes of Stephen Manley, Tim McGrath and William Kircher all equally good, whilst the character of the wonderfully named ‘Skullcrusher’ played by the excellent Daz Crawford almost steals the show at times.
Oh, and while I’m on the subject of that blog article may I just throw in the little mention that the piece in question only went and won the Shark Bite award for ‘Best Written Press Review’ at the West coast film festival!. To say that I was surprised (you’re not the only one, I hear you say) and delighted would be something of a cataclysmic understatement.
It therefore seemed like a natural progression for me that I approached the director of the film, Neil Johnson, to sit down and talk to me about the movie and the rest of his not inconsequential career. I did wonder if he would actually grant me an audience, because not only has he won a plethora of awards for Rogue Warrior, but he also won an award at the same festival that I won mine (did I mention that I won an award?).
It would be completely understandable if he was to feel as if his award was somehow put a little in the shade by my rampant success. On the other hand it would also be completely understandable if he couldn’t care less and was as amazed as the rest of the blogging world was that I had managed to string a few coherent sentences together.
Anyhoo, Neil did indeed take some time of his genuinely hectic schedule to tackle some of 5D’s legendary probing questions.
The actual point of this article bit.
So before you read the interview let me impart your way a few titbits about Mr Neil Johnson as taken from his website http://morphiusfilm.com/
“Neil Brook Johnson (born 26 July 1967) is a British film and music video producer, director, and editor best known for his long association with heavy metal band Manowar, and for directing and writing science fiction Films.
To date, Johnson has made over 500 music videos for bands like Manowar, U2 and Rhapsody of Fire. He has directed 6 feature films. His first film, Demons In My Head,1997 (now called Nephilim) is reputed to be the world’s first digital film. His second film, To Become One, 2000 (now called Bipolar Armageddon) was produced for exactly $2,196, as proof that you do not need money to make a successful film. His third film, Battlespace (2003) was the shot in Arizona and boasted over 500 digital effects, which, at the time, was considered by some to be a major feat before the digital film-making explosion.
In 2008, he made Humanity’s End, a film about the last man in the universe being hunted down to extinction by a race of beings known as the Nephilim. In fact, all his films take place in the same universe and all contain Nephilim as characters dominating mankind. In 2009/2010 he made the film Alien Armageddon. It was originally called Battleground Los Angeles, but when 2 other films with similar titles were announced, the name was changed. The film continued the story in the Nephilim universe, tying up all the loose ends. It featured the better known actors Claudia Wells – Back to the Future, Virginia Hey – Mad Max 2 and Marilyn Ghigliotti – Clerks.
2011 saw the release of Alien Dawn, a direct take on The War Of The Worlds. The film was set in modern times and showed Los Angeles decimated with Martian tripods, more akin to George Pal than the original H.G. Wells version. Johnson stated in a number of interviews that he would one day do a proper version of The War of the Worlds once the rights became clear in the UK
In 2012, Johnson made the film, Death Machine (Doomsday) in the UK, following the death of his best friend, Philip Burthem. He stated in an interview on the Geekscape podcast that this film was his personal favorite, born out of the pain of his loss. In 2012-2014 he made the films Starship Rising and Starship: Apocalypse. Both films were shot back to back and were shot on Johnson’s own studio soundstage, Morphius Studios. The films were shot and produced in 4K resolution.
Early 2015, he shot the film “At The Edge of Time” (The Time War) starring Tracey Birdsall (Tick Tock) and Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men). The film is currently in post production. Later in the year he shot the film “Rogue Warrior”. The film is completed and will be screening in theaters across the U.S. in 2016. The film has already been nominated for a number of awards at upcoming festivals and stars Tracey Birdsall(Tick Tock), William Kircher (The Hobbit), Daz Crawford (Agents of SHIELD) and Stephen Manley (Star Trek 3).”
The Interview Bit.
Q) So let’s do the mandatory early life stuff – tell us about your formative years growing up…. happy/sad/mixed up/normal ?!
It wasn’t normal, thats for sure. I was born in England, and then my parents moved to Australia. So I had the advantage of not fitting in. I enjoyed being alone… I was always into writing stories since about the age of 5. Around the age of 7, my karate teacher loaned me a super-8 camera and the rest was history. My father was building a 32-foot boat in the back garden so I repurposed some of the wood and built a giant spaceship. Nothing’s changed really.
Q) For me it was The Hobbit, 2000AD comic, Doctor Who & 2001 A Space Odyssey that ignited my love of Sci-fi & fantasy as a kid in the ’70s. What was it for you?
It was “The War of the Worlds” & “The Time Machine” firstly. I did read 2000AD when I could because my cousin Paul was into them…. but this was around the age of 12 when the 70’s were ending. Obviously Star Wars was a big thing, but being in Australia, it was hard even finding the comics. Thankfully I found a comic store in Brisbane, Australia… Basement comics (now called the Daily Planet) in 1980 when I started high school. This really fueled my interest in movie-making (reading things like Starburst, Starlog and CineFX). I am still friends with the owner of the comic store to this day…. Brian… a really great guy who even came to my father’s funeral… says a lot about good people. The thing I miss the most is the smell of old comics and old bookstores. But I sure don’t miss vinyl records!!!!
Q) My personal Sci-fi obsession is La Jettee (1962) – the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. What’s your one sci-fi obsession? (not counting your own work of course)!
I’m quite obsessed with Dune. I know it’s not a perfect film and David Lynch didn’t get final cut, but still, his brilliance shone through. It’s such a delightful pleasure to watch a giant slug alien with a vagina for a mouth that seeps an evil yellow mist… or watching the gay fat baron infected with diseases floating around and tearing out the heart plugs of young men, or watching Patrick Stuart going into battle with a dog under his arm.
(see the image right, of me imitating that scene)
Q) According to Wikipedia (so it MUST be true), you first developed a name for yourself as a music video producer/director and have over 500 videos to your name. Was this a way of enabling you eventually to make movies or a separate passion in its own right?
Some of wikipedia is actually true…. I am sure it is close to 600 now, but who cares to count anymore. Music videos are actually fun and artistically satisfying. Plus we all have to pay the bills. I like trying to make them into mini-movies these days. The truth is, I wanted to be a heavy metal singer and kind of enjoyed doing it… had a few albums out, but in the end, it wasn’t my first love, so I retired it and focussed on making movies. Making music videos allows me to revisit that “other” passion. It all crosses over.
On Rogue Warrior we have Alex Staropoli from famous Italian Heavy Metal group “Rhapsody of Fire” do the soundtrack, and this worked well because I had done a bunch of music videos for them. The Time War has Nedy John Cross doing the soundtrack, and he is also another famous rock musician from East Europe. It’s nice when it all works out.
Q) Personally speaking, growing up in the 70/80s being a sci-fi geek wasn’t the cool badge of honour that it seems to be today. Do you feel sci-fi filmmaking is given more respect than it used to be and is it important to you as a film maker either way?
Oh boy… was I made fun of in Australia for liking Star Wars. I couldn’t even get a date. I don’t think Sci-Fi film making has any respect. When we enter our latest film in film festivals, we often don’t get in because we are Sci-Fi. To be honest, the acting by Tracey Birdsall in Rogue Warrior is truly amazing and beyond the ability of most actors…. seriously…. yet we don’t even get accepted in places, and the winners are often quite average. This even happens in the oscars. People let their own hatred of nerd-culture get in the way of enjoyment. One thing is for certain…. Sci-Fi is by far the hardest form of film-making… and the most expensive. There are so many out there who try and fail because it is so hard. I just have an interest to make what makes me happy. After making a dozen features, I am finally able to step away from producers and financiers and do what i want to do…. so you will finally get to see my best work in the next few years.
Q) I have to congratulate you on the upcoming release Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter – was lucky enough to see a preview screener of it and genuinely blown away! Tell us about the inspiration for the plot and challenges of bringing your vision to the screen.
I don’t know where any inspiration comes from anymore. I am trying to exorcise the Sci-fi tropes from my life so that I can be truly original. I love making a story where you don’t know where it goes. I started with a character, Sienna, and then let her grow into herself. Thankfully Tracey Birdsall was able to allow her character to grow naturally as well. The hardest thing in making Rogue Warrior was dealing with myself and not being satisfied. Sometimes I would shoot a scene 2 or 3 times, and then ultimately the scene would get thrown out of the final edit. When you make a film there is a whole lot of chaos around you, and the secret is trying to be alone in yourself and find the stillness…. good writing is the key, and then being able to throw out the good writing while you shoot, and then rewriting the whole film again in the edit room. The weather was pretty severe in places, out in the desert, so it is hard to stay focussed in 125 degree heat.
Q) I have to say that your leading lady in Rogue Warrior, Tracey Birdsall is simply sensational. Apart from looking great her performance is captivating. What was she like to direct?
Very easy, to be honest. Every now and again, when I said I wanted to reshoot a scene or have her climb a mountain, she would look at me and say ‘Really?”, but then she would do it. I really pushed her… maybe too far because she ended up in the emergency room during the last film, “The Time War”, but I think she was embracing of all good things. Film is forever… private moments fade. She listens, she studies harder than anyone, and she pushes herself… like all REAL actors… the few who later get called legends, like Meryl Streep or Cate Blanchette or Charlize Theron… she is one of those types. To be honest, I am disgusted in many of the actors I meet, because the are truly lazy, stubborn, dishonest, self-obsessed assholes (at least in Los Angeles). When you meet someone who can really act, and truly understands that it is hard work, then you can offer them the world and true glory.
Q) It’s not just me who loved the film because Rogue Warrior was also had a plethora of accolades & awards. Do the awards make up for any negative career experiences you may have had?
Probably in my younger days it would have impacted. To be honest, we are getting many awards, but we are also getting many rejections from festivals because we are too commercial and not underground. I would not be interested in being underground in this current marketplace. Most of my career has been negative and full of abuse and rejection, but I am not fueled by this. I am doing this to satisfy my own needs of creativity.
Q) Far be it for me to be bold enough to mention that we both won ‘Shark Bite’ awards from the West Coast Film Festival (oh look, I just did). How humble should I be about winning the ‘Best written Press Review’ (for Rogue Warrior) or should I continue to mention it at every possible moment?!
You need to tell the world how cool it is. I know the festival people appreciate it! I am soon attending Worldfest in Houston with Rogue Warrior. It is a great honor to be at these events, and it is nice when people actually “get” it. Your work on the review was truly a great piece of writing, you it was something well-deserved. Obviously West Coast Film festival “get” what you do.
Q) On a serious note, I personally don’t take myself too seriously & don’t really regard myself as a critic in the true sense of the word. How helpful (or even unhelpful) can bloggers etc be in helping promoting indie productions?
They say any press is good press, but I am kind of sick and tired or reading negativity. if you can’t say anything nice, then be silent and don’t waste precious time. What really helps is well-written, well though-out clever writing and blogging. You do not pander to the lowest common denominator or the low-level fan boy mentality. Look at “Star Wars: the Force Awakens”… at first it was… GREATEST Star Wars film ever made, and then it was WORST Star Wars movie. In reality it is a great fun film that is worth watching over and over. I wish people would just stop being negative-nancys and do something positive to benefit the zeitgeist. What you are doing Stuart is truly making a difference…. and this will bear fruit in time.
Q) I hear that Rogue Warrior has been picked up by Sony with rumours of a potential film or TV series. Will you be involved?
Of course! I am already writing the TV series. It will go in a whole new direction and it will be a whole lot of fun. I can’t say anything else yet because nothing is set in stone…. but I know the series will be something fresh and new. i am looking upon it as a high-end miniseries – on the quality level of an epic feature film.
Q) I believe you’re currently working on your next movie, The Time War which I understand is an everyday tale of Adolph Hitler travelling through time to alter history….. what more can you tell us about it?
It is really epic in scope. I wrote the film back in 1995 and still writing it as it is being edited. I keep pushing the story further and further which results in extra scenes being shot. 2 days ago, I dragged Tracey Birdsall to some snow-covered mountains 10,000 feet up, and we shot in the blistering cold, then realized that we were in Bear country. We were in a pit of fresh bear poop in the middle of nowhere. Didn’t see the bears, or bigfoot, but I know they were there. I was filming at Mono lake in California a few weeks ago and then realized I was standing exactly where there had been some famous bigfoot sightings a few years back (go look on youtube for the Mono Lake Bigfoot video). The Time War has been shot in Los Angeles, Malibu, Salton Sea, Mojave Desert, Lone Pine, Independence, Scotland, Leeds, Whitby, Avebury, Stonehenge, Silbury Hill, Wakefield, Gosport, Nuremberg, etc etc. Quite a task. It involves the real Hitler, who modifies himself into a better man through genetics and then does horrible things via Time Travel. Based on a true story.
Q) So what are the future plans for Neil Johnson?
Finish the Time War and then start immediately of the Rogue Warrior TV series…. and maybe a holiday!!!!! And then to direct Star Wars Episode 10,11 and 12
Neil’s website can be found at http://morphiusfilm.com/
You can read more about Neil Johnson on his IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1484928/
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