There is a lot of mystery and mystic around the entertainment industry. TV, Movies, Actors, Directors – There are so many different parts to such a HUGE industry- “How does one even attempt breaking into it?” It’s simple, the same way you would do anything else: Focus, Organization, Trial-and-Error, it’s actually very similar to every other industry, once you break it down.
That’s what CJ Johnson Jr. is doing. We recently spoke with CJ about his journey in the entertainment industry, we hope his wisdom inspires you to follow your dreams as well!
Meet CJ Johnson JR.
Check out this Short Film He Produced. It’s bad-ass!!
Some of it was shot on the iPhone, showing you that you don’t have to wait for millions of dollars of equipment to start moving toward your dream
Hey CJ, what is the name of your Company?
+ Project 44
How would you describe your career?
I made a career for myself in the entertainment business. Currently, I’m a working actor, writer, director and producer. I have a diverse range of experience from the worlds of commercials, music videos, film, and television.
How long have you known you wanted to do what you are currently working on?
I always knew I wanted to be in the entertainment business since I was a kid. My father served in the United States Army, so my family moved around a lot. But, movies and TV shows were always there. I remember an experience in particular… seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. It was also the first time my parents let me go to the movies alone. I remember waiting in a line to see the movie that was wrapped around our entire mall. I never saw anything quite like it. Then when I watched the film, it was a crowded theatre where the reactions of the audience alone were worth watching. I remember afterwards thinking to myself, you know what… I’d really like to be in the entertainment business. I wanted to captivate audiences like Jurassic Park did for me. My parents were extremely supportive of me growing up with this passion for the arts and entertainment. As soon as I was 18, I moved to Los Angeles to attend art school and I’ve been out here ever since.
Why are you passionate about what you do?
I wanted to be in the entertainment business to give people an experience. Something they can latch onto for a little while to take them away from their regular lives. To entertain and to inspire. When you’re creating something… characters, a story, just a world you had in your head… and then you share it with people… It’s an amazing feeling to watch them get swept up in what you created.
How did you overcome your own doubts and the doubts of other people?
Firstly, there are always doubts that creep in when you’re chasing a dream. I think that’s one of the reasons why it feels so great when you accomplished the goals you set for yourself. I’ve noticed that those same doubts are always there regardless of failures or successes. In this business, you always doubt yourself because there are so many peaks and valleys. I’ve been lucky to have a great support system of family and friends that keep me inspired. So, I always keep two things in mind:
1. The things you want the most in life will always be the hardest to get. Always. If it were easy, then everyone would be wealthy, be in love, and live on top of the world.
2. I only get once shot at life and I’d like to live it the way I want.
You should also surround yourself with positive people who work hard. That will make your life move along a lot smoother. So, try to keep a distance from negative and lazy people.
What were some bumps you hit to get where you’re at now?
I’ve definitely had bumps along the way. Sure things not working out. Deals not going through. Being ripped off. But, from every negative experience I went though, I used it as a learning lesson. You have to. In this business, 9 times out of 10 you hear “no” or get no response at all. But, you’re only looking for that one shot. All you need is one “yes” and then the sky is the limit.
There was one instance, a few years ago, when web series content was really starting to become popular, I pitched an idea to a friend who had industry contacts and was a successful producer. He liked the idea and shared it with one of his buddies, who wanted to get involved with the project. His buddy wanted to pitch this concept to his cousin, a writer/producer (who now is considered one of the biggest names in the business). Then he suggested we should turn this concept into a film. Then, he proposed a comic book instead because that was what his cousin was doing in conjunction with promoting his films/TV shows. So, it went from a web series to a film to a comic book. I wrote the comic, which was a huge challenge because it’s more of an artist’s medium. Eventually, the other shoe drops when this guy asks, “Can we bring on another writer?”
Finally, I requested we just pitch the concept as is since so much work had gone into it. Next thing I know, the guy pitches my idea without my friend or myself there. When we asked what the good word was. He said his cousin passed. Now, until this very day I’m not sure if he actually pitched it to his cousin or he just lied and said he did. It was just logged away as a “what the hell happened?” Something like that can really knock you down but you just have to keep it moving.
What is one thing you did wrong in the past that you can share with people?
I wish I would have followed my instincts a bit more in the past. A lot of times people suggest so many different things: “this is what’s in”, “you should try this”, etc. that you sometimes compromise what you really want because you don’t want to turn people off and just want things to work out. But, everything is constantly changing and evolving. What’s “in” now won’t be “in” two seconds from now. Which is why you have to tell the stories you want to tell. Following your intuition will never lead you astray. I also wish I was much more aggressive at the beginning of my career. I am now. But, for a while I played the “waiting game” and tried not to be a “nuisance” but I learned you couldn’t do that. We’re all busy. Especially now, with so much being thrown at us that you literally do have to go out of you’re way to be more aggressive about getting your name out there.
What is a way you got your name out there?
I hustled hard. Everyday I set aside a block of time for me to promote myself. It’s good to e-mail blast people when you want to show them a new project but, what has worked even better for me was talking with people through social media. Not in a way to necessarily promote myself but, just to share my life with others, and genuinely respond/see what others are up to as well. Because I’m always working on something, I always have a steady stream of content to share with people. Because I was genuine with them in the beginning, they are usually reciprocal to my work. Also “word of mouth” has helped me a lot too. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of others who took that extra step to put my name out there rather it be a recommendation or just to sharing my work.
Is there anything that almost stopped you from doing this?
When you’re going through tough times and experience situations like I mentioned earlier, you can’t help but want to stop pursing a career in entertainment. The entertainment business is literally the only business in the world that continuously gets away with judging you based off of race, sex, wardrobe, age, and nepotism. Then there are times when things just flat out suck. Nothing’s coming in. Your phone’s not ringing. Your inbox is empty. But, those are the times where I continuously had to remind myself that when things are on the upswing, the feeling is indescribable. That’s why it’s important for you to: surround yourself with a positive network, continuously have goals set for yourself, and no matter what… keep working on something.
Is there anyone in your profession that you admire and/or model yourself after?
There isn’t just one person I try to model myself after. I do admire other artists and filmmakers that are actively pursuing his or her passion. I would say that writer/director, Steven Soderbergh was most likely the biggest storytelling/visual influence I had. He’s not necessarily my favorite filmmaker but, as I’ve gotten older I sort of realized that he had the biggest influence on my take on filmmaking and storytelling in general. I loved how so many of his films there were plots that came together like a puzzle and had memorable characters. I remember when he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Directing for “Traffic” and “Erin Brockovich” at the same time. It was always interesting to see the visual aesthetics of his films and just the fact that he’s still always experimenting technically and he’s all over the map artistically. One minute he’s directing a thriller, the next minute he’s using another name to edit some unknown indie movie. It’s amazing. That’s definitely something I try to emulate that more often than not. Just to experiment with different things technically and storytelling wise.
How do you continue to perfect your craft?
I play with all those cool gadgets and technological advances we’re all so unsure about. And then I experiment. I feel like I understood my visual take on things a long time ago, so, now I’m just focusing on more of the storytelling aspect of things. One of the biggest and underrated things you can do to make yourself a better storyteller is to not just read but, to also zone out and watch movies and TV shows. TV especially has some very amazing stories right now. Have you seen “Breaking Bad”? Wow. More importantly, I keep creating or helping colleagues with other projects. I don’t think you’re ever going to perfect this craft. There’s always something new to learn.
What’s some advice you can share for anyone who wants to pursuit what you are doing?
Whatever your dream is in live… go after it. Don’t waste your time watching or reading about other people doing it. Don’t overanalyze things. Don’t hesitate. Just go for it. We’re at a place now where technology has allowed us to do anything we want. So, come up with a game plan. Before you execute it, understand nothing will go according to plan. Then go for it. There will be obstacles along the way but, you’ll never know what your capable of until you go for it.
Check out another video that CJ Filmed and Edited:
How do you envision your future?
The entertainment business is always evolving. I think moving forward, technology is going to even the playing field even more with filmmakers. VFX especially are going to be easier to do for amateur filmmakers. So, expect to see a rise in content. Storytelling wise, I think we’re at a very interesting place. The mainstream wants to focus on remakes, sequels, and franchises, but you’re already seeing people go through other means for projects they’re passionate about. Especially, crowd-funding, and other means to create better independent films. The business model is going to change too. I think more and more people are going to self-distribute their content and large TV networks will try to break off to do their own thing, giving customers the opportunity to be more selective of the content you order.
We’re feeling your website. How much of your business is driven by online buyers/clients?
Thank you. I’m using a minimalist approach to my website. I only wanted to show some of my best work versus all of it. I would say my business is mostly driven by “word of mouth” and social media. My website is like the cherry on top.
Where can people go to find out more about your awesome products/services?
People can visit my official website at www.cjjohnson.tv and find me on social media outlets. I’m everywhere! You will always find me on Twitter: @cjjohnsonjr. Give me a shout!