Q&A with CJ Johnson

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to CJ Johnson, an award-winning artist based in L.A. We spoke about his experience as a producer and screenwriter, his aesthetic, how he stays productive, and his advice for aspiring artists. 

I see that you're a well-rounded artist. What inspired you to start creating?
My entire life I've always enjoyed storytelling. Rather it be playing roles, writing, snapping photos... I loved it all. I was always moved by certain films and television shows that I got caught up in. I always knew I was going to be a creative since the beginning of my inception.

Tell me about your experience as a producer and screenwriter. What was your biggest challenge? 
I love writing. It's exhilarating  to see your words on page be brought to life. Producing is great because you can take more of a backseat approach to things and just worry about helping put pieces of a puzzle together without the stress of being a director. The two biggest challenges that come from writing or producing are... waiting and finally getting your project off the ground. Being in the entertainment industry is a true lesson in patience for sure! I've had plenty of projects that I poured my heart and soul into, got paid for, got big named stars attached to it, that never saw the light of day. But you just have to understand the insane reality of the entertainment business that most projects don't get made. It shouldn't deter you in anyway but it is a tough reality. 

How does your journalism and marketing/advertising background come into play? 
My journalism background helped give me the discipline of doing thorough research and look for ways to see how one thing is connected to another. It also helped tighten my note taking skills. This comes into play whenever I prepare for a potential project. My marketing/advertising background really helped me with understanding the power of how to showcase your own brand. It also helps me understand what audiences would like, how I should be presenting my work, etc. There is actually a lot of creative strength that comes from understanding how you can present your work to an audience.

Who would you say is your favourite filmmaker? Any favourite films? 
That's a tough question. There are so many amazing filmmakers that really inspire me right now. I would say style wise and narratively speaking... David Fincher and Christopher Nolan. My favorite films are Braveheart, Seven, Big Trouble in Little China, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Most of your photography work have beautiful warm tones in them. How would you describe your aesthetic? 
Thank you! When I was developing my style I realized I was attracted to the old Kodak film look. This sort of grainy 60's/70's style. I love that style and wanted to make it more modern and contemporary. So, I developed this happy medium of combining both worlds. I love telling stories in my images so there’s always something more going on in my images. 

When it comes to editing a set of photos or a screenplay, what do you listen to? 
I have a very mixed playlist. It depends on the mood of my project. For example, if I shoot something with a lot of high energy and I’m editing a set of photos then I'm listening to hip hop or if I'm going over a screenplay, I'll be listening to a lot of instrumental music (for whatever reason, a lot of NIN, Sigur Ros, and Explosions in the Sky). 

How do you stay productive on a daily basis? Tell me about your routine.  
My routine is pretty insane. I'm so busy that I have to create a structured time management system where every block of time during a "work week" is mapped out. I stay productive by being inspired by other people's work (Instagram, Vimeo, various research). It always boosts my adrenaline. I also try to exercise during my low peak periods to keep my energy up. I wake up early and go to bed late. It's a steady grind but it's the life I asked for and I have to take advantage of every second.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists on getting their work to be noticed? 
Yes. Develop your own style or niche and then write out a game plan and put together a mood board of what your ideal work looks like. From there, make a list of meed outlets that present work that inspires you and that are in your wheelhouse. Also make not of other people’s work that you enjoy. The next step is simple but time consuming. Reach out to those influencers and press outlets. Also, use social media to your advantage to showcase your work. That helps a lot. Be professional and humble about presenting your work. You'll get noticed if you strike a chord with people. 

What's next for you? 
A big whirlwind of creative projects for various brands are coming up. I was also hired to direct a comedy short film that we'll be filming next month. So, there's definitely a lot on my plate. I'm also brainstorming some fun new themed shoots. 

Where can people find you? 
I'm everywhere, LOL. You can visit my website at www.cjjohnsonjr.com and follow me on Instagram/Twitter: @cjjohnsonjr. If you want more of an inside look into my crazy life, follow my story on Snapchat: @iamcjjohnson.