By Mike Kinney and Kathy Chouteau
You could say that Richmond resident and independent filmmaker, Jayson Johnson, is a triple threat: he not only directs his films, but also writes and produces them to boot. The owner of Strike Five Films recently sat down with the Standard to tell us about his latest passion projects—a film he just wrapped up called “T.H.O.T?” and a screenplay for another film he plans to shoot right here in his home city.
According to Johnson, T.H.O.T?, which stands for “That Hoe Over There,” tells the tale of a young man named Kev who is excited to go on a date with Stacy, until terrible rumors about her past force him to make a decision: Is Stacy really a T.H.O.T? Or is it all just talk? Adrian Marcel, a Grammy-nominated vocalist from Oakland, plays the lead role.
T.H.O.T? is a film that “aims to tackle how women are misappropriated in male-dominated spaces,” said the Chicago-born Johnson, who studied Radio, Television and Film at Eastern Illinois University and once worked at Francis Ford Coppola’s Niebaum-Coppola creating marketing campaigns and internal videos.
As for Johnson’s recently completed screenplay, it’s called “R.O.G.E.R. and Me” and tells a cheekier tale. In what will be his first feature-length film, Roger and Me is about a young black coding savant who falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into a tropical fish store. Following the accident, he is sentenced to carry a live gold fish everywhere he goes for the next 30 days, per Johnson.
“The community here offers great potential for filming because of its diversity and creative environment,” said Johnson about why he chose Richmond for the location of his next film. “Filming here in a city like Richmond, offers so much more opportunity because of the physical landscape as well in terms of filming.”
“When you drive or walk down Macdonald Ave., as an example, you will meet people unlike anywhere else in the Bay Area…I tell people Richmond is a forever moving pallet of diversity, culture and art,” he added.
A self-admitted “certified potato couch” in his youth, Johnson often logged in as many as 7.5 hours in front of the TV. So, when it came time for him to attend college, his chosen major came easily: TV and film. Johnson has come a long way since his couch-surfing days, following his time at college and Coppola.
His first foray into filmmaking was pursuing work as an actor, where he “would go out to audition after audition only to be told ‘no’ over and over again,” per Johnson. After an audition where the director paid more attention to what was on TV than to him, he reached a breaking point. “I left that audition and promised myself never again would I be at the mercy of someone else’s opinion. Instead, I’d make my own films…”
“I called my production company Strike Five Films because I felt like I had struck out so many times in the film industry, and if I had to keep striking out, I was willing to go the distance until I reached my goal.”
When asked what his hopes and dreams are as a film director, Johnson said, “I want to achieve four Academy Awards being a film director, because with those proceeds from my films, as [well as] being a Christian, I plan to send young adults to Bible Universities across the country.”
To date, Johnson has made great strides toward his goal of someday being honored at the Oscars. His short films have been selected for over 40 film festivals worldwide and he has won six international film awards. His award-winning work includes: Finalist, Industry Boost Film Festival (Redress); semi-finalist, Shutter Speed Film Festival (Redress); winner, Minefield Field Festival for Best Screenplay (Redress); winner, Pitoclik Film Festival for Best Film (as producer); winner, North Carolina Film Awards for Best Film (as producer); and winner, Scary Cow Film Festival for Best Film (as producer).
And his short films include: “All Who Are Weary” (2019, Narrative); “Lifeline” (2018, Narrative); “Redress” (2017, Narrative); “10 AM” (2016 Narrative); “The Bad Bunch” (2016, Documentary); “Bloodline” (2012, Narrative); and “Black Rodgers” (2011, Narrative).
When asked what he likes about being an independent director, Johnson replied, “If you’re going to be good, you have to learn how to do everything and go as high as you can go. Being an independent director-producer allows you to tell the stories that are important to you.”
If Johnson seems familiar to locals, it might be because of his day job as director of field operations at Groundwork Richmond in partnership with the City of Richmond, where his responsibilities are to “oversee the planting of ten thousand trees.”
It seems in both his professional roles—as filmmaker and planter of trees—Johnson is working diligently to enhance our world. Learn more about Johnson and Strike Five Films here.