An award winning prose writer with years of experience behind the scenes, Spencer Johnson has served as Casting Director, Assistant Director, Executive Producer and more. Spencer welcomes every project as an opportunity to efficiently manage a complex budget, and galvanize a productive creative team of professionals to work towards a common goal. In this second part of this interview, Dr. Johnson will explore his participation in his roles in production of Skyrocket’s films, as well as the film Coffin, and the film festival, Reel Independent Film Extravaganza.
Coffin unfolds with Jack Samms’ evening starting normal enough. Then the mysterious masked stranger, known as Trick, pays him a visit. Within minutes, Jack is faced with a ticking clock after Trick reveals that Jack’s estranged wife and her lover are buried in a wooden box, and will be out of oxygen in 75 minutes if Jack does not pay a ransom to Trick. Jack must try to avoid being framed for his wife’s murder in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the masked stranger in order to save his wife… and himself.
How did that script come about for Coffin?
Coffin was written by Kipp Tribble. Dave Stever had met him through a writer’s workshop years ago, and had always slated him to be a producer of some sort on what became Safehouse. Safehouse, he wound up still having an assistant producer credit because he ushered us into working with Artist View Entertainment, which distributes both of the movies. He moved Skyrocket Production to distribution. Kipp had an idea for a script in 2010. He had the script ready for us to look at. We had to get the investor machinery going again, and this time a different set of players. We shot Coffin in ten days out in L.A. It’s actually cheaper to shoot in L.A. than it is to shoot here.
They give you better credits in California than in Maryland?
Maryland does not have many tax credits for film-makers. That’s one thing I do want to work on with the State of Maryland, the tax credits, Maryland does a horrible job with tax credits.
How is being an executive producer different for you than working as a producer?
It’s less hands on. The producer is actually there making the decisions. I’m looking at what the producer’s doing and minimally interfering, unless it becomes necessary to interfere. For Coffin, I stepped in at one point. It was when Trick has to come out of the car, and go inside the bar. It didn’t make sense that he was not going be without a disguise. So, I had them put him into something that still amounts to a disguise, but was not something that is a dead elephant in the room, not something that people would necessarily notice or pay attention to. They changed it into a disguise for the bar scene.
How did you find your producers and your directors?
In Coffin, Kipp Tibble, co-wrote the film, and co-directed it with his writing partner, Derik Wingo. Coffin had built-in directors. David Lanham, George Maranville, Keiko Nakahara, produced the film with David Sever as both a producer and the editor. Our cinematographer was Jason Gaines. We had an unbelievable cast and crew for Coffin.
What things in ‘hind sight’ do you wish you had done differently?
Mistakes we made, and you can judge where this is negative or positive. I don’t think everything should be reported as rosy as people try to make it out to be. Mistakes we learned from when we made Coffin were in spreading out post-production over five states and two coasts, which will never happen again. If I had it to do over, I would have left post-production in L.A., and probably saved a couple thousand dollars. You live and you learn in this business. Coffin is out and it’s doing pretty well.
Our distributor says what helps sell a movie is having at least one big name actor involved in the film. We cast Kevin Sorbo and Bruce Davison. Kevin has the name recognition to bring to the film. Bruce has won a Golden Globe is an Emmy winner and an Oscar nominee. They are both really great actors that contribute a great deal to the film. We shot their parts over two days due to the compressed schedule. Now this is a learning tool in that when you use know actors in a movie, you want the movie written in such a way that the names appear at the beginning, middle, and end of the film. You don’t shoot in sequence, and instead shoot all of the known actors’ scenes over a few days in a compressed format. This is done so you can let the known actors go in a few days versus weeks. It saves money, and is more accommodating to their schedules as well as the production schedule.
Henchman’s War, the third film from Skyrocket, when do you expect to release it?
It is due out by August in a ‘limited release’ domestically. We can discuss it once the time gets closer to the release date.
Let’s talk about the festival, Reel Independent Film Extravaganza. How did that come about?
Well, Tamiko Thomas, our publicist, and I decided many years ago that we wanted to do a film festival. It’s time to do this film festival. I wanted the name to be a play on the word ‘real’, even though now films are digital. So, the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza came about. We are proud to be in our fourth year. Each year builds on the preceding year. We’re getting some good coverage because of the excellent films we include. It is an ‘incubator’ if you will, where independent film makers can have like minded people to network with, talk with and show their films. We are developing it year by year so that we can eventually incorporate workshops or seminars into the festival.
Any advice for other independent film-makers?
Yes. Make sure you have a great creative and cohesive team while you are developing a script and before moving into pre-production. It is so important to the creative process in development on into post-production that you have people that have personalities that mesh and are professional. When everyone involved is on the same page, it creates a more creatively professional and positive environment, which moves through all the phases of production into post-production smoothly.
Dr. Spencer F. Johnson, board certified general psychiatrist, and practitioner of holistic health, has a practice in Temple Hills, Maryland. In March 2004, Spencer established Skyrocket Productions, LLC, a full service independent film and television production company located in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Motion picture production ignited Spencer’s zeal to launch the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza (RIFE), which had its debut in Washington, DC in October 2010. Since then, this amazing film festival has tripled its attendance.
His ultimate goal is to create one to two feature films per year with Skyrocket Productions being the leading independent production company, and advancing the film festival as a ‘must attend’, and respected film festival that brings new skilled talent to the forefront of the industry.
Coffin is available on domestic VOD (cable), Netflix DVD, Redbox and Redbox streaming and Amazon Instant. Safehouse is available on Amazon Instant, and Netflix DVD.