Pamela K. Johnson
I’ve always delighted in a well-told story, whether I’m writing a journalistic piece—my long time trade–a script or my novel. In recent years, I’ve directed a few shorts. One was in conjunction with a grand prize in the short film category of the 2013 Beijing International Screenwriting Competition. The win included a trip to Beijing, China, and $10,000 to make “Morning Song,” about an old man who sustains a devastating loss, and then gets his mojo back in the vibrant parks of Beijing. (https://vimeo.com/85719318). In 2018, I completed “Reyana’s Journey,” shot on location in Cape Town, South Africa, and “Wind & Waves,” partially shot on location in San Francisco. Both were for GlobalSport Matters.
Nothing in my life has ever scared me as much as the 12-hour flight to China for “Morning Song,” which required pulling together cast and crew—many of whom spoke little or no English—and besting a host of other obstacles. But that underscores my belief about filmmaking: It’s the art of limitations. I always have less time, money, sunshine, coverage, etc., than I need, and yet I make it work. Almost getting my assed kicked by China made me a much more courageous person.
I got pulled into filmmaking initially after a move from NYC to L.A. in the mid-2000s. In 2006, I won a Women In Film/General Motors’ Emerging Filmmakers Grant. That same year, my short script, “Talk Me To Death,” about rampant cell-phone use at a funeral, earned me an opportunity to fly to New Mexico to participate in the Duke City Shootout competition. TMTD won best editing and audience awards. That got me into the AFI Directing Workshop for Women in 2007, where I made “Stitches,” a narrative short about a fashionista rescued during Hurricane Katrina. Selected to be part of a cohort of eight, out of more than 200 applicants, the AFI DWW also won me a $5,000 Adrienne Shelly Production Grant. The late Adrienne Shelly made the film “Waitress” with Keri Russell. The Broadway/Touring play is based on it.
My passion project is a novel based on the life of Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel. As a young woman raised in Denver, she moved to the Midwest, eager to make it as a blues artist. But when the Depression hit, she joined her siblings in L.A., and took film roles because she wanted steady work. Eventually, she won the 1940 Best Supporting Oscar for “Gone With the Wind,” the first African-American to receive the award. But filmmaking barely scratched the itch of her desire to sing her own songs, and tell her own stories. Like Hattie, I endeavor to feel fulfilled as a Black woman artist. Not easy, but it’s why I rise each morning.
I’m also eternally thankful to Long Beach, CA, where I live, and which has supported my work in myriad ways!