Susan Johnson was studying pre-med as a chemistry major at the University of Arizona when she began working as an intern on the set of Twentieth Century Fox’s “Revenge of the Nerds,” filmed at the Tucson campus. Just three months later, she became a film student at the University of Southern California.
After earning a master’s degree in directing from the American Film Institute, she has directed more than 30 music videos, won awards for producing major motion pictures, and is now about to direct her first feature film – adapting a 2003 novel by Hoboken resident Caren Lissner for the big screen.
Johnson plans to make “Carrie Pilby” into an independent movie as long as a campaign on the internet proves successful in raising initial funds from fans. This coming week, the Kickstarter internet fundraising effort (tinyurl.com/carriepilby) enters its final days, and the filmmaking team is hoping supporters will spread the word. Donors can pledge anywhere from $1 to $10,000, for which they can receive rewards such as private screenings with the cast and crew, lunch on set, and a DVD of the film, once distributed. The deadline is this Friday, July 12 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.
Why did Johnson decide to make her directorial debut with this film? For one thing, she said, it’s a film with strong, smart female characters.
Inspired by Nancy Meyers
Johnson cited women in the movie business who have inspired her, particularly Nancy Meyers, one of the most successful female filmmakers in the history of Hollywood.
“When I was assisting,” Johnson said in an interview last week, “I worked for several producers and directors in both the U.S. and U.K. Each filmmaker taught me something invaluable, but I would say that working with Nancy Meyers has had the biggest influence on me as an artist. She started out as part of a writing/producing/directing team (with Charles Shyer) and then branched out on her own, only to achieve groundbreaking success as an artist in her own right.”
Johnson added, “Nancy is such a great storyteller and so confident on her feet. She leaves no stone unturned when she’s researching story and characters, she cares about both as if they were family, and her attention to detail carries all the way through the marketing of her films. She has helped blaze a trail for the rest of us, for female filmmakers, and I will be forever grateful for the lessons I learned from her.”
(Meyers has produced, written, and/or directed a string of hit films, including “Private Benjamin” “What Women Want,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” and “It’s Complicated.”)
In fact, it was while working for Meyers years ago that Johnson met the two women who will be producing the “Carrie Pilby” film this fall – Suzanne Farwell and Susan Cartsonis. Farwell read the book years ago, and recently gave it to Johnson, who knew quickly that she had found her first feature film to direct.
They hope for more people to help out this week by checking out the Kickstarter.com campaign so they can bring the quirky novel to life. But they also hope that women get more chances to make films in Hollywood.
“The numbers are kind of tragic”, Johnson said, “and they aren’t improving. Women have directed only nine of the top 200 grossing comedies ever, and the female directing membership of the Director’s Guild of America, which governs film and television directors, is hovering at about 13.5 percent. The statistics aren’t much better for female writers, producers, cinematographers, editors…we’re all struggling. And if a woman does make a successful film, it’s considered a ‘fluke.’ And yet, women buy the majority of movie tickets.”
“I’ve never wanted to be judged by gender, and have fought against it all of my life,” she added. “But now, it appears that the gender gap in film and television, in media in general, is significantly affecting the way we see the world, and the way we are raising our children. That’s not good for my generation, or yours.”