He is the man behind Here There Be Tygers Dollar Baby Film.
SKSM: Could you start with telling me a bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Mike Johnston: My name is Mike Johnston, I am an independent filmmaker from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I was born and raised in Oakville, Ontario, Canada and moved to Vancouver to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film Production from the University of British Columbia, which I completed in 2017.
Currently I work as a Key Grip in the film industry in Vancouver as well as produce independent content such as music videos, short films and various commercials and web ads in Vancouver.
SKSM: When did you make Here there be tygers? Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?
Mike Johnston: Here There Be Tygers is my sixth short film as a director. We began prepping for the film in Vancouver in September 2016 and shot it in December 2016. After 5 months of post-production, the film was completed in May 2017.
The film cost approximately $8,000 including post production costs and was we completed principal photography in just 2 days, which was quite remarkable for the piece we were shooting and the gags and visuals involved.
SKSM: How come you picked Here there be tygers to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?
Mike Johnston: The decision to adapt Here There Be Tygers is an interesting one. In August 2016, I had just completed the festival circuit with my last film, “Victory Falls”, which I wrote and directed, and was searching for my next project. I was writing a variety of pieces and wasn’t really getting excited about any of them. I also find that I need to constantly push the boundary or challenge myself with my work, and I was looking for the right way to challenge myself after “Victory Falls” – a wrestling film that took place during the 1996 World Championships and on the water.
I started looking into adaptation, and came across Stephen King’s dollar baby program on his fan website. It was an exciting concept for an independent filmmaker looking for his next project, so I started reading a variety of different Stephen King short stories and came across “Here There Be Tygers”, and decided to submit to adapt that one. I emailed Margaret Morehouse, signed the contract and sent $1 American dollar bill in the mail. I don’t think he would have accepted a Canadian loonie.
I think what interested me so much in “Here There Be Tygers” is that I found the character of Charles very relatable, especially to a young me. I was always the kid who was day dreaming in elementary school, never really listening in class and I saw a lot of that in Charles. Especially with how I chose to adapt the film, the realism of the tiger is up for debate and for the audience to interpret in their own imagination, which is really what Charles is doing. He is this boy with a wonderful imagination, who at the end of the day just wants to go to the bathroom and get back to class. And I found this very relatable and I think a lot of kids can too. It was nice to take a break from the moody dramas that I am used to making and adapt a fantastic kid-oriented fantasy film by one of my biggest creative inspirations.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Mike Johnston: The entire experience was special for me. For all my other previous short films that I have directed, I have also written. And I think, when we act as both writers and directors, we put a tremendous responsible on our shoulders as creatives. Not only are you responsible for the creative direction and storytelling of the film, but I find you can also back yourself into a corner obsessing over every word and every little detail. My focus when directing is always the performances of the actors and how the camera drives those performances. Having not written this film, that additional pressure was off and it was now an open opportunity for me to play with someone else’s work and adapt it to the screen.
There is still a tremendous responsibility in that, but the obsession over dialogue and every spoken word goes away, and you can let the actors really play and that is the way I want to make movies going forward. I was very lucky to work with a young man by the name of Logan Oung who played Charles. A young boy, still finding his way in the world of acting and film, etc. but also unbelievably smart, he challenged me in a lot of ways and pushed me to be better and to be better for him as well. An awesome moment we shared actually happened during rehearsal, days before principal photography. We were rehearsing in a small room and I was going through the blocking of when he first sees the tiger, one of the most important scenes in the film. And he wasn’t really getting it. I started stressing out a bit, like have I made a huge mistake, did I mess up in the casting, is it my direction, etc. So we sat down and we talked for a while and we figured out that we both loved video games. And once I was able to relate the action and the blocking to an experience he had playing video games, he got it immediately. It was awesome to see this switch flip, when he got it – he got it. And because of the way we chose to shoot the film, much like Steven Spielberg’s “JAWS”, the film is driven by his performance and the success of it rides on his shoulders. Needless to say, I believe the film is what it is because of Logan and what he brought to the film and I couldn’t have done it without him.
SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe a internet/dvd release would be possible?
Mike Johnston: It is disappointing, as I would love to share my work with other Stephen King fans and dollar baby filmmakers, but I also respect and understand the rules and as to why we cannot share our films on the internet as of yet. Hopefully that could change over time, but I don’t expect it to.
SKSM: What “good or bad” reviews have you received on your film?
Mike Johnston: So far, all the reviews we have received from peers, critics, festivals, etc. have been very positive, which is awesome because I really put the pressure on myself to uphold the legend and the quality of the short story as well as the Stephen King name, so to hear good things from my peers and critics alike, is great.
SKSM: Do you plan to screen the movie at a particular festival?
Mike Johnston: My priority is to screen the film at as many Dollar Baby film festivals as possible. We have already been accepted to one in the Netherlands in November, which is awesome news. As well, we are currently in consideration for the King on Screen film festival. Outside of those, I would love to see the film play at the Vancouver Short Film Festival or East Van Showcase, but time will tell and see where it takes us.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations.
Mike Johnston: I am a huge Stephen King fan, have been since I was a teenager. He is one of my greatest inspirations in filmmaking. “The Mist”, ‘The Shining” and “It” are some of the early works that got me interested in a future in filmmaking as well as the films. Whenever a Stephen King novel or film becomes available, I make sure to make time to read it or see it. So, 2017 is a great year for him so I will be spending lots of time in the theatre or on Netflix watching Stephen King adaptations.
SKSM: Did you have any personal contact with King during the making of the movie? Has he seen it (and if so, what did he think about it)?
Mike Johnston: I have yet to hear anything from Mr. King, and I cannot confirm if he has seen the film or not. Needless to say, if he did see it and was able to comment on the film, that would be one of the greatest honours I would have as a young filmmaker.
SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick -at least- one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?
Mike Johnston: Actually, I have already begun light prep for my next short film, which I believe will be a Stephen King adaptation. The short story is called “Rest Stop” and is about a writer who stops in a gas station washroom for a break and overhears a man beating his wife in the other washroom. As such, he decides to take matters into his own hands like the characters in his books. Another very relatable story in my eyes, I think everyone at one point or another in life has fantasized about being the action hero and taking the law into their own hands, for better or worst and as such a character that we can all get behind and understand, even on deeper levels. Clearly I enjoy making films in bathrooms.
SKSM: What are you working nowadays?
Mike Johnston: Right now I am working with a production company in Vancouver which works in conjunction with the Lifetime Network and Hallmark Channel to produce ten television movies a year, we just wrapped our 6th production this year and are starting the 7th next week. I currently working as the Key Grip there, the head of the Grip Department. Additionally, I am prepping to produce and direct, “Rest Stop”, my second Stephen King dollar baby film. As well, as in the early development stages of outlining my first feature film, currently titled, “Shrapnel”.