Actor Joel Johnstone has a lot to be proud of at the moment! He had a recurring character on HBO's Golden Globe nominated drama “The Newsroom” this past season, he stars in the upcoming HBO comedy “Getting On”, and his first short film that he wrote, directed, and starred in, THE PILGRILM AND THE PRIVATE EYE, just premiered at The Hollyshorts Film Festival in Hollywood in August. The website for the annual film festival that takes place at The Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, describes Hollyshorts as a festival that “showcases the best and brightest short films from around the globe.” Much to be proud of indeed for the young and talented actor!
In a recent interview, Johnstone discussed his experience in making his short film and what he found to be most rewarding about it all!
How was the Hollyshorts Film Festival?
Joel Johnstone- Hollyshorts was amazing! It was really, really great. I had been to it once and I didn’t realize how big it was. It’s like a week long of panels and films, and it was a really great festival.
How did it feel to watch your movie with a big audience at the famous Chinese Theater out here in LA?
Joel- It’s much different on the east coast because it just has a New York vibe. We shot almost entirely in Brooklyn and we try to make Coney Island the third main character in the film, so there’s always a really fun response on the east coast. We played on the West Coast a few times and I’m never sure if it will translate but people laugh at all the right moments, which is great. It went really well!
What is the main storyline for THE PILGIRLM AND THE PRIVATE EYE?
Joel- The main plot line is an out of work actor goes to work for a con-man for acting work. He just needs acting work so he works for this con-man. He doesn’t know he is a con-man at the beginning. And we had been playing with this idea and it has a lot of elements of The STING in it which is one of my favorite movies. A Redford and Newman movie.
How did the idea for the film come about? Through THE STING?
Joel- A friend of mine and I were just talking about a bunch of different short film ideas and he had this idea of some out of work actors going to work at a private eye agency and I liked that. There’s that element in it but there was something more fun in seeking about the con world. Private eye it’s almost like a little too legitimate (Laughs). I wanted it to be even more dangerous and I felt like the con world made more sense. And I started writing it and my writing partner started saying “Oh we should add this moment and this moment from THE STING and we kind of used that as our inspiration and I started writing that bad guy part with Tom Noonan in it never actually thinking he would say yes to it. But you have to write with somebody’s voice in your head. (Laughs) And when he said yes, it became a reality and Tom was shooting “Hell On Wheels” at the time and he was back for a very short time from filming and we knew we had to shoot him out quickly so we started really amping up everything and got it all done in three consecutive weekends.
What was the most rewarding thing you think learned from the entire process of film-making?
Joel- I went into it from an actor’s stand point and that was my favorite part. I was trying to explain it to a friend the other day. I talked to Tom about this afterwards because Tom had done this a couple of times and he won Sundance, I believe in 1994. He wrote, produced, directed and starred in his film and right after he finished he said it’s so much fun acting isn’t it and I said yes. I think it’s because part of making a film, it seems like your number one job at the time is just damage control. I got to deal with one problem after another after another; you’re just constantly problem solving. The only respite that you get in the middle of all this chaos is your acting for thirty seconds. If you love that no matter what you did that becomes like your saving grace throughout the day where you just kind of relax. And when you’re acting in a film you have to trust somebody else and for me that was Matt. That was my DP, my co-writer and co-producer, and those were like the two moments a day when I got to not have to worry about anything else and kind of became like this Zen person where I could just forget about everything for thirty seconds and just have fun. Not that the whole thing wasn’t fun but when you’re acting and producing, especially for the first time, you’re wearing a lot of hats and a lot of responsibilities and you have a lot on your plate for one moment. And when you’re done with it, it’s a lot more fun to see. When you’re in it you’re on the battlefield. It’s like running a marathon; you don’t really think about the fun of it until it’s over.
I remember you told me before how the great difference between acting and film-making, as with film-making you get the valuable feeling of knowing this wouldn't have existed if it hadn't been for your work.
Joel- Exactly! When it's your baby and you wrote the first draft, re-wrote all the drafts and shot it yourself, and edited it yourself and everything like that, you just step back and you're still going to see a million problems with it every time; but it's like the greatest feeling in the world knowing that this would never exist if I didn't put pen to paper.
What is the future for the film?
Joel- We're the middle of a couple of drafts. We're turning it into a series based on these two con-men; the one an actual one and the other one an actor who is only doing it because it's the only acting work he could get. We have a whole vision for the first season and how we see it
going. The pilot, the written 60-70 page script that we have, that's the most important sell and we have just been working some great people on that and we hope we get it sold!
Any final thoughts you would like to share about the film festival or your film-making experience?
Joel- Just that people keep asking what do you hope for when you make a
film? Do you hope it teaches something out? And while that is certainly a goal, your main goal should be the experience of the work. Looking back and saying, 'Oh, now I know how to make a movie.' And then meeting other filmmakers. You can meet a lot of filmmakers at parties
and this and that, but when you go to a film festival it's different because every single person there has done it. Nobody is talking about doing it. They're talking about the things that they have already done, which is really inspiring. Those are the people that are part of some of the best relationships that I have formed, when I started doing this and going to film festivals just for that reason. These are the people who went out and stopped talking about it and they did it.
That's exciting. And so I can't encourage people enough to start going to film festivals. And there are so many wonderful film festivals in this city alone. Hollyshorts is definitely at the top of that list.
I know you just wrapped “The Newsroom”, any place else we can see you?
Joel- People can watch this show that I just wrapped. It's an HBO comedy that comes out later this year. It's called “Getting On”. It's an adaptation of a BBC series of the same name by the creators of “Big Love”, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. I think people are really going to love it. It's amazing, and hilarious and heartfelt.
Keep up with Joel Johnstone on Twitter- @JoelJohnstone