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Taking on Hollywood with Grayson: Earth One, Director Hisonni Johnson

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Hisonni Johnson is a critically acclaimed film maker from Riverside, California. He is best known for his works, Fight Night Legacy, Olympia and his Grand Prize win at LaWeb Fest. Hisonni’s talent has had him teaming with other creative film makers such as Felicia Day ,Sean Becker and the AMC Network.

His latest project, Grayson: Earth One, is a re-imagined story about the DC Comics hero Nightwing (Grayson).

From the official site: “Grayson: Earth One” season one is a non profit six episode season dedicated to exploring the origin story of the DC character known as Nightwing — but with a twist. The twist being that Richard Grayson has never had the good fortune of being adopted as a child by Bruce Wayne, thus never becoming the boy wonder. Instead, we have a Richard Grayson that had to fend for himself on the unforgiving streets of Gotham and, even worse, the streets of Bludhaven. A character that has to overcome years of dog eat dog mentality to become a selfless and kind individual. To ultimately fulfill his destiny and become a HERO. “

Hisonni Johnson talked to Legendarium about his inspirations for the web-series and aspects of film making. Presenting… Director Hisonni Johnson.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got started in the industry?
HJ: I’ve always been into film making and am pretty self taught. My friends and I would shoot entire feature films as kids, edited them and rent out movie theaters to have screenings. I think it was a pretty good time for our friends and family. I came to L.A. as an actor and reverted to my film making skills after seeing all of my talented friend struggling to been seen in Hollywood. I love to show the people I admire to the world as best I can.

When I first watched Grayson, it gave me a gritty Brandon Lee in “The Crow “ feel. What inspired its creation?
HJ: I definitely loved “The Crow”. Honestly, the similarities were unintentional. I wanted to ground the look that Nightwing would be known for in a Frank Miller type of world. One night I was watching the lead guitarist of Avenged Sevenfold on YouTube and it hit me. Metal bands  are the only people that can dress like super heroes and get away with it in real life. They wear tons of leather, chains, make up, jet black hair.Eventually, I realized that Nightwing looked a lot like both Synester Gates, Guitarist for Avenged Sevenfold, and one of my super talented actor buddies Stephen McCain. When Stephen confirmed that my idea wasn’t crazy, I started to write Earth One.

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What is it about Nightwing that appealed to you to be the hero of your project?
HJ: I was drawn to the coolness of Nightwing’s look and abilities but the man behind the mask had fallen flat for me. He seemed to rarely if ever struggle with right and wrong, selfishness or even greed. All of those flaws are really interesting to me especially in heroes. Further more, his “leave it to beaver” years as robin was an even bigger turn off for me. As a writer the weakness the character had presented themselves as an opportunity for me to fix. So the short answer would be that I chose Nightwing because of the challenge of making his story realistic and engaging. 

What quality is needed to become a successful film maker?
HJ: The top quality I have is stupidity [laughing]. My girlfriend calls it drive. My mom called it determination. My coach called it discipline.  But I know the truth. I know it takes an idiot like me to keep slamming my head against the brick wall that we call Hollywood. I have to be super naive to believe that I can be my own quality cinematographer, editor, director, writer, VFX artist, etc. I have to be nearly insane to believe I could do it well enough to win awards against films that have a crew of 50 people and tons more money. My brain has to be broken to think that with half the resources of most web series someone would want to interview me about the one I did. I can honestly say I think I’m chatting with you right now because I wasn’t smart enough to quit. [laughing]

What have been the greatest challenges with this project?
HJ: Funding it. I made some heavy sacrifices. They were all worth it but they were hard at the time. The production itself was completely enjoyable, post flew by and my group of friends and family has grown tremendously since this project’s conception. Wait! I just thought of something! Here’s something that’s hard. The industry’s response to me. It’s not everyone but it’s enough of those industry types that I have to mention it. Look, I’m not the best filmmaker in the world. I know! But I am a human being. I’m not a crook and I’m never disrespectful when I try to connect with people. So why be so rude to mean to us storytellers/actors/artists? After all, we’re human beings, worthy of common decency. On top of which we are hard working and am probably in the same place you were before you finally got the position at “Blank” company. If you can’t respect us, at least respect our common struggle and respond with compassion. Whew…Glad to get that off my chest!

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What would you tell someone who may be interested in becoming a film maker? What should they know/prepare for?
HJ: I’d tell them to cut themselves some slack. Artist are often way too hard on themselves, myself included. But, the truth is we should always have a refuge. It could be our home or Mom’s place. Even just your mind. The industry does not do a good job of nurturing the next generation of story-tellers. As a matter of fact, the industry down right beats the hell out of artist in general. So why should you join in on the endless flow of B.S. that bombards your confidence? You shouldn’t! Find reasons to love your voice, your process and your work flow. Get away from the constant “No’s” that are sure to accompany being a filmmaker in L.A. and get to a place where the only person who needs to O.K. your ideas is you!

What are some of the filming equipment you use? Are some cameras better than others and what should the beginner start out with?
HJ: I shoot with RED cameras and I love them. Having those cameras have made people take my stories a lot more seriously. To the budding filmmaker, it’s just as much about sound, lighting, direction, etc. Red cam or iPhone shouldn’t stop you from doing something.  Refine your skills as a boom operator, editor, etc. It takes 10,000 hours to master something. Getting those hours done and you’ll find out what your skill set really is.

What is your opinion about the mainstream Hollywood portrayal of the superhero genre?
HJ: I love them. I also know it’s my job to take these stories further.

What would be another hero you would like create a series for? Why?
HJ: I’m currently developing a Wonder Woman series for the web. I’m doing it for the same reason I did Grayson:Earth One. It’s a challenge to do it right and I know I can. Or I’m too silly to realize I’m an idiot [laughing].

Regarding fundraising sites such as indiegogo or Kickstarter: Are these a benefit to starting out film makers or a hindrance? Why?
HJ: I’m not sure yet. Some days it seems like a god send.Other days it seems more political than it needs to be. But again, I’m not sure!

You can see Hisonni’s latest project at Grayson: Earth One and remember to contribute to their indiegogo what you can to help this amazing project! LIKE on Facebook and FOLLOW on Twitter.

Read the original Legendarium story HERE on Grayson: Earth One and view the episode!

Grayson: Earth One Donation Video

Steve “Rifflo” Fitch – News Director

Steve, also known as “Rifflo”, is a University MBA Administrator in Ontario Canada where he lives with his wife, Lisa and two young daughters, Alexa and Ava. Steve has an extensive background in corporate sales. Steve also worked for ISAF: International Security Assistance Force and the Canadian Military as a recruiter in Human Resources for the operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan. When not amerced in Tolkien works,sci-fi, and film, you can find him training in Muay Thai, Italian rapier, German longsword, and Mixed Martial Arts. Follow Steve on Twitter @HobbitSteve

About Steve "Rifflo" Fitch

Steve, also known as “Rifflo”, is a University MBA Administrator in Ontario Canada where he lives with his wife, Lisa and two young daughters, Alexa and Ava. Steve has an extensive background in corporate sales. Steve also worked for ISAF: International Security Assistance Force and the Canadian Military as a recruiter in Human Resources for the operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan. When not immersed in Tolkien works,sci-fi, and film, you can find him training in Muay Thai, and Italian rapier.