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Christian Johnston, Documentary Filmmaker
Christian Johnson, Documentary Filmmaker

Christian Johnston invented his edgy, running and gunning style of energetic filmmaking before he even realized he was a filmmaker. When he was ten years old, he loaded up the family Super 8 camera and filmed his family and friends acting out the high-energy scenes he concocted. He won his first festival award for a short film at 17 years old. Born and raised at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Johnston conquered several extreme sports before he was old enough to drive legally. As a competitive snowboarder, he spent entire winter days and nights careening down 30-degree mountainsides, half an eye on the white powder under him, and all spare eyesight on the eyepiece of his DV camera aimed at the worlds best snowboarders all over the world. From these shoots he released four documentaries into worldwide release.


Johnston followed his passion to tell edgy, thought provoking stories on film by enrolling in USC Film School, and became an official nonconformist filmmaker.  Johnstons alternative ingenuity was a perfect fit to direct commercials, short films, music videos, extreme sports and lifestyle TV episodes, and documentaries that offered free creative reign for his distinctive style.  Johnston traveled to over thirty countries in his 28 years directing and shooting, but was always looking for the one film project that would combine adventure and a search for the truth.


Johnston has been singled out in SHOTS as one of five new directors selected from around the world as New Blood, and granted a Director to Watch award from Boards Magazine. His 8 pro bono PSA campaigns for the American Lung Association won him a first place Prism Award. His creations have earned awards like Best Film, Best Sports Film and Best New Director at local festivals and advertising awards ceremonies around the United States. He has made a swarm of alternative commercials, including one for McDonalds that drew a parallel between speed skaters and the fast food chains staffers. He also directed ads for Calvin Klein, SSF Motorsports/BMW Racing and two award-winning international ad campaigns for Puma featuring the popular skate-boarders, Gino Perez and Kien Lieu. He has directed music videos for artists on major labels such as Warner Bros. Records and A&M Records and the indie labels Dark Horse Records and ESL, and he directed three music videos for Thievery Corporations Minor Conspiracy album.


Johnston was a natural on his own turf as creator, director and executive producer for five TV series, including 26 episodes of Winning Women, a program about top female athletes around the world. He enjoyed directing and executive producing two youth lifestyle TV shows, Nocturnal and Driven, that were shot in Thailand, Bali, New Zealand, Chile and a dozen other locations around the world.



Johnstons other recent projects include a documentary sponsored by Kodak and American Cinemateque, Breaking In: Tales from the Hollywood Front, which followed the challenging behind-the-scenes lives of filmmakers on the festival circuit over the last four years. Johnston, along with Christian van Gregg, created the Anonymous Content and Brett Morgan produced film, Trial by Fire, about at-risk youths in action in a little known juvenile detention firecamp program that allows rival gang members to fight wild fires side by side as they learn to respect the power of Mother Nature and each other.


Johnston maintains Complex, his new commercial, TV and film company, housed by a collective of subversive creatives in Hollywood, with offices in Prague and Paris, for all of his projects. He is represented by ICM, Anonymous Content and Cucoloris in the US, and Stark Films/Large in London for commercials.

Answer This?
Q & A with Mr.Johnson
Film Addiction: How much of your filmmaking style can be attributed to
what you learned at USC Film School?
Christian Johnson:As a production and Critical studies major I learned that cinema can have a purpose and be well designed from ever aspect of it 'mis en scene...' But shooting in a chaotic environment such as a war zone does not allow much attention to things other then the immediate. As it happens, the immediate is what makes a reality fiction film like September Tapes draw people
in. The best lesson I learned from film school was to drawing from conscious decisions and how to write film dialogue.
FA: You started your career in television & commercials, do you
Plan to shoot strictly films in the future?
CJ:No because I have bills to pay and want to experiment. I love working in the short form
FA: What is the premise behind The September
CJ: For me the inspiration was to tell the story of one man who traveled to Afghanistan to document the truth about the war on
FA: You have filmed  documentaries in the past-can you tell me
a bit about those stories?
CJ:I have done a number of documenatries and they are a world of fun. I love shooting scripted scenes in the midst of real situations and trying to see if anyone notices. 
FA: What story genre do you prefer to work from: drama, doc.  comedy, etc? CJ:All tossed into one. For now there is a chance to make a statement like never before. Shake well and serve.
FA: You shot The September Tapes in Afghanistan during very
turbulent time. Was the production every in danger?
CJ:We had a number of near fatal injuries, constant threats from al-Qaeda, nearly a half dozen people killed within a hundred yards of us. In every moment there was a threat of danger and allot of what happened is in the film.

A Closer Look:
September Tapes

Chris Johnston's September Tapes is an uncompromising, timely, and action-packed film that is sure to be controversial. Set in post-9/11 Afghanistan, this thought-provoking debut blends fiction with the real war and fashions an authentic and powerful look at one man's quest for answers.

Less than a year after the attacks on the World Trade Center, journalist Don Larson and two others go to Kabul to find the truth not being reported by the media. The trio meets members of the Northern Alliance as well as rebels, but Larson is arrested for taking pictures of police. In jail, he learns of Babak, a bounty hunter on the trail of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. The journey takes a drastic turn when the men follow Babak into the middle of a fierce gun battle and barely survive a barrage of bullets, missiles, and errant U.S. bombs. When Babak deserts them, the men are left to face their own demons.

Johnston's inimitable direction under adverse conditions makes us wonder how much is acting and which bullets are real. He dives headfirst, physically and politically, into thorny terrain to tell a story that inflames and astounds. Politics aside, September Tapes is an incredible filmmaking accomplishment-
Trevor Groth