Writer/director Jacob Johnston’s feature debut Dreamcatcher could have existed as a guilty pleasure hack and slasher, but he had other plans in mind. During his chat with Deepest Dream, Johnston elaborated on his layered storytelling approach to his film, a horror thriller that hits theaters, Digital and On Demand March 5.
Dreamcatcher centers on Dylan (Mitch Burns), a music artist known as DJ Dreamcatcher. His hunger for fame and glory may lead to a dire end for a group of youths who attend an underground music festival he is spearheading. Niki Koss and Elizabeth Posey are two estranged sisters who attempt to bond during this night out, but unfortunately this social event doesn’t turn out as planned.
Co-starring Zachary Gordon and Adrienne Wilkinson, Dreamcatcher attempts to bring a bit more storytelling gravitas amidst all the entertainment. There is a ton of scares and fun to be had as well (especially if you dig those teen horror films from the 90s), but it’s great to see writer/director Jacob Johnston bringing a different spin to the material. With a bunch of scripts under his belt and a great taste for cinema (one can’t go wrong with Psycho and Jurassic Park as favorite films), Johnston has a ton of promise in the moviemaking world. But let’s focus on the present with Dreamcatcher . . .
Let’s start off with writing the Dreamcatcher screenplay. That itself should be considered an accomplishment. Was that a challenging process for you in regards to shaping your narrative?
Jacob Johnston: I’ve probably have written 25 scripts in my time here in L.A. It really depends on what’s going to be the one.
With this one it was a little different, because I actually got a phone call from Brandon (producer Brandon Michael Vayda) and Kris (producer Kristifor Cvijetic) whom I’ve known for many years. We had a shared love for genre stuff. It was a situation where (they) had financing in place and they wanted to do this love letter to the 90s type film. Really the playground of it all was I could write a script around that idea.
The first draft I actually cranked out in 9 days. After that it was a month and a half of changes here, punch ups there, and we started to refine the production logistics.
You can spend months, even years on certain scripts. When there are timelines in place and the creative process becomes a little bit more expedited. But you still have a wide array of opportunity to take this story with loose parameters was really exciting to me.
Have you always had that writer’s discipline?
Jacob Johnston: It is difficult for sure and it’s no different than carpenters who love to use their hands and shape wood into something interesting. It’s more than a block of wood. And writing a script, a short story or anything – it’s an exercise of so many different things.
I get to research different kinds of cultures. I can research different types of psychological disorders. Depending on the story, I get to learn something and take that learned behavior and translate it some way. I find that to be extremely fulfilling. It’s not just peddling fantasy stories, it’s the the ability to learn and grow as an individual with each script that we write.
You discuss fantasy stories, and on the surface Dreamcatcher works on that level. But can you talk about making each person’s fate in your story have a level of weight to the proceedings?
Jacob Johnston: I’m really glad that resonated with you because it is exactly what I wanted to do. There are great horror movies that live in a world of hack and slash, fast paced scares and I love watching them. I love psychologically complex characters and how do I introduce that without getting heavy handed and lost just in the drama? You still have to deliver the goods in some capacity.
I’m so influenced by the world of identity and family and the corruption of power. We grow up in school reading the books we are assigned to read. Trying to introduce (those themes) in a genre film makes sense to me. It makes the characters when, or if they meet their end, hopefully you’ve related to them in some way. So it’s more than just a patchwork vibe.
When the movie’s over, you can have a conversation on what that character mean to you with your friends or family. Stirring those kinds of conversations is an invigorating place to be.
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The movie may seem like a fantastical view of Los Angeles. But residents who live in the city know better and will recognize some of the story’s truisms about the culture.
One hundred percent. It is intrinsically in the DNA of being an L.A. based story. I think the fantastical elements allow audience members who don’t live here, it’s not like they’re not in on the joke.
You don’t want to alienate the rest of the world because they don’t live here. You have to balance what L.A. looks to the outside world versus the gritty reality of what it actually is in certain ways. It’s what La La Land did so well, it kind of romanticized Los Angeles and it made it this place of “Wow this is so beautiful, it’s Old Hollywood.”
With Dreamcatcher, it is kind of a heightened reality but the things that happen to these characters, sometimes they really do happen to your friends and you get caught up in the scene and the moment. There is a search, I feel in Los Angeles, for identity. It’s a city of transplants and orphans – these people who come out here and try to find themselves through one way or the other. Basing that idea and messaging of identity into a story based in L.A. made a lot of sense.
It’s a lot of people to figure out who they are, what they want, and what they’ll do to get there.
You have a wonderful ensemble of talented actors in your film. Do you see yourself working with them down the road as well?
Jacob Johnston: It’s exactly that. It’s such a blessing to be surrounded by not one, not two, or three great actors but a whole cast of people. The passion that they brought to the project – there were some who have been working actors for many years. Seeing them evolved and work together and grow and treat every one of their co-stars with the same respect and integrity. You can’t beat that.
There is no ego or malice. There’s no “my part is bigger than yours.” There’s that vibe of camaraderie where the movie succeeds only if you think we’re making the best thing possible. You have to have that mindset from beginning to end. Their talent every word on the page or whatever they improved and whatever nuance they brought to the character. It truly is an incredible blessing and I can’t wait to hopefully work with them down the line.
Can you name one of your favorite films and why does it still resonate with you?
Jacob Johnston: It’s a two way tie here and it’s Psycho and Jurassic Park. Psycho because to me, when I watch it, I discover these really new things of these really rich characters. In the way that the scenes are choreographed and the dialogue. There is so much to unpack about that movie. For it being done as long as it was, it’s timeless and it’s just and incredible film just emotionally and stylistically.
Jurassic Park it is a little bit of nostalgia but it is the perfect example of every person in the ensemble gets their moment. You don’t get that world of fully realized characters in an action movie very often. Each character has to learn something and really evolve in order to survive.
The end when they’re in the helicopter and they get this moment of reprieve and I really felt like I grew with all these characters. I just love that and it’s the movie that inspired me to go into filmmaking. It will always hold a special place in my heart as a story.
Jacob thank you for your time. I appreciated the layered approach to your story.
Jacob Johnston: Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate and I will talk to you later.
Dreamcatcher hits theaters, Digital and On Demand March 5.
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