In Session: Katie Lynn Johnson

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ALBANY – Grief can express itself in a myriad of ways; it can crumble someone to their knees, forever changing who they are as a person. For others, grief can cause a sea-change moment, creating something powerful through the experience. This is certainly the case for local filmmaker, Katie Lynn Johnson. Turning her incredibly painful loss of losing her mother to a terminal illness, Katie, following her biggest passion of acting, put the events and work she has done to process them into a creative crucible with her film If I Could Tell You. A labor of love through-and-through, the film is nothing if not inspiring. I had a chance to sit down with Johnson this past week. What follows is our conversation.

For more info on the film, please click here.

Lucas Garrett: Hello, Katie! How’re you doing tonight? I hear you’re working on a movie.

Katie Johnson: Yes, I am! We’ve been working on a short film for about two years now. I’m excited to finally be celebrating it with people live in a theater! It’s happening November 19th at the Madison Theatre in Albany, 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

LG: Tell us a bit about the movie.

KJ: The movie is called If I Could Tell You. It’s a story about writing a letter to your younger self. It’s based on my experience with grief: unfortunately, when I was a junior in high school, I found out my mom had terminal cancer. This short film is essentially my love letter to those who have lost loved ones, and is hopefully a form of encouragement and hope for those people.

LG: That’s a very deep subject. When I was reading the info on it, the main character believed she had processed this trauma, but then realizes the work wasn’t done.

KJ: Yes.

LG: As a filmmaker, talking about the events that happened in your life and putting them in the context of that film, was that a therapeutic experience for you?

KJ: That’s a great question. This was very challenging and healing at the same time. When I was writing this story, I really wanted to shine a light on the hardship of caring for a loved one at the end of their life, specifically being a caretaker towards a family member with an illness. I didn’t fully realize how hard that would be until we started plotting out scenes, planning out how it was going to look, what props we were going to have… the colors. All those details, when they really started to come together, felt very heavy, and it was almost “Oh, no, what have I gotten myself into?”

When it came to filming and we were on set together, as challenging as it was to be reliving these moments of my life, it was healing and it was something that I was able to look back on and feel that I’ve grown from it. Hopefully when they see the film, someone out there can relate to it and feel they’re not alone.

LG: Do you feel the process of making this film has helped you even further along your path of grief than you were prior to its genesis?

KJ: Definitely. This film was made at the perfect time, for me. We filmed it ten years – almost to the day – that my mother passed away. I couldn’t have done it any sooner. It was a really good thing to have it filmed around the ten-year anniversary of her passing because time really does make a difference…

LG: Mhm…

KJ: …and this was a helpful way for me to go deeper and feel things I’d been scared of for many years, and I know lots of us are scared to talk about it. Deep is scary for some of us. It was really helpful for me to dive in deep. By the end of it, I was able to walk away and have a new perspective of this whole scenario. In a lot of ways, it was a metaphor for my own life: talking to my younger self.

LG: You mentioned it’s a short film. How long is it, roughly?

KJ: The film is about eleven-minutes long.

LG: Did you feel making a film that short was hard to encapsulate all of the events? What you’re talking about is certainly not an eleven-minute ordeal.

KJ: Right.

LG: Through my own grief, even though I haven’t dealt with this particular grief… when you’re in the bowels of grief, one minute can feel like an eternity. As a filmmaker, how did you take such a Herculean mountain of grief and condense it to eleven minutes?

KJ: That’s a great question, and one that most short filmmakers ask themselves; how do we make a compelling story in a short amount of time? The best ones will find creative ways to drop you in to a full-story, where you might not have the whole buildup of how someone got there. But hopefully in the writing and acting, you’re able to pick up where they are in their life and you’re able to find ways to relate to their character.

In terms of this being such a short film, I think there’s definitely a world for this project to be a feature film someday. As a short film, it’s able to tell a compelling story that so many of us feel and know. Especially with the time we live in today with the COVID world: lots of grieving and loss in our lives. I was trying to show somebody in the middle of their process of grief, that needs a turning point to happen, and the main character, Noelle, finds that she has to face her grief head-on in order for her to ever get to a place where she feels alive again.

LG: Right. What made you want to be a filmmaker?

KJ: My passion has always been in telling stories. I’ve done that through singing and performing, visual artistry, and most recently, I jumped into my biggest passion, which is acting. This project began when I asked myself what kind of stories I wanted to be telling. I wanted to show what I could do, as well. This short was a leap into the industry where I went from having no experience to figuring it all out from the ground up. Luckily, I was able to have such a qualified and skilled team of people helping me. Lots of wonderful people giving advice and working with me, creatively, planning and executing this whole film. It was definitely a. labor of love but totally worth it in the end.

LG: When it comes to acting, who are some of your creative influences?

KJ: I really love Saoirse Ronan and her ability to subtly connect with just her eyes. I really love Andrew Garfield and Rachel McAdams.

LG: Rachel McAdams is great!

KJ: They all have such an honesty about their acting, where it feels as though you’re not watching someone on a screen, but you’re there living the experience with them.

LG: Your movie, If I Could Tell You, will be at the Madison Theatre in Albany on November 19th. Tell us a bit about the event.

KJ: This is a completely free event that will run from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. There will be opportunities for attendees to donate if they feel they’d like to. That will help pay for the cost of the event, but I wanted to make sure anyone that wanted to see it will be able to, so it will be free. I want to add that we’ll be featuring two other films and local artists at this event.

LG: What are the films and the names of those artists?

KJ: I’m really excited to be showcasing two amazing short films. The first short film is Potluck by LaLa Halsema. It tells the story of a young woman named Caroline who’s desperately trying to belong. The other short film, Sprained, by Josh Stasko, tells the story of a man dealing with anxiety and loneliness who’s been hiding his pain from others his whole life. There’s a really beautiful theme throughout the night that involves our younger selves in all of them. I’m really excited about that. To me, that’s a huge thing that we all can relate to: the idea of connecting to our younger self and what we might say them to.

LG: Thank you again for taking the time out of your night to talk about this. Is there anything else you’d like to go over?

KJ: I’m honored to be interviewed. Thank you for taking the time as well. Have a good night.

LG: You, too.

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