But Friday was the first time he had ever had the opportunity to present a feature film that he’s worked on — a Sundance-Film Festival inclusion, no less — in his hometown.
Elyria native Johnson, the energetic first assistant director on the critically acclaimed film “Take Shelter,” kicked off the film’s Lorain County premiere at the Stocker Arts Gallery at Lorain County Community College, his alma mater.
“This is quite an honor to be standing up here, because generally, nobody really cares who the assistant director is,” Johnson said, smiling. “I can’t even call this a dream come true, because the idea of a feature film that has had this much recognition, that was filmed in my hometown, my home county, my high school, is not even something I could have conceptualized in 1991.”
That year Johnson earned an associate degree from LCCC on a full scholarship.
He went on to study film at New York University in New York City, and then moved to Los Angeles for a stint before settling down in Cleveland in 2002. But it all came back in full force when he realized that the media department at LCCC was comprised of the same professors who had been there when he was a student.
“Take Shelter” has a number of Lorain County connections — it was shot in locations across Lorain County, including the former Elyria West High School, from which Johnson graduated. The film was produced over a four-week period in the summer of 2010.
The story is an intense, psychological thriller starring Michael Shannon, who plays a man dealing with the tormenting dreams of an impending, catastrophic storm in the small Ohio town where he lives with his wife and daughter.
The film was produced independently by Northeast Ohio native Tyler Davidson, who brought Johnson on board to act as the production supervisor. Johnson was later asked to become the first assistant director on the film when no one else was found to do the job.
For him, this is just another step on the path to his dream to become an independent producer.
“It’s really a question of the next opportunity finding me,” he said.
The film has garnered critical acclaim since its premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last January, traveling to film festivals across the country and generating notable Oscar buzz.
It was bought by Sony Pictures Classics and has witnessed a staggered release throughout North America.
“Take Shelter” opened at the Cleveland Cedar Lee last October. Friday’s event at the Stocker Arts Center was the first Lorain County showing.
“Take Shelter” is rated R and is in limited release across the United States.