Director Rian Johnson’s diverse filmography certainly speaks to his career’s success (and uniqueness). First entering the scene with his high school neo-noir made on a shoestring budget, Johnson would go on to direct the grifting movie “The Brothers Bloom.” The time-travel-centered “Looper” would follow after this. These directorial efforts would be done all while stepping into the realm of television, directing two of the more famous “Breaking Bad” episodes, “Fly” and “Ozymandias.” Johnson would eventually enter a bigger spotlight when he signed on to direct the second film in Disney’s “Star Wars” sequel trilogy. The middle installment, titled “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi,” received acclaim from critics but divided the “Star Wars” fanbase.
Fast forward five years and Rian Johnson has reinvigorated murder mysteries with “Knives Out,” receiving a deal from Netflix to produce two more Benoit Blanc stories. This brings us to the director’s latest film, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” With a TV show currently on the way and a “Star Wars” trilogy of his own still up in the air, Johnson has become quite the successful filmmaker. However, before all that success, he had trouble simply getting into the film program at the University of Southern California — a rejection that eventually led him to write a strongly worded letter.
A Persistent Attitude
While speaking on the “SmartLess” podcast, Rian Johnson recalled that it wasn’t much of an issue getting into USC. Instead, it was the school’s prestigious film program specifically, with famous alumni such as George Lucas, that kept denying him. Johnson explained that he “had really, really bad grades in high school because I was just making movies with my friends all the time. I was a bad student. So, my grades were bad, I had no connections at all,” which led to the constant rejection from the USC film program.
Undeterred, Rian Johnson would attend the school as an “undeclared” major. However, as the future director progressed further into University, he reached a boiling point with the program:
“Finally, I hit my junior year, and I get rejected again. And so, at that point, I had become friends with tons of film majors, and I was sitting in on film classes, so I became a literature major and was happy. But the midpoint of the next year rolled around, and so I– and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone trying to get into USC. But I wrote kind of like an ‘F You’ letter. It was really obnoxious.”
In Johnson’s words, the letter he wrote to the school would be “this one-page thing of whatever 19-year-old me was [whining about]. ‘I’m a filmmaker; I don’t need your program.'” Funnily enough, this is what got him accepted into the program. Johnson’s directorial debut years later would be evocative of the director’s go-getter attitude when making movies.
‘A Matter Of Sticking To Our Guns’
Rian Johnson’s first feature film, “Brick,” was released in 2005 but had a long development period before ever getting released. A hard-boiled detective story with a high school backdrop, this neo-noir film was a labor of love for the director. Rian Johnson’s persistence would shine again as he worked to make his script for “Brick” a reality. In a 2006 interview with Rotten Tomatoes to promote the film, Johnson said:
“It took six years to get it off the ground. Part of this was because the script was so unusual, and I was a first-time director. Never an easy combination for the money people. But it was just a matter of sticking to our guns, refusing to change the script to make it easier to swallow, and not giving up until it came together.”
The dedication would pay off, resulting in a strong film that holds up 17 years later. The small budget of “Brick” reinforces its gritty tone and aesthetic, and seeing the story Johnson could tell with the limited resources he had is inspiring. “Brick” could be seen as a template for Johnson’s later films, with “Knives Out” harkening back to the filmmaker’s love of mystery. Rian Johnson’s story of perseverance and dedication should be taken as a positive lesson to any aspiring filmmakers to stay true to the stories they want to tell.
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Source: Slash Film