Filmmaker provides new perspective for students

Visiting Assistant Professor of Film and Digital Media Production Mike Johnson provides advice to actor Edouard Holdener in a scene from “Hunky Dory.” “I believe it is important to teach film students how to bring their stories to the world,” Johnson said.

by Life Editor Monday Sanderson

“I think in many ways teachers are superheroes, and they always manage to rise to the occasion.”

Mike Johnson is a filmmaker and the new visiting assistant professor of film and digital media production. He said he has always wanted to be a teacher.

“From a very early age, it was always something that was important to me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. On the other side of it, filmmaker is my passion. To be able to combine those two things is really important to me.”

The search committee picked Johnson over two other candidates, said Department of Communications Chair Butler Cain.

“He emerged as someone we really liked,” he said. “We liked the work that he has done, and he seems very interested in the educational component of film as well. The more we talked to him, he seemed like a very good fit to us.”

Johnson said this position was “serendipitous.”

“After I got a couple of projects under my belt, I started looking for positions,” he said. “I was shooting a film this past year, so I was unable to start working during the fall, but I saw there was an opening here for the spring, so I applied for it.”

Cain said Johnson will bring different experiences for the students.

Johnson said he has written and directed two feature films, the dramedy “Hunky Dory” and the drama “Savage Youth” with “Hunky Dory” winning multiple awards.

“We’re really looking forward to working with him,” said senior Colton McCormick. “It’s a lot of work for our single professor, Jason Pangilinan, to handle on his own, so we’re hoping Mike will be a valuable asset for us.”

Cain said he is looking forward to working with Johnson.

“He was really excited to work in the education field,” Cain said. “He seemed really genuine about wanting to help our students and to teach them.”

He is a friendly person, McCormick said.

“Even though I’ve only known Mike one day, I can already tell how genuine he is and how eager he is to help us,” he said.

Johnson said he is excited to work with the students.

“I worked with 20 film students on (a film project) Sunday, and just being around their energy, I was inspired by them,” he said. “They were just so passionate to create a project together. I have never seen a group of students so enthusiastic.”

McCormick said Johnson provided advice and helped with the production of the “culinary comedy.”

Cain said he hopes Johnson can bring more stability.

“With (Jason) Flynn’s passing, we had to bring a lot of adjunct professors in to help cover some of those classes,” Cain said. “We will now have one professor teaching four classes. So, I think that would make it much better for the students.”

Johnson said he hopes to teach his students how to become better storytellers.

“Filmmaking is really about getting people to see not only your point of view, but also others,” he said. “Storytelling is the way for us to connect with people who aren’t exactly like us. I believe it is important to teach film students how to bring their stories to the world.”

The stories are of unconventional characters in situations most people find relatable, he said.

Johnson said when he is not working with films, he is spending time with his wife and two daughters.

“If I have any amount of free time, I’m usually with my family,” he said. “It’s important to me to take the time and relax with them.”

Johnson said he hopes to make new friends and become a part of the Florence community.

“I plan to apply for the full-time position and stay here,” he said. “This is something I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to continue making films, but I feel like that is something you can do anywhere. The only thing that is important to me is having some balance in my personal life and professional life.”