Lydia Johnson talks about her feature film Burn Out, Hollywood and taking it one day at a time.

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photos / Natalie Neal

story + stylist / Koko Ntuen

Lydia Johnson is a actress, filmmaker, writer, model, chef, wife, director and all around jack of all trades living in Los Angeles. Burn Out is her first feature film. It’s a brilliant film which explores  life in sunny LA,  quarter life crises,  selling drugs, hooking up and hanging out with crazy friends who do even crazier things.  The film is currently raising finishing funds to help complete the post-production of Burn Out Donate today and win great prizes.

Burn Out Needs Your Support! from lydia johnson on Vimeo.

What was your inspiration for Burn Out?
A few years ago, legalizing marijuana was on the ballot in California. It didn’t pass, but there was constant information inundating voters. Los Angeles already has tons of dispensaries where you can just go buy weed, so it was obviously a hot issue on the ballot. I began thinking about this hypothetical pot dealer character, loosely based on people I actually knew, but combined with my own thoughts and feelings. That is how the character of Ada was born. She is faced with having to find a new career when pot is legalized in the film. She can no longer coast through life. I was inspired by the fear of the unknown, and the fact that my friends and I are all approaching our thirties and reassessing what it is we’re doing with our lives. Have we “made it” yet? Do we need to consider other careers? What the hell are any of us doing with our lives, anyway? I think these are common artist questions we all ponder, and it can be scary.
What was the most fun part about filming?
I was so excited to direct for the first time and to see what I wrote actually come to fruition. I have studied acting, writing, and directing for the better part of my adult life, and to get to orchestrate everything about the film was really awesome and challenging. I did everything from fundraising, to casting, to art directing, to acting, and so much more in between.
What challenges did you face making your first feature film?
There were always little doubts, like “Am I good enough?” or “Can I really pull this off?” But once we began production, I just had to let go and try as best I could to live in the moment. There will always be minor hiccups when making independent, super low-budget films, and you have to problem solve on the spot. I didn’t realize that my brain would be in total overdrive until we began shooting. I barely slept the entire shoot. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and the wheels were just turning. I survived by making lots of lists and having a good friend be my right hand lady. She helped me make the lists (thanks, Maggie!).
What are some things you will do different when making your next movie?
Next time, I don’t think I’ll take on the world. I think I’ll have someone else produce because it’s a lot to do all by yourself. I’d prefer if my brain weren’t totally crazy! And I’d like to maybe write a script and act in it, but have someone else direct. I don’t know. I guess it depends on the script and the people I’d be working with.
What was it like the first time you saw the first cut of the movie?
Watching a cut for the first time was encouraging, because my editor and I agreed that we had a movie. It also made me more impatient to be finished with it, but there’s still so much work to be done from first cut to picture lock. It’s a long, hard journey, with lots of technically boring aspects. But in the end, it’s gonna be great!

What do you think of Hollywood?
I hate it. I mean, I love my little neighborhood in Echo Park, and I pretty much just never want to leave my house. I’ve basically become a hermit. Hollywood proper is terrible. I’ve lived here for 8 years, and I’ve been told I’m too fat, no pretty enough, whatever, by talent managers and the likes. The whole acting grind is an exhausting and superficial game. I am hoping to move to the desert soon, where I will continue to make my own art.

Image courtesy of Burn Out

Image courtesy of Burn Out

What is the main obstacle for Ada in the movie?
Ada has to figure out what she’s going to do with her life, now that marijuana is legal. The need for a drug-dealer is obsolete if you can buy weed anywhere, and she’s thirty, not like fresh out of college, so she feels a little confused about what to do now. She has a few moments where her anxiety gets the best of her, so she has to work through those emotions.

Image courtesy of Burn Out

What was it like working with Har Mar Super Star?
Oh he was fantastic! The scenes he’s in deal with foot-fetishism, and I didn’t want he or Tarah, who plays Ada, to have to rehearse any of that stuff. I was going for more raw, in the moment reactions from them both, so we talked about the scene and blocked it all out very meticulously. I had them read through the scene several times to tweak a few moments. When we actually filmed it, we were all dying laughing because Har Mar was so committed. He just went for it, and it worked for the scene and the moments we wanted.
What are you going to do when the movie wraps?
We wrapped production over a year ago, and I think I just did nothing for a long time. I was also kind of depressed and weird. But once we’re done with everything, I hope to take it to festivals, and then I can probably start thinking about what my next big project will be.
Give us advice on making a movie?
One day at a time? Follow your heart. Ask for help.
What is the last movie you watched?
Full Metal Jacket. I was just cooking for an indie film for two weeks in Ojai, CA (which coincidentally starred LG cover girl Elisabeth Moss!), and we were stuck in the guest house, cooking in a tiny kitchen. By week two, we discovered that the TV worked, so we watched lots of AMC movies while prepping food and running back and forth to set. I love Vincent D’onofrio in Full Matel Jacket. So haunting…
Is there anything you hope to accomplish with Burn Out?
I hope that people have fun watching it, and that they can relate to the character’s struggle. I want to share this work that my friends and I busted our asses to make. Hopefully people will like it.

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