Interview with 'Dreamcatcher' Writer-Director Jacob Johnston
March 2, 2021
This week I had the extreme pleasure of speaking with writer-director Jacob Johnston about his feature debut, the haunting slasher Dreamcatcher which centers around two sisters and their mutual friends as they become entrenched in a forty-eight hour whirlwind of violence after a terrible event during an underground music festival.
During our twenty-minute chat, we discussed Johnston’s fresh take on the slasher genre that's sure to please audiences across generations, as well as character building, sibling relationships, and naturally, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
While I'm excited that Johnston is single-handedly resurrecting the slasher flick, did the filmmaker himself feel pressure to make the kills in the film very elaborate?
"My goal was not to outdo the last kill, but rather to make sure every kill that happened was meaningful," Johnston says. "I didn’t want to kill a character just to have a death scene. That’s why, in this film, you don’t get crazy chainsaw-through-the-head type of stuff."
Characters are so important to Johnston, that he usually starts with those over plot. "For me, the plot hinges on them. Obviously that’s not the case for all films, but for Dreamcatcher I really wanted dense characters because you’re taking the time to create a connection with other characters in the film, but also with the audience."
Johnston dug deep into his own life when crafting characters, specifically the sisters' storyline, channeling his own sibling relationship.
"I looked up to my brother so much because he got to do everything first, and for a few years we had a little bit of a falling out because that happens. I believe that's an interesting conversation to explore; the estrangement between siblings. There’s bigger emotional baggage that comes with that."
Plot-wise, Johnston also knew how he wanted Dreamcatcher to end. "I knew what I wanted from the beginning and the rest of the script was shaped organically from there. It was also a little bit easier because I know who I wanted these characters to be. The original cut of the movie was two hours and twenty minutes. We got some really great notes along the way. There were some scenes in the film that were sad to see taken out, but it was best for the film overall."
When asked how he takes notes as a writer, Johnston is very pragmatic.
"It’s the age-old thing — there’s the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you make in post. There were some things we shot on the day that I wrote on the page, that just didn’t work. If I didn’t feel conviction to keep it, I cut it. At the end of the day, this is not my movie, it’s the audience's. If it makes sense and benefits the story, we gotta do it."
So naturally that brings me to ask Johnston my most important question: " True or false, Age of Ultron is the most important film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?"
"I love Age of Ultron and will go to bat with you on that! It was ahead of its time. If Scream 4 came out today, it would be epic. Age of Ultron came out too early, but it’s brilliant."
Agreed. We can safely move on with the interview — what advice would Johnston give his younger writer self?
"Don’t be so long winded! Find ways to tell a story so that you don’t have to over-explain to an audience. Keep it streamlined and also remember that audiences are much smarter than we give them credit for," Johnston muses. "Also, just be bold — don’t be afraid to follow the path of something conventional. There is no one way to tell a story. Don’t be afraid to break the mold and fail."
Dreamcatcher is available On Demand and Digital March 5th, 2021.
Written by: Sade' SellersSade’ Sellers is a screenwriter and producer based in Burbank, California. Originally from Michigan’s capital, Lansing, Sade’ has been working in the entertainment industry since 2009. In 2017, Sade’ was a finalist for Tv One’s Screenwriting competition for her teleplay The Replacement. This achievement motivated the network to hire her as a writer for their upcoming movie of the week event, Deadly Dispatch, which premiered on the platform in the summer of 2019. Through that production process, Sade’ met casting director Leah Daniels-Butler who was in the midst of staffing her production company, 1oneninety5. Sade’ then rose to the role of Vice President of Content Acquisitions and Development and spent the next year learning the ecosystem of film and television development from pitching to production. Using that experience, and bound at home due to COVID-19, Sade’ made a return to her first love, screenwriting, utilizing her free time to write new content. www.sadesellers.com