Back in November, we invited filmmaker Craig Johnson to contribute to our guest blog series. At the time, he was finishing up his second feature, The Skeleton Twins starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Less than a week later, Johnson learned that his film would be screening, in competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Yesterday, The Skeleton Twins had its world premiere in Park City and this Variety headline sums up the majority of reviews so far: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig give knockout performances as estranged siblings in Craig Johnson’s character-driven crowdpleaser.
To celebrate the film’s milestone, we are re-posting Johnson’s piece. Congrats to everyone involved with The Skeleton Twins and if you are not at the fest and want your Wiig/Hader fix today, watch the duo in another Sundance-premiered hit film, Adventureland.
original post: November 27, 2013
What do you like to know about a person when you first meet them? Where they grew up? What are their hobbies? If they only had one wish, what would it be? These things matter. They determine if you have things in common which determines how your relationship will progress and how you’ll be perceived going forward. What may be most telling though is asking ‘what are your favorite movies?’ Ask someone – guarantee you’ll judge. Most people talk about their favorite movies with great passion and as today’s Guest Blogger states, “true film geeks wear movies like a badge of honor.” Filmmaker Craig Johnson does just that and has a love affair with ‘beautiful, strange and challenging movies.’ In his own coming of age story, films became a window to his soul and to his soul mate.
In high school in the early 90s I would often spend my Friday and Saturday nights going to the movies… with my mom. It’s not quite as Norman Bates as it sounds. I would also go to the movies with friends. Or by myself. Frankly, I would go to the movies all the time. And I would see everything. We’re talking The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag everything (remember that one? Anyone? Bueller?) But my mom liked the arty stuff. The offbeat stuff. She liked what my friend, David, called “Oak Furniture Movies”- you know, the Howard’s End, Remains of the Day, Wings of the Dove – type movies that featured lots of, well, oak furniture. And Helena Bonham Carter. I loved those Oak Furniture movies – the repression, the ritual, the mannered speech, class politics, British accents, the costumes, the witty bon mots, and, oh, the oak furniture –and no one but my mom would go see them with me. Which was fine with me.
The Piano was different than your average Oak Furniture movie. For one, the main piece of oak furniture was waterlogged and stranded on a New Zealand beach. But mainly, this movie didn’t have an ounce of fustiness to it. On the contrary: it was carnal, mud-caked, rapturous. Beautiful but punk rock. And so packed with indelible images, that I can recall them instantly: Little Anna Paquin turning cartwheels on the beach. The sand seahorse. Holly Hunter collapsing into the mud and her skirt ballooning out around her. And, of course, the moment when Harvey Keitel kisses Holly Hunter on the neck for the first time – An image that inspired the film’s primary American poster.
I worked in a movie theater at the mall throughout high school and occasionally, once the movie was gone, you could take home a cool poster – which was harder than you may think because the projectionists would take all the good ones and leave you with Camp Nowhere or Stakeout 2. So I was thrilled when I dug through a pile of old posters and found one for The Piano — a sepia-toned 19th century style rendering of Harvey Keitel kissing Holly Hunter’s neck as she caresses his face.
The second I saw the poster, I knew one thing: I was going to take it to college and hang it in my dorm room. Which I did. In some ways, that poster became my prized possession at college. It was like a badge of identity and in a weird way, my small form of rebellion–”No fellow co-eds, you will NOT be finding Bob Marley or Dave Matthews Band or on my wall– you will be finding a poster for a subversive Jane Campion Miramax film set in 19th century New Zealand. DEAL WITH IT.”
The movies we love say so much about who we are and the true film geeks wear movies like a badge of honor. We represent ourselves through our movie totems, whether it be a hipster Wes Anderson T-shirt, a Polish version Rosemary’s Baby poster hanging in the den or a prominently displayed DVD collection. I will say I decided my boyfriend was a keeper when I went to his apartment for the first time and saw that he had both Election and John Waters’ Desperate Living on DVD. We’ve been together seven and a half years.
My first real display of this kind of film nerd branding was my Piano poster in college. It may have been pretentious, it may have revealed I was gay a couple years before I came out, but, ultimately it revealed that I was in a passionate love affair with beautiful, strange and challenging movies, a love affair that continues to this day. I’m proud of that.
And, after all…does the world need another Van Gogh ‘Starry Night’ print hanging on its dorm walls?
Craig Johnson is currently in post-production on his second feature, THE SKELETON TWINS, starring Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell. He co-wrote the script with Mark Heyman (BLACK SWAN). Craig also wrote and directed the feature film TRUE ADOLESCENTS starring Mark Duplass and Melissa Leo. TRUE ADOLESCENTS premiered at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival and is available on iTunes and Netflix.
Craig has written two films for 20th Century Fox and was a member of the inaugural Fox Writer’s Studio. He has directed numerous short films and was a producer for MTV’s long-running television show ‘MADE’. He holds an MFA from New York University’s graduate film program, where he was awarded a Clive Davis Award for Excellence in Music in Film. He holds a BA in Theater from The University of Washington.
Craig resides in Los Angeles.