We had the good fortune of connecting with Max Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Max, what do you think makes you most happy? Why?
It has been in recent years that I have considered this question more frequently. The closest I usually feel to being consistently happy is when I am creating animated short films or working on a personal creative project of some kind. I get extremely enamored with and excited about creating films and love getting lost in them. When I feel out of place in a situation or need to go to a “happy place” I usually think about days as a child sitting in front of a television after school. There is a similar kind of serenity I get when creating. Every problem in the world lifts away and there is only the realm of possibilities in front of you to think about.
There are so many new problems that occur within the creative process to solve that I forget about everything else momentarily. So rather than happiness, I think that I am instead almost feeling a subtraction of everything else that feels negative. Creating is a really addictive thing for that reason, and I know this because whenever I am taken away from working on my artwork or films, having to put something that I am excited about down, I can feel myself coming down off of the intoxicated feeling and experience a withdrawal-like effect. I get depressed, more easily upset, and feel massive amounts of stress and shame for not continuing on with my process. In other words, it’s usually a huge bummer.
Whether it is animation, live action, or best of all, some kind of absurd, unholy, mixed-media amalgamation of both, I have always been dead set on my goal to leave behind a wake of movie madness and melted mayhem for citizens to consume from and obtain essential vitamins and nourishment off of long after I am gone. This lasting for however long the human race has to watch short films until they slowly change over time into what would have to be defined as a different species of life. In which case, hopefully this new breed of time adapted, apocalypse surviving, genetic leftovers maintain organs that are able to detect and understand the media I have created, and that they at least get a little chuckle or something out of them. I think that would make me happy.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Unbeknownst to me, I began my creative journey when I was a child filling up the margins of what were most likely important assignment papers with illustrations of insane people and horrific creatures tearing each other apart. What struck me as bizarre at the time was the lack of mutual excitement my teachers and fellow students showed upon seeing my work. I was a very shy individual for most of my schooling, and still today very much enjoy being alone to create things, but have always found a home in animation, comedy and horror. Growing up I was infatuated with cartoons like “Ren & Stimpy”, “Courage The Cowardly Dog”, and “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy”, as well as Horror/Comedy movies like The Evil Dead Series, “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Ghostbusters”, and “Creepshow”. The things that scared me the most were also the most fascinating and mysterious to me.
By the time I graduated highschool I had taught myself how to animate 2D and Stop-Motion films. As per recommendation and encouragement from my art teacher Andrew Watson, I submitted my top films to The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards where I was one of eight students in the country awarded with a National Gold Medal for my animation portfolio, which I received at Carnegie Hall in 2015. It gave me an incredible amount of confidence in myself as an artist and since then I haven’t stopped making short films and animation. I love being able to see my progress along the way and am always on a journey to refine my craft and learn more about myself and art. I have had the honor of having my films shown in film festivals around the country such as The Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival, The Red Dot Awards, Midsummer Scream, and Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, and am excited to see movie theaters as well as in-person festivals return once safe to do so. I continue to upload my short films online as well as behind the scenes and in-progress work on social media (YouTube and Instagram) which is exciting to have a digital space and interactive connection with those kind enough to fry their braincells away viewing my work.
I am deeply fascinated with the beauty of imperfection and highlighting the absurd, bizarre, melancholy, and frightening, I find these things to naturally be so close to the world of comedy that often times I enjoy creating moments the audience could plausibly react either way to. Seeing confusion and a sizable disdain for my creations can bring me a kind of joy, as to me there is great humor in witnessing someone react with a genuine discomfort to something. It takes so many hours of work to create films of any kind, but the love of the process is what drives me. The challenge is finding the time in life to work on them, but one has to make time for the things they care for the most. Otherwise it may not be meant to be if you don’t enjoy the reward of the work itself.
As an independent creator, it is clear upon looking back that there is a pattern of themes involving loneliness and a disconnect with society. I believe that it is easy as an artist to live through your creations and communicate feelings unintentionally, and part of that is why the process of making films overtime is so exciting to me. What brings me comfort now, is knowing that when I’m gone I’ll be leaving behind my films as sort of a chronicling of my life over time. Even if some kid 80 years from now accidentally stumbles upon what is to him an archaic, bizarre animation I made, and with fists of rage, curses the fact that he is watching something with which he has so much juvenile contempt for. To me that marks the work of only the most true artists, and to that metaphorical child whose day I’ve most assuredly worsened, I say you’re welcome, and enjoy your future people laser eyes while they last.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Oh man, let me tell you there is an amazing hotspot here in the city that is absolutely popping off just after 2am called, “my room” that I just can’t seem to get myself away from. Some gorgeous views of the street as well as the fencing just beyond the street, accompanied by an assortment of music heard round the clock played from parked cars and adjacent balconies. The space is decorated with a gorgeous arrangement of loose clothing and off-putting horror movie posters.
In seriousness, If you are looking for less “trendy” spots I would say that there are some amazing hiking trails to visit, one of my favorites of the city being Bee Rock Trail.
I would also highly recommend The Iliad Bookshop for a great warm environment and incredible selection of books.
I am also very much looking forward to the re-opening of the Vidiots video store at their new location in Eagle Rock! Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to shout out a few of my mentors who have encouraged and guided me along my path of animation and film making. Firstly, my friend and high school Art teacher Andrew Watson, who early on gave me the tools and knowledge to harness my creativity and to apply myself with dedication to my passion. I would also like to thank a few former college professors of mine, Nathan Asquith and Tim Pattinson, who pushed me to achieve and realize creative endeavors I never thought possible to reach for. I want to give thanks to my friends and mentors Bob Boyle and Teri Shikasho who have stood as primary examples in my life as both hard-working titans of creativity, as well as genuine, kind and giving individuals who I strive to be more like everyday. Thank you to everyone taking the time to read this and to those who have watched my films over the years, sharing them is one of my greatest pleasures and it is an honor to do so. Finally I want to thank my mom for being my biggest champion, showing me first hand how to keep a level mind when faced with challenges, teaching me to be gracious and humble whenever possible, and for letting me watch the scary stuff on TV.