Interviews

Published on September 24th, 2019 | by Percy Crawford

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Author, Shelton R. Johnson Takes His Novel, “Thankful For My Family” To The Big Screen!

Author, Shelton R. Johnson intends to provide the world with laughter for the holidays with his novelty turned film comedy, “Thankful For My Family.”

Eventually, writing came easy for Norfolk, Virginia native, Shelton R. Johnson. He has written a number of books including his trilogy, “Thankful For My Family,” Merry With My Family,” and “New One With My Family. Those books are centered around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday season. Although writing feels natural, Mr. Johnson recently leaped out on faith and is now wearing the hat of script writer and director. He’s taking his, comedy, “Thankful For My Family,” to the big screen and making it into a movie. Johnson admitted that the transition wasn’t natural, but he’s adapted and feels great about the project, which is set to be released in theatre’s in early November. Derived from true events, Johnson guarantees a quality product and promises belly aching laughs. In fact, he plans on taking another novel of his, “Mr. Wilder” and turning it into a film as well.

During our recent conversation, Shelton provides us with the backstory that led the novelty into becoming a movie, how he overcame his fears and rejection to wear a director’s hat and much more!

How is everything going?

Shelton R. Johnson: Everything is going good, man.

You’re from Norfolk, Virginia and I’m not sure if you are a boxing fan or not, but Norfolk lost a legend in, Pernell Whitaker earlier this year.

Shelton R. Johnson: Absolutely man! I’m a huge boxing fan. I grew up and boxed in the same gym where he started off at, and I grew up from around the corner where he grew up at. It was a major-major loss. He was somebody that used to give back to the community. Come back and show love. He was before me. He was in my dad’s generation, but he would always come back and show love. Just a real down to earth dude. I was a little hurt by it. But I’m a huge boxing fan for sure.

I have to get a quick prediction from you right quick then, this weekend, Errol Spence Jr. versus Shawn Porter. Who do you like in that one?

Shelton R. Johnson: I like, Shawn Porter, man. I like the relationship he has with his dad. He seems more grounded and he seems like he will be able to adapt to whatever, Errol Spence Jr. tries to do. What I found, when you have two great boxers fighting one another, it always comes down to who could adapt best and stay the most level-headed and I think that’s, Shawn Porter.

You are taking your novelty, “Thankful For My Family,” and making it a movie. What has that been like for you?

Shelton R. Johnson: Man, that process has been crazy. I always just thought it was going to be a book and that was it. I could sit up here and say, I knew it would be something else. That would be a 100% lie (laughing). I did not know it all along. The crazy part is… I didn’t even know how to publish a book. I just knew I had a story I wanted to tell, and I wrote it. I didn’t take no classes on how to do it or nothing. When I got done with the rough draft, there is this writing center in Maryland, I took this writing class and it’s called, “Adapting your story for the big screen.” I’m thinking they are going to tell you what producers are looking for to put in their movies when they do book adaptions in a movie. So, I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is where I want to go. I might put something in here that may turn into a movie one day.” Come to find out, they flew a producer from Hollywood, California to teach the class. And all he did was teach screen writing the whole time. So, I’m sitting there like, “Man, I ain’t no screen writer. I write novels.” I paid for the class, so I sat all the way through it. When it came time for lunch, he said, “Sir, you’ve been kind of quiet all class.” So, I told him my story. So, she said, “Do yourself a favor and turn this into a movie script.” And I was like, “What?” That’s kind of what made me start the script. And even then, I wasn’t going to make it into a movie until I went to another writer’s conference in Minnesota. I knew it would be a producer teaching this class because it was a screen writer’s class.

I sent the script out to a 157 different production companies and it got turned down. I got a lot of different rejection letters. And I also sent it to over 73 different filming agents and all of them turned it down, even though on blacklist, I got a 7 out of 10 rating. For an African American comedy… that’s high. It’s not a romantic comedy, it’s not an action comedy, just pure African American comedy, to get a 7 out of 10 rating… that hasn’t been done in years on blacklist. So, I told him about it, and he asked me could I afford to do the movie myself. I told him if I got a little creative, I could probably do the movie myself. I was saving up to do some real estate investments. Last year, about this time, I called my brother, because he owns a couple of houses, I told him, “I’m going to get into this real estate thing. I’ve saved up and I’m going to buy my first rental property.” And he said, “Shelton, don’t do it. If your heart ain’t in it, don’t do it. You will be frustrated with renters and pissed off. I know you’ve been working on that script; you need to go ahead and do that joint.” That’s what made me pull the trigger and say, let’s turn this thing into a movie.

Was there some type of fear factor that you had to overcome to dive into this?

Shelton R. Johnson: I’m naturally not really a people person. I’m cool being around people. I hang out, laugh and joke or whatever, but it’s different when you working with somebody opposed to just hanging out with them. Writing novels… that’s what I enjoyed about it. I ain’t gotta direct nobody. I’m on my own time and nobody else is involved but me. When you’re doing a movie, you gotta work with film crews, light guys, sound guys, actors, location management and security. The insurance people and everything. It’s a bunch of different facets to it. That was my fear factor. Having to deal with people on a consistent basis and making sure everybody understood my vision for the story and to make sure that they were incorporating my vision to the best of their ability. So, what I did was, I read this book by, Dale Carnegie called, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s a great book and been on the best-seller list for many years. I read that book and it really helped me with understanding how to talk to people when you’re in a business environment and a leadership position. That helped me overcome my fear. I never had an issue with finding the solution to a problem, it was more or less communicating it to others.

You had to turn book characters into real life people. Were you hands on with that aspect of it or did someone else handle it?

Shelton R. Johnson: I’m hands on to an extent. Actors got this script a month and a half before the table read. I wanted to see the table read to see how each person was going to portray their character. And for the most part with the exception of one or two characters, everybody nailed it the way that I thought they would. And this is what I told the actors on set because a lot of them hadn’t done anything of this magnitude before. Some have and some haven’t. They were worried about portraying the character the right way. I told them, “You will never be exactly what I pictured in my mind.” But they came across realistic enough to where it was believable. You sold the scene to me. Each scene has a point and a purpose. Every story is character driven. They did a great job. So, yes, I’m hands on if I hear something that doesn’t sound right or if the body language isn’t right I’ll yell, “Cut,” and give them a little tidbit like, “Hey, remember in this scene, this is what you’re trying to portray.” For the most part, I let them do their thing and even the comedians, I tell them, you can adlib, but not improv. Those suckers were telling so many jokes that ain’t have nothing to do with the movie. It’s funny but does it go with the story.

What’s the storyline and the release date for this movie?

Shelton R. Johnson: You can expect to laugh your drawers off. This movie is funny as I don’t know what. I have seen it with the editor at least two times now, we’re still making revisions, but even though I wrote the book, even though I wrote the script and was on the set when it happened, it is still funny. I still laugh out loud at some of the scenes.

The release date is November 14th. As of right now, it’s going to definitely be on Amazon streaming. But the premier date is going to be in select theatres on November 10th. It will be at the Naro Cinema in Norfolk, Virginia on November 10th. We are also looking for more theatres in between the 10th and the 14th for that week.

The storyline, it’s a story about a young man who is under pressure by his girlfriend who has a daughter to get married. She wants to get married. He doesn’t really want to get married, but if he is going to get married, he wants his family approval. They head down for Thanksgiving to see his family. On the way, they stop to meet the biological father of the daughter; that’s a hilarious scene. One of my favorites. They head down by the family who rented a beach house for Thanksgiving. Throughout the story, you hear everybody’s hatred on marriage when he tells them he’s thinking about getting married. They telling him what he should do. They also have unresolved family issues of their own. His girls get a chance to see what she’s getting herself into too. That’s the storyline. You got grandma’s with gambling issues, you got drunk uncles and cussing aunts. You got fights and arguing cousins. They are giving up everybody’s past and all that. And inspired by true events. My family was rolling laughing at the book. I love my family and I’m not airing nobody stuff out. It’s one of those situations, it happened back in 2010. You ever go somewhere or do something to where it would have been funnier if this would have happened.

Absolutely!

Shelton R. Johnson: That’s kind of how this story came about. On the drive back from the beach house, I told my, then girlfriend and now wife, “Look, I think I’m going to write a book about this.” She was like, “What? You’re going to write a book?” I hit her out of leftfield with it. I never really told anybody including her that I enjoy writing. I actually published my first book when I was in middle school.

Do you think this is a one-off or do you think you will turn another one of your novelties into a movie?

Shelton R. Johnson: I don’t think this is a one-off. I have the trilogy already written. This is the first of a trilogy. It follows up with a Christmas comedy and a New Year’s comedy. All of those books are already written. I enjoy writing novels, but I must say, as much as I enjoy writing novels, there was nothing more fun than being on set. I did learn that I don’t like acting though. I learned that for sure. I may get one minute of screen time in the movie. My part is very small. I’m not trying to be like, Tyler Perry and be all over the movie. That’s no shade. I got a lot of respect for that brother. After directing, I can tell you right now, directing and acting in the same movie, is serious work. I got a ton of respect for that brother. But that is definitely not my cup of tea. I’d rather be behind it or in front of it. So, acting is not my cup of tea, but directing was a lot of fun. If I could say I did anything, I can say I did a good job of keeping the environment light. Everybody was still laughing and having fun even when we were working the late hours. I enjoyed creating and organizing that type of environment. So, to answer your question, it won’t just be a one-time deal. My next one will actually be my stand alone novel, “Mr. Wilder.”

As always, I gotta shout out my girl, Angelique Phipps. I appreciate her for putting us in contact. Best of luck to you with the movie and all of your future endeavors. Is there anything else you want to say before I let you go?

Shelton R. Johnson: Right now, I’m working on a script for, “Mr. Wilder,” and whoever is hearing this or reading this, get your tickets or make sure you check it out on Amazon, “Thankful For My Family,” on November 14th because it is going to make you laugh through the holidays. I assure you of that.



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