Meet Jeffrey A. Johns, screenwriter and star
(Editor's note: SDGLN is featuring Q&A interviews with leading filmmakers from around the world who are participating in FilmOut San Diego's 16th annual LGBT Film Festival, running May 30 to June 1 at the historic North Park Theatre. Follow SDGLN for all the news about one of the top LGBT film festivals in the U.S. “Waiting In The Wings: The Musical” will be shown at 5 pm Saturday, May 31.)
SAN DIEGO, California – Anthony (Jeffrey A. Johns) is a big fish in the little pond of community theater in Montana, so he naively heads off to New York to audition for a Broadway musical. Tony (Adam Huss) is a stripper who has won an online contest for “America’s Strip Search.” But their lives take a hilarious and unexpected twist when the casting director mistakenly sends each man to the other’s audition.
Thus is the premise of “Waiting In The Wings: The Musical,” featuring cameo roles from Lee Meriwether, Shirley Jones, Sally Struthers and Christopher Atkins. Both Anthony and Tony figure out that they can make their dreams come true, but only if they learn new tricks.
Actor Jeffrey A. Johns, who also wrote the script, tells all about how he dreamed up this movie musical about “one little mix-up and one big comedy.”
Q: Will you be attending FilmOut San Diego’s 16th annual LGBT Film Festival?
I will be attending FilmOut San Diego along with several people in the cast.
Q: Which is harder? Writing a screenplay or acting in a movie you wrote? And why?
For me, definitely writing the screenplay. It took me over a year to get through the first draft and I worked on it A LOT! About a year and a half into the script, I approached Arie Gonzalez (a friend and songwriter) and wanted his thoughts. He said, “I thought this was going to be terrible, but it’s actually good” and he jumped in and began writing the music and helping me fine-tune and even rewrite sections of the script. Most important, he was instrumental in bringing the actual musical to life. He really turned my ideas into great songs. I went through the script and said, “I want a song here” and he made magic. The song in the costume warehouse (“The World Needs Music”) blew me away the first time I heard it. It was exactly what I wanted, but even better than I pictured it in my imagination. Arie wrote half the songs for the final film and the other half were written by several talented songwriters. I think the music is the heart of the film and am thrilled with all the songwriters involved. It was such a collaborative process to even get the musical ready to be filmed. I had such a strong team behind me and many table reads and feedback sessions before we even thought about rolling the cameras.
Q: You have lots of musical theater credits, so it seems natural that you would write a script that allows you to sing and dance. Where did the movie concept come from?
It actually comes from my obsession with talent-based reality shows and online contests and the many, many, video submissions I have made in my career along with antics I experienced while auditioning and performing in musicals. I had a lot less (OK none whatsoever) experience with the stripper world. The stripper part of the film was loosely based on my experiences with one specific production, “NAKED BOYS SINGING.” I am still baffled how I was cast in “NAKED BOYS SINGING,” but my agent insisted I attend the audition to get rid of my squeaky clean image. I planned on throwing the audition because I could NOT be naked on stage ... well, I got cast! At one point, the performers in “NAKED BOYS SINGING” were asked to attend a big party at a club. I’m not a club guy so it was an interesting experience for me. I saw go-go boys dancing on a pole and thought, “if that was me I’d be tap dancing around that pole while taking my clothes off – I’d make it theatrical!!” Immediately I knew that that would be a good idea for a short film and it just grew into something much bigger, but that was the inspiration.
Q: You play Anthony in the movie, a naïve young man from Montana who goes to New York to make it big. Only things don’t quite work out as planned. How much of your own show-biz story is in the character?
More than I would like to admit is true!
Q: What is the buzz about your movie on the film festival circuit?
We are just getting started. In fact, San Diego will be our West Coast premiere. Let’s hope the good buzz starts in San Diego!
Q: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?
That’s there’s always time for a musical number! LOL ! Honestly, I hope it just makes people happy – I really feel that bringing joy to others is what life is all about. I would love to have people walk out of the theater singing or humming one of the tunes from the show. In addition, I hope it inspires people to strive for their dreams even when the road isn’t what you have planned, but be careful not to miss the real treasures that are right in front of you.
Q: You also were one of the executive producers of “Finding Mr. Wright,” which played at FilmOut’s 13th annual LGBT Film Festival. What did you learn from that experience?
I was taking notes on everything on that set. I wanted to know exactly what Nancy Criss was doing ALL THE TIME. She actually came in to help me produce “Waiting In The Wings: The Musical” so it was great to work with someone so established in the business. Matthew Montgomery was inspiring to me as a producer/actor in the “Finding Mr. Wright” and I completely fell head over heels for Rebekah Kochan. As everyone knows Rebekah is an incredible actress, but working with her is always such a joy and was thrilled when we locked her in as Gina in “Waiting In The Wings: The Musical.”
Q: What’s next for you?
The stage adaptation of “Waiting In The Wings”!!! A sequel? Booking some gigs? I have a lot of energy so hope I keep busy.
Q: What is something your fans don’t know about you?
I have an obsession with costume and props! In fact, many of the costumes we used in the film came directly from costumes I had stored in my garage.
Q: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?
I have so many wishes and goals in life … it is hard to pick just three! I’m very career-driven so would have to say three career goals are to work on Broadway (that’s the community and actors that inspired me to be a performer), be the voice of an animated feature, and be on a sitcom.
About FilmOut San Diego
FilmOut San Diego affirms the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories. We believe our work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBT community in San Diego County. We hope you will join us.
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Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.