Clifton Johnson, director of the upcoming film adaptation of The Art of Love is a modern renaissance man. Using his spiritual focus as a both a motivator to spread the message of love and as a framework for his film, Clifton decided to adapt his play into a motion picture. Principle photography recently began in Norfolk, Virginia and Mr. Johnson was kind enough to sit down with The Movie Sleuth for a few minutes to discuss his film, his process, and his love for all things Marvel.
TMS: You're a musician, author, playwright and poet, and you served in the navy correct?
TMS: Did any of your backgrounds play into you getting into film?
CJ: Not really, I always liked poetry. As my faith increased I wrote a book of poetry and then started writing short storiess that turned into a play. It's been a process.
TMS: The play, The Art of Love you've already written, right?
CJ: Yes. My first play, 2015.
TMS: You have another play as well right?
CJ: Yes, "Forgive and Forget" it’s about two brothers, one has a grudge against the other, they carry it into adulthood, a family member helps them come together. It's about how grudges can break up families and how we should talk through our problems.
TMS: The Art of Love is essentially about a relationship. What inspired you to do this story?
CJ: My own marriage. Some situations that I experienced early in my marriage. I wanted it to be a platform for other couples who are getting married, to show how to work through pitfalls and disagreements. How to work together.
TMS: There's a lot of spirituality in your craft, it's directly tied to the work. You could divorce that concept, but I see that you have a much more soulful approach to the topic. How did that influence your choices? What are you hoping will resonate with the audience?
CJ: I know there are a lot of secular films about marriage and about the physical. I wanted to explore the spirit, the root of the relationship. You have to feed the spiritual body. A lot of times we focus our relationships on how we believe, but maybe she would focus on our partner and the marriage itself. As two adults, one may not be a believer. How can you still incorporate your faith and grow together. Just because you're not at the same place in your faith doesn't mean you can't love each other.
TMS: I'll be honest, that is one of my favorite things about this film. I like that the differences are not deal breakers. Many faith based films can be divisive and the specific issue you've chosen can be controversial. Do you think that is going to catch you some flack?
CJ: I think some mainstream believers will say it’s this way or not. As the scripture would say be “unequally yoked”. But I believe everyone has to grow and walk together, I don't believe everyone is born, maybe a select few, having all their spiritual knowledge and wisdom off the bat. It's trial and error. Marriage is a sacred and beautiful thing. Not only just spiritually, unless there is abuse happening I think we can always work to make marriages work. I don't think one person not going to church should be a "deal breaker" like you said. It should lead towards growing, and be a testament down the road.
TMS: What would you say are some of your influences? Are there any films that tied into how you're going to shoot this film?
CJ: Actually, I'm into the Marvel type movies. Big on what's going on now. I like the buildup. There’s a problem, we know the hero will overcome, but there is the process of getting there. For me, that's where I use comedy. Not a physical confrontation or action, I add comedy, so you're not sitting there thinking this is like going to church. I want people to relate. One part of the movie, a guy comes home and his soon to be wife has moved everything out. And the guy's only concerned about some food that is missing. I love the action I get from superhero pictures, but comedy is my action.
TMS: You're a local (shout out 757!) You’re shooting locally. Is there anything that you're incorporating that is indicative of the area? Local culture? Anything a native of this area will know?
CJ: We're definitely trying to get the B roll footage from downtown Norfolk at night, oceanfront shots as well.
TMS: Oceanview or Virginia Beach?
CJ: Oceanview. I talked to my camera guy. I want people to know this was shot here. A lot of military, someone might be stationed in San Diego but you'll know its Norfolk. We're working on getting those shots. Maybe the Norfolk Tides Stadium too.
TMS: For your creative process. you have the story based on your own marriage, your wrote a successful play. Are you shooting it like a stage play or are you breaking with that?
CJ: I would say it is mixture. We have a storyboard, a shot list. I originally had it as a play, filmed like a play. But I got a great group of local production manager, locals, and they shared their ideas and that opened up my creativity. We keep the basic plot of the play, but video allows us so much more. We've added some more scenes. People who have seen the play will see that the film will have those elements, but also different dialogue and scenes. We're having fun.
TMS: Speaking of fun, what's a fun story from this whole experience?
CJ: In the original play, I played a character. That was not the purpose, but the actor had to leave and I stepped in. This time, I purposefully made sure we had backups so I would never have to play a part again (He laughs). We laugh behind the scenes because I remember saying those lines.
TMS: I think I know, but what's your favorite film? Desert Island film?
CJ: I want to say the second avengers, but civil war too....I'm going to say the second avengers.
TMS: Age of Ultron. Unconventional choice!
CJ: For me, I grew up reading the comics. This is a dream to me to see them on the screen. I hope I get a chance to contribute to one of them some day.
TMS: My last question is what is something you want people to know about the film?
CJ: This is definitely a film that all, married or not can relate to when it comes to relationships. It's not just a spiritual film, it's a comedy, and it’s a drama. It will make you think about differences you have with people. Maybe you feel that your significant other is not where you are, not just spiritually, maybe one of you spends more money, etc. The point is to talk it out and not fight. The underlying story is about how sometimes we listen to the wrong people and we head in the wrong direction and miss out on opportunities, I want people to be happy. My happiness comes from hard work, love and most definitely sacrifice.
TMS: Thank you for spending some of your valuable time with us.
CJ: Thank you! I appreciate being able to share my passion, I feel blessed.