Meet Jesse V. Johnson, from Windsor, who moved to LA 22 years ago to pursue filmmaking

photography Jamie Johnson

Was there a particular reason you chose LA ?
There has always been something intoxicating and seductive about LA. For a 21 year old who ate, slept and lived movies, it was about finally being around other people your age who had come here for the same reasons, had similar passions, it was wonderful, really a love affair that has never really grown old for me.
My uncle, Vic Armstrong, was directing a film, and I came over as a PA, floor sweeping, trash gathering and coffee making, a step or two above slave labor and I loved every second of it. I was good at it and was hired quite consistently, Shawshank Redemption, The Birdcage, Mr. Hollands Opus, until I saw what the stunt guys were earning for doing far less, little did I know what that would entail. That was really the profound change for me - Joining SAG and discovering things like paid over-time and residuals, first class travel and per-diem, I never looked back. My directing career was in no small part due to my stunt work on higher profile pictures, and the notoriety that kind of work can bring you. I am still not sure I could have had anything near to the wonderful life I have had here in the UK.
photography Nito Lariozapho


What do you miss most from home?
I missed my family growing up, the frost on a winters morning. The sense of medieval promise that permeates the English countryside, legends in the ancient oaks and Arthurian whispers in the countryside, foxes tracks in the snow. Pub food, the small often insignificant things, that get sweeter the longer you are away.
I think as English people we keep these ghosts inside us, and they touch our work, and outlook, pretend as much as we want, we can never really become American.
I love America, but, England is streaked through me like the writing on a stick of Brighton Rock.

What was your first impression of LA and has it changed since? If so why ?
There was a sense of “you can do it” - that really appealed to me, it’s not just an American outlook, but specifically a Southern Californian one. Maybe it’s to do with the warm weather attracting a certain type of person for a few centuries, entrepreneurs, gold prospectors, outlaws, actors, entertainers. It’s a mindset that has affected the gene-pool to become a part of the fiber of the City, it’s both wonderful and frustrating. I still love it for the positive mental outlook, the slightly hippie sensibility appeals to me, too. When I was first here recognized names and places in LA from TV, books and film growing up, I’d drive downtown, reading “Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles,” to visit the actual locations. I still find that exciting.
Available on Amazon

Working with actors I grew up loving. I wore out the VHS to “Mad Max the Road Warrior” as a teenager, I couldn’t afford a video camera so I drew pages and pages of comic books, storyboards about derivative fantasy-films. One of the first actors I hired, when I started directing, was of course Vernon Wells, the terrifying bad guy from the Road Warrior, who is still a dear friend. These are the wonderful moments that present themselves to you, when you live and work in Los Angeles.

What do you find the biggest difference is living here versus Windsor?
Everyone remembers the sunny days of their childhood, and how it never seemed to be quite that lovely or full of promise ever again. My life became very over-cast in the UK, an over riding fatalism based on the imminent failure of any entrepreneurial scheme, in favor of a “normal job” - LA was and is still a “sunny” place for me, always full of promise and excitement, and potential. Every day is an exciting adventure waiting to happen. Thrilling, ambitious, living in the UK never ever felt this way. In truth of course, this is just how I remember it. But at the time it felt very real. When I visit the UK now I am always impressed by how much legislation there is, rules, for speeding, for parking, for walking, for eating, for drinking, it’s probably my imagination, but I do love the freedom and great generous scope offered by the US.

Do you have a hidden gem in LA that you want to share with us?
When I am pining for British food, the Robin Hood pub in Sherman Oaks, has a store next door that sells English comfort food, too - The food is excellent, and very traditional - my daughters love it too, and pleasing those two is a challenge in and of itself.

Cycling Dirt track Mulholland from Encino and the Nike tower to Canoga with my youngest daughter - it feels like you’re in the wilds, but really just around the corner.

What would you suggest to others who are thinking about making the move here ?

I would say, as in all things, do your homework, and be prepared to work hard, very hard. Harder than the next guy or gal. My initial months in LA, were spent driving from production office to production office, six different resumes in hand, various department’s on a film set, and just smiling, shaking hands, making telephone calls, until I was hired, and keeping that momentum going, I was twenty one and full of beans when I arrived, and loved every second of it - but that sort of thing isn’t for everybody.
It really didn’t change too much when I started directing a few years later, I still try to work harder than the next director. I would say, visit, and spend time here, make sure it is everything you think it is - it is certainly no longer the mecca of film production, and it’s more expensive to live here than many states that have much more production going on. If you are hankering for it, I would recommend moving though, the world is just better when you have travelled and lived in a few countries. If it doesn’t go right and you lose everything, well then you have the adventure of building it all up again - I have lost everything more than once, and as much as it sets you back and shakes your foundations you have to be ready to live, I have also taken incredible risks that have paid off, usually more often than they fail. It is all less important than you think, looking back, regret is pretty much the only thing I try to avoid - fruitlessly, I might add.

If your your life was a TV show what would be the theme tune and why?
I feel a lot of empathy for Ray Donovan when I see that show - I’m not sure if it’s still playing.
My eldest daughter would say The Osbournes

To find out more about Jesse and to see what projects he is currently working on visit his website


Popular posts from this blog

How to apply for your British passport from USA

Where To Find Your British Goods!

Brits On Stage