Every screenwriter needs a champion. Dan Goforth speaks with Katherine Johnson of Sheepshed Entertainment about networking on set and building your team.
One of the keys to starting as a filmmaker is to build your team—surrounding yourself with like-minded creatives who share your passion for bringing stories to life, film after film. Teams like the Coen brothers with Roger Deakins, dating back to 1991, Spielberg and Kaminski, beginning in '93... the list is long. Katherine Johnson's Sheepshed Entertainment has begun along that same route, but starting quite a bit earlier than some of their currently more famous counterparts.
I first became aware of Sheepshed about a year ago. Their names and work consistently showed up in filmmaking social media pages. It turned out that we shared a lot of the same contacts. I became more intrigued as well-known filmmakers sang their praises. As I began to look more deeply into their catalog, the more impressed I became with how this young team worked together in creating faith-based films, as well as music videos.
Sheepshed Entertainment is based in North Alabama. Founded by Katherine Johnson, Sheepshed produces up to five projects a year and partners with other Christian production companies with the goal of providing a range of clean, wholesome entertainment. The team is made up with many members of the Johnson family, along with professionals in five states who travel to Alabama two to three times a year for film projects.
I asked Katherine to speak with Script magazine about how this young filmmaker got her start.
Dan: When did you first decide you wanted to be involved in filmmaking?
Katherine: I was convinced that life on the mission field as a medical doctor was going to be my future until I turned 14. In the space of a few months I started being pulled irresistibly by the film world. I bought a tiny digital camera (my giant memory stick was 2 gigs!) and began making narrative stories.
Dan: What are some of the things you did to develop as a filmmaker?
Katherine: My goal was to make it on set any way I could, however, it is extremely tough to find projects to work on (especially before I made friends in the industry). My one film friend got me an internship on the feature film Hoovey along with another short film, and I spent the first two years listening to lectures and reading anything I could get my hands on. I found editing to be particularly useful as a learning experience because as I shot a video I found a gazillion reasons wrong with it on the cutting floor and improved the next time around.
Dan: How did you connect with and involve other crew outside of your family?
Katherine: The most successful times I've networked is usually on set. It is easy to spot the filmmakers who are gifted and have integrity and those are the ones I try to get to know the best. I always carry a stack of business cards with me and pass them out all I can.
Dan: How did you decide who to include on your team?
Katherine: My goal when assembling a production team is to create an atmosphere where each member is able to exercise their talent and feel equipped to do their job. God created us with unique personalities; I try to fill departments in a manner which won't cause unnecessary friction. People who are punctual, team players, show initiative, and display Christ-life character are the ones I like to surround myself with.
Dan: What is it that you love about making films?
Katherine: I love stories. People think without thinking when they are absorbing a tale, true or make-believe. To write a story and see it come to life is almost unreal, and I find deep joy in working on other people's productions and supporting their vision. On the practical side, it feels like a military operation to shoot a film because everything is going to go wrong. Completing principal photography is almost as exhilarating as making a file named "locked edit"! Being on set satisfies an itch to create.
Dan: Where does the name Sheepshed Entertainment come from?
Katherine: The family was scrounging around trying to come up with a good name. At the time, we had a flock of around 60 sheep, and one of the most peculiar sheep shed's around. It was tall enough for a giraffe to walk into! My dad suggested Sheepshed, and we've loved it ever since. We also knew we'd be doing more than films; entertainment gives the flexibility to produce films, live shows, music albums, or anything else media and entertainment related.
Dan: What is your goal for Sheepshed five or ten years from now?
Katherine: The goal is for Sheepshed to produce two feature films in the next ten years and a variety of short films in different genres. We also have some plans for music albums and a musical is in development.
Dan: Tell us about your latest project.
Katherine: BUMP is Sheepshed's most successful film to date. Set in a futuristic world, it tackles the importance of the Sanctity of Life in an engaging plot. It has been accepted into six festivals nationwide and nominated for multiple awards including Best Short Film, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Music. It is the winner of the Sanctity of Life Award at the Christian Worldview Film Festival. While the film is only 38 minutes long, it was picked up by S.C. Treehouse and underwent a limited theatrical release in January of 2019 with all proceeds benefiting local crisis pregnancy centers.