Rian Johnson Evaded the Lure of Studios After ‘Brick,’ but ‘Star Wars’ ‘Was an Offer I Couldn’t Refuse’

Johnson said he had complete creative control over "The Last Jedi," and has carved an unusual path as a filmmaker who's able to say no to projects.
Rian Johnson2018 SXSW - "The Director and The Jedi", Austin, USA - 12 Mar 2018
Rian Johnson
Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Rian Johnson became an indie hotshot with 2005’s neo-noir “Brick,” but the director, according to a recent IndieWire interview, said he managed to keep a low profile after making the film. However, he said that wouldn’t be the case today.

It’s now the trend that studios chase indie filmmakers after a big breakout. But Johnson said, “Personally I’m grateful that environment didn’t exist when I made ‘Brick’ because I would’ve jumped into it. I’m glad I paved my own path where I made my own films. Today if I had put ‘Brick’ out and I was 30, I’m sure the calls would’ve come in.”

Johnson waited three years after “Brick” to release his follow-up project, “The Brothers Bloom,” a $20 million indie that flopped hard at the box office but nonetheless remains a cult favorite. Johnson added that it wasn’t until his 2012 time-hopping science-fiction film “Looper,” released by TriStar, that other major studio heads started to take notice. “Once I made ‘Looper’ I did start getting approached for stuff. Some of it got made, some of it didn’t,” Johnson said. “I just got in the habit of saying no as a matter of course because I wanted to do my own things.”

In discussing his turn from indies to studio filmmaking, Johnson recalled a story about “The Lighthouse” director Robert Eggers, who became the toast of Sundance after winning Best Director in 2015 for his haunting folk-tale horror movie “The Witch.” “Literally his agents got calls from studio people who he knew hadn’t seen ‘The Witch.’ This is just the way the farm system works. I don’t know if that’s healthy,” Johnson said.

However, Johnson’s resistance to tentpole filmmaking changed with the 2017 release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” his wildly successful first foray in that universe that earned him enough trust from Lucasfilm to task the “Knives Out” director with writing a new trilogy of films for the series. “Star Wars came along, which was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said.

Johnson also stressed the creative control he was handed by Lucasfilm in putting together “The Last Jedi.” “I did not feel those boundaries. It had to do with the exact people I was working with and the situation. I got to really engage with the thing on a personal level and come up with what was important about this thing that’s been a part of my life since I was five years old while respecting what the thing is and continuing the story of it,” he said.

As for what’s next in Johnson’s upcoming “Star Wars” films, he said he’s still cooking up ideas for the story, which will reset the narrative now that the Skywalker Saga is ending with this December’s “The Rise of Skywalker” from director J.J. Abrams.

“I’m poking around and trying to find stuff. When I’m around at Lucasfilm, I see things. I visited the set of ‘Mandalorian.’ The producer I was with was like, you know, don’t say a fucking a word. With the creators, you’re doing stuff and feel like everyone’s sharing their vibes and they’re open about stuff. It doesn’t feel like there are little locked rooms you can’t go into. I run into Dave Filoni in the hallways and we talk about what we’re working on,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s murder mystery “Knives Out” opens theatrically on November 27.

Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.

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