Cory Johnson; A Vision Through Ingenuity
Comedy has been a mainstay in my life since I was little. As a kid, when I wasn’t begging to watch Saturday Night Live, aspiring to be like actor/comedian John Belushi or writer, Tom Robbins, I was creating humorous content, and I wasn’t alone. One of my best memories was when my friends and I created a show fashioned after Not Necessarily The News, with our version of fake news recorded on cassette tape.
I thrive with someone by my side. From opening a post-production house with a partner, teaming up with another person to make a movie, to my partnership with Neil, I’ve seen success with collaboration. And, it has always been in the name of making what I want to see.
I grew up in a family of go-getters, and doers. Financial circumstances dictated that both my parents earn an income, where they modeled hard work, dedication, productivity, and commitment — I was destined to make things happen. My dad was a mailman who also owned an auto body shop; a side hustle that allowed him to tinker and fix. While he was orderly and systematic in his approach to projects, I looked at things differently. For me, process seemed too cumbersome. I value time and resourcefulness and both influence how I work. To complete a project, I either reverse engineer it or use trial and error. While my mom was technically a “stay-at-home” mom, she made it her job to create. From making Halloween costumes, and craft projects to earning income as an upholsterer, I saw what it was to be an artist, someone who makes things, and how to pave my way.
Instead of hovering over me, my parents empowered me by providing structure and setting rules, with the expectation that I would follow them. I was independent, and confident always digging in like I didn’t have anything to lose. When I did fail or was in trouble, my parents were there when it counted. My mom modeled bravado, one time, dusting off her motorcycle, and making a show of loudly pulling up to my school to speak to the Principal.
My hometown of Keokuk, Iowa, had a population of 10,000 and declining. As a blue-collar town, jobs were becoming scarce. My parents worked all year to take us on a two-week vacation, giving us a tour of new towns, as if a preview of possibilities that didn’t exist at home. When it came time to move away — because it was a matter of when, not if — I left behind the factories, churches, bars, and big box stores that were quickly killing the town. In seeking new experiences and lured by the possibility of learning about paranormalism, I landed at the University of Iowa pursuing a degree in sociology and a minor in religion. Here was an opportunity to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be.
I have never shied away from trying something because I didn’t know how to do it. From my first job out of college, presenting myself as a coder while lacking a prerequisite computer degree, to working in post-production and finding clever ways to both do the job and learn on the go was easy enough. The notion of “let’s make it work” is in my blood. When an opportunity presented itself to bid a post-production job for a Tony Hawk DVD and start a company, my partner and I did just that — raised seed money, bought the necessary equipment, and got to work.
After having a successful business for ten years, the 2008 financial crisis hit, prompting the closing of my business and a pivot to something new. With my dad’s voice in my head saying, “what have you got to lose?” and a partner by my side, we funded, produced, and shot a movie — from beginning to end — securing a script and director, casting and shooting the movie, producing and selling it.
It was while in the midst of production, I saw for myself, all of the possibilities that photography brings — that you can capture the essence of a movie scene in one frame. When it comes to photography, my imagination guides me; prompting me to “make what I want to see.” But, I feel that ideas don’t officially exist until I figure out how to bring them to life. I want to maintain the integrity of the creative vision while working out the logistics separately. In my mind, they need to exist in completely different realms.
Because I have always worked my way through a problem, I want to be fully engaged in a project, eliminating the “what ifs”, bringing efficiency, no matter how it gets done. I can't feel good about the work until I can physically stand in the space and figure it out. I still have a habit of putting myself in the shoes of the talent, to determine what they might be challenged with and if an idea would work. And, I prefer to problem solve with someone by my side. Today, my partnership with Neil is central for me finding success as I view him as a continuation of my childhood thinkers and doers, spit-balling ideas.
In terms of the future, I view it as two distinct time periods: when I am much, much older, and the here and now. If decades down the line, I am hired to delve into travel photography, spending ten days in Greece documenting the vacation lifestyle, that I must also live, well, I won’t complain. If by chance I am on a remote Polynesian island and passing by a tiki bar that is for sale, I might end up buying it, renting out scooters, and making tourists’ drinks. All told, I’d prefer to let my future naturally happen, with a little bit of invention as I go.
As for the here and now, creatively, I do have a wish. I once made a movie, whetting my palate for directing. While I often play a watered-down version of a director on shoots with Neil, I would love to make a short film, directing it with the goal of honoring the artist and how it was originally written. In my dreams, this masterpiece would be non-commercial, with narrative-driven content, and funded via crowdsourcing. I’d need to get Neil on board with this wish too.
Being one half of a duo requires flexibility and having an open mind too. I’ve found through parenthood and my own marriage that these same things with Neil are worth the work. I've never enjoyed arguing with someone more than with Neil.