It can’t be easy being a writer if your grandfather is Elmore Leonard, the legendary author of crime stories.
Megan Freels Johnston, writer, producer and director, says, “I didn’t want to be compared to him, but he was very encouraging to me.”
Known for the 2017 film, The Ice Cream Truck, Rebound in 2014 and the upcoming 2019 Hunting Season, Johnston has developed her own niche—female-driven narratives, horror, sci-fi films and what she calls “social justice horror,” or stories about real people and real problems.
A participant in Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change The World in Media and Entertainment, Johnston creates stories with strong lead female characters, a twist in the horror genre.A participant in @TakeLeadWomen's 50 Women Can Change The World in Media & Entertainment, @Number1Megan creates stories with #strongfemaleleads, a twist in the horror genre. Click To Tweet
Growing up in Detroit, Johnston went on to art school in New York, where she became a pop artist, before moving to Los Angeles in 2002. She started producing films, including adapting and developing the crime stories of her grandfather. She produced “Sparks,” in 2009, competing in the Sundance Film Festival and the Palm Springs Film Festival.
Johnston says the #MeToo movement has caused a shift in Hollywood’s treatment of women in only some arenas.
“In my experience, #MeToo has not affected films $2 million in budget and under because at that budget level, you don’t usually have A-list actors attached.” She adds, “Change is happening at higher levels, rather than in the indie space.”
To get noticed with a drama as a female independent filmmaker, “You need to get one to pop like a needle in a haystack,” Johnston says. So many female filmmakers are moving to genre films.
“I think to be able to do this for a living is a dream job,” Johnston says. “But I would love to be given the same opportunities young male director get. They do a small movie, then get to do a huge movie.”
The box office success of the recent “Crazy Rich Asians,” with close to $140 million in sales in the first month, may be changing the focus so more female-led movies get made.The box office success of @CrazyRichMovie, with close to $140 million in sales in the first month, may be changing the focus so more #FemaleLed movies get made. Click To Tweet
According to Forbes, “It’s another example of how the splashy, escapist fantasy female-led/female-centric party movie is one of the safest box office bets in town. Think Sex and the City, Mamma Mia!, Bridesmaids, Bad Moms, Girls Trip, Ocean’s 8 and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The film was sold both to Asian-American audiences as a “big frigging deal” and to adult women as the sort of thing that Hollywood still produces with relative infrequency. It was an event movie for any and all adult women, no matter the ethnic demographic.”
The types of movies made are still mostly male-centric action films, Johnston says, who executive produced the drama pilot, “The Arrangement” for USA Network. She has also has had projects in development at ABC, Universal and Fox Searchlight plus now has other horror scripts in development.
While it is shifting somewhat with female-centric movies doing well at the box office in the last few years, it is “still hard to sell a female story,” Johnston says. “It has changed but companies don’t want to lose money.”
TV may be ahead of the film industry in driving projects for, by and about women.TV may be ahead of the film industry in driving projects for, by and about women. #leadingwomen Click To Tweet
Recently, according to Deadline Hollywood, “Weigel Broadcasting, the owner of local stations and multicast networks such as MeTV, has teamed with CBS Television Stations to launch Start TV, a new network anchored by female-driven procedurals.”
As for both men and women who want to thrive in the tv and film industry, Johnston says she has simple advice.
“You cannot expect anyone to make it happen for you. You have to make it yourself.”
And yes, she would love to work on a story by her grandfather, the late Elmore Leonard, and turn it into a movie, like the other 31 books of his made into movies, including “Hombre” and “Get Shorty.”
“I like to do my own stories but my favorite of his books is Maximum Bob. I would love to see that on the big screen.”