A few weeks ago, Atlanta Film and TV had an opportunity to chat with acting coach, accredited instructor of the Chubbuck Technique, filmmaker, director, and producer Jonna Johnson. Currently, Jonna’s production company Dirt Road Paths Productions is collaborating with Tablet Eye Multimedia to “produce a life-changing Hollywood standard movie in Ghana.”
Atlanta Film and TV: How did you get your start in the film and television industry?
Jonna Johnson: I started with modeling when Tyra Banks hosted America’s Next Top Model and they came to Tennessee and hosted Tennessee’s Top Model. I had no prior training or modeling experience. But with the encouragement of my grandmother, I tried out and made it to the top ten. I ultimately won the competition. So, I am titled Tennessee's Top Model 2009! For winning the competition, I won acting classes and that’s when I fell in love with acting. I had a passion for acting when I was in college and I was able to take Musical Theater classes. I just fell in love with it!
I found my way in the acting industry when my family and I moved to Atlanta in 2008. That’s when I started working at an acting school and slowly but gradually built my acting resume - and the rest is history.
Atlanta Film and TV: Describe Ghana’s Film and TV industry currently and what is the future of it?
Jonna Johnson: Currently, the content in Ghana is very action-driven where there's lots of blood, guts, and fighting. But, there is a lack of storytelling and plot, or what is known as a plot twist. Here, we have intertwining stories that, at the very end, create an awesome phenomenon of a masterpiece to watch. to the point where you say to yourself, “Wait! Let me watch that again.” Because there isn’t any of that type of storytelling in the Ghanian Film and TV industry, my desire is to change the narrative. Through our collaboration with Confidence Losu, we want to give actors an opportunity to perform in pieces that tell stories based on certain true events---while at the same time maintaining the action-packed, Ghanian films the essence of and being able to capture the essence of how beautiful Africa and Ghana is. We also want to capture the essence of the beauty of Africa, the beauty of Ghana, and its people.
My excitement about this collaboration is to bring all of my knowledge to Ghana. I am currently training and taking tons of classes with directors such as Ron Howard and Ava Duvernay. which I am trying to grasp, learn, and absorb from their stories - but pick and mold my own story. Their stories inspire me to be able to inspire and enlighten people in Ghana. As of right now, they don’t have that outlet knowledge base.
Atlanta Film and TV: Personally, what is your connection to Ghana?
Jonna Johnson: Philanthropy has been the root of this journey since I was a little girl. I’ve always had a love for humanity. Ironically, as an acting coach, I was coaching one particular student Corissa Ore, who will be traveling with me to Ghana and will be a part of the film Alisa as an American. Corissa has vitiligo - which is a skin disease. As I coached Corissa, I used a particular technique that I teach which is very empowering but yet is very deep. It’s a realism technique where we use our own story and our past to help us overcome and use it to create truthful and authentic performances. During the first day of meeting and talking with Corissa, she told me about her volunteer work with a half-built grassroots school in Ghana. She then told me that it would be great if I could one day teach this technique in Ghana to inspire the people there.
I was able to go to Ghana for the first time this past February and coach at that very school. I was able to teach the technique to the children and they performed for me. Being welcomed in Ghana is a big deal! I was working with the Ashanti tribe in Kumasi. Tourists don’t typically go to Kumasi. Kumasi is beautiful and there is so much to take in when it comes to the people and the scenery. It was to the point that when I returned home I was a different person. I told my family that we have got to go back ASAP because it’s life-changing.
Before I went to Ghana to teach, a director named Confidence Losu who owns Tablet Eye Multimedia, reached out to me via Instagram. At first, I was skeptical as anyone should be when someone you don’t know reaches out to you via social media. Confidence is well-known amongst the people in Kumasi, and was invited by the group whom I stayed with. Confidence is an influential young filmmaker who is trying to pave a way for other young men and women to be able to do something outside of just trying to be a craftsman or farmer. He’s helping them find opportunities to be hands-on and to use their gifts and filmmaking is the only way that Confidence knows how to do that. And, that is how we came to start working together.
Atlanta Film and TV: Is Ghana specifically, Accra a film-friendly place?
Jonna Johnson: Accra is a film-friendly place. I, however, did not get a chance to visit Accra since I was staying in Kumasi and the only time I was in Accra was when I was at the airport. It does take at least a six-hour transportation event to get there from Kumasi. But, I’ve heard that Accra is beautiful and that’s where I’m going to have to visit when I go back in October because I am looking to build a studio and find land that I can build on.
Atlanta Film and TV: Could you tell us a little bit about Dirt Road Paths Productions?
Jonna Johnson: I’ve been known as coached by Jonna Johnson for over a decade and I had to create a production company that I am now starting to team up with and put together here in America so that we can start with filmmaking and documentaries. The inspiration behind starting Dirt Road Paths was to stop working at other production companies and to create my own. But, I could also still work with other production companies and we can all collaborate. The biggest lesson is being able to prove that collaboration can be done without all the in-between crap that happens. Which is the reason why a lot of projects and films never see the light of day because when it boils down to everything, there is always some sort of disagreement where too many people are involved. Dirt Road Path’s productions came about to put people together that have the heart and the passion to produce films, documentaries, and narratives that impact and recycle the crew and talent, and help them along the way.
The cast in the film Alisa all will be paid. We’re also using children from the schools in Kumasi. I’ve even arranged one of our important scenes to be filmed at the school, and we’ll use some of the families and children that I sponsor to make it through the school year. In Kumasi, school isn’t public and if a family cannot pay to send their children to school, there is no school for them. If a family cannot pay to send their children to school, the children are either washing vegetables or out farming when they should be in school. By using the children in the film, we’ll be sure that they all are paid to cover their schooling for the next year or so. My goal is by having them in our productions, we can help them provide for themselves.
Atlanta Film and TV: How do you all plan to take precautions when filming during the pandemic?
Jonna Johnson: We will film in October 2020 and right now all of our production meetings, etc. are being done via Zoom. We’re making sure that we have everything in place so when I get to Ghana, we can film and I will be able to bring home a finished product.
For more information, check out check out Jonna Johnson’s website
To back the feature film Alisa, click here for the Kickstarter Campaign.
You can also follow Jonna Johnson on Instagram @jonnajohnson1