This post was written byJohnny Strong.

From my earliest experiences going to films as a child, I felt connected to the medium. There was a particular moment when I went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark when I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker. But it wasn’t as cut and dry as that. I remember looking up at the screen and seeing Harrison Ford play Indiana Jones and I thought, "The movie is about him…he’s the hero of the film. He must have made the movie."

I decided I would be an actor because that is who I thought “made” the movies.

WARHORSE ONE Official Trailer (2023)

The Decision To Make My Movie, My Way

After my first couple of experiences working on television and film as an actor, I realized that wasn’t the case. I didn’t really enjoy the process as an actor because I wanted to point the camera the way I wanted. I wanted to change the dialogue I was going to say, I wanted to block the scene differently, and I wanted to score the film. It was then I realized that film is not an actor's medium.

Eventually, I decided it was time for me to make my own films. It was the best decision I’ve made in my career.

Here are my suggestions for up-and-coming filmmakers: Make your movie.

I woke up and decided I was going to make my own movie. Not entertaining other producers' or directors' ideas, but actually making my own, with my ideas. I’ve gotten lots of scripts and pitches for movies but there was always that feeling inside that I was not doing what I really wanted to be doing. So I made the decision to create something myself.

The real challenge of filmmaking is figuring out what you want to make. What is your intention?

Then you have to decide how you are going to finance it. Will you do the old “Borrow from Peter to pay Paul'' model, or pay for it yourself?

Headshot of writer/director Johnny Strong

Writer/Director Johnny Strong

There are other things to consider when making a film but those two key components are the most important out the gate. What are you making and how are you going to pay for it? There’s a lot more to it, but those are the basics. I knew I wanted to make something meaningful, a story that was close to my heart. So in the story’s construction, I developed it in a way that I could tell this meaningful story and yet construct it, to allow it to have commercial appeal, thus making it easier to finance.

I was also fortunate to know a lot of movie makers from the time and experience of working as an actor for other directors over the years. I called one I had worked with and told him I was going to make a movie and asked if he wanted to come aboard. When I wrote the first 50/60 pages of the script in about three days, I was off to the races. It was extremely helpful having someone who had the experience of making movies on board, especially because I was in front of the camera for 99 percent of the film. Having someone to make sure things are being done properly behind the camera while I was in front of it was really helpful.

After the first six weeks or so of shooting the film my co-director moved on to shoot two other movies of his own, while I was still making my film, so some of the filming was just me with a small crew working with cast on location.

The best advice I can give an artist that wants to make a film is, just make it. Don't wait! Pull the trigger and start shooting. Get the equipment you need and learn how to use it. Do it yourself. If you don’t know how to do some element of the process, learn how to do it.

I find Roger Corman’s old “learn how to do everything” approach is the best way to thrive in the film business. Because two things will develop from that type of mentality:

  1. You will know how to do it, so you can do it yourself.
  2. If someone is half-assing the process you will know whether or not they are putting in the real effort that you require, because you know how to do the job.

Also, you will know how difficult the job is, so if someone is doing a great job, you will appreciate it. But if they are half-assing the job, see example one.

Five men in a forest on a mountain, 'Warhorse One'

BTS of 'Warhorse One'

Well Go USA Entertainment

Walk it like you talk it

During production, my focus was: writing, producing, directing, acting, scouting locations, SFX make-up, designing and building some of the props, and costume design.

I was one of the first unit camera operators (un-credited) to film and created the miniature model design and FX. I coordinated and performed the biggest stunt of the film (cliff jump and river run) and occasionally I was the on-set cook.

During post-production, there were two key people that helped: one Visual FX artist who was credited as the VFX supervisor, who worked on about six shots for the film, and one foley artist for the film. Besides that, I did the entire post-production of my film by myself. Besides the six shots my VFX supervisor did, I did all the VFX, coloring, editing, sound design, mixing, and just about everything else post-production required. In fact, even after hiring the foley artist, I still had to spend an additional four weeks re-doing the foley of the film when I received it because I wasn’t satisfied with the result.

Even after post-production, all the artwork, trailers, promotions and the eventual delivery to the distributors, I hand-held all of it. I have a philosophy: If it’s your baby, then you are its parent and you should protect it all the way until it comes out in theaters. Even then, keep your eye on it.

The last thing, favors are far more expensive than paying for it upfront. Unfortunately, in my experience, there were “favors'' called in and they always bite you in the ass. Avoid favors at all costs. If someone says, “Don’t worry about it 'bro', I’ll do it for nothing," you should pay them. For God's sake, pay them because you’ll never hear the end of the favor they did you.

Also, do not be afraid to fire people on day one. If you sense trouble from anyone in the project, that things aren’t working or you have a bad apple, no matter what position; camera, cast, etc… get rid of them immediately. Even if you think you can’t afford a replacement, stop production, fire them, and take a day or two off and you’ll figure out how to get someone to fill the space.

If you have a bad apple on set, it will affect the entire production and make the whole experience miserable. Trust me. Don’t be a nice guy and think because you are “trying to be nice” it’s going to magically make them different or the circumstances better. Fire them, replace them, and continue making your movie. I learned this the hard way. You’ll thank me later.

  • To wrap it up, keep it simple:
  • What do you want to make?
  • How are you going to pay for it?
  • Don’t wait, just make it.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut people loose if they are toxic or not performing at the level you expect.
  • If you want it done right, do it yourself.

This post was written by Johnny Strong.