The original family friendly film Coffee Shop (starring Laura Vandervoort, Cory M Grant, Rachel Hendrix, Jason Burkey, Jon Lovitz and Kevin Sorbo) premieres on UPTV on Sunday September 14th, and I had a the privilege of interviewing the producer/director of the film David Alan Johnson via email. Here we talk about his directing process, his strong Christian faith, and what he wants people to obtain from the film, as well as plenty more interesting insights. Check out the interview below and be sure to watch Coffee Shop on Sunday!
1. Congratulations on the world premiere of the exclusive airing of Coffee Shop on UP TV on September 14th! Can you both highlight to us your emotions as the day comes closer and closer? How do you both plan to celebrate the film airing on TV?
It’s always an emotional peak when your ‘children’ go out into the world! I will watch it on the air with my family – even though I’ve seen the movie a couple hundred times! It still will be fun. I love watching our actors – I think we have an amazing cast!
2. I’ve watched the film and it is a very emotive, heartfelt and profound story, about a young woman living in a small town (similar to Tree Hill in One Tree Hill and Bluebell in Hart Of Dixie) with a tight knit community; and she’s torn in different directions, unsure about her direction in life. What does the movie mean to you personally, and if there is one thing that viewers take away from the film, what would you want it to be?
I hope the audience enjoys the experience and is moved in a hopeful way by it. I wanted to make a movie that was modern, stylish and relevant – and had a young female lead character who was also modern, stylish, relevant, strong, and authentic who is ALSO someone who clearly believes in God and believes God is a positive factor in her life and is the anchor when things get tough. That is a character women NEVER see in modern culture – but I happen to know tons of women who are like this character. I think it’s the most overlooked character in our culture today.
3. For me this film reminds us that God is in control, and that His plans are higher than our own- that whatever plan we have for our life can easily turn on its head, but God is still the same yesterday, today and forever, and because He is God, His plans are trustworthy. Can you briefly tell us how you signed onto the project, and also your thought processes when you were pitched the idea, and your experiences on working on the set with the actors and the crew?
I’m SOOOO glad you got that message! That is what we wanted. I got involved through my relationship with Jon and Andy Erwin who I had worked with on October Baby. Theresa Preston and Jon had this script (they also wrote October Baby) in a rough form and Theresa and I worked on it to get it finished with me directing. I loved the characters, the setting, the relationships and the message from the beginning. It was a whirlwind to shoot! We didn’t have a lot of time, but our cast was amazing and our terrific crew was up to the impossible task. We experienced a miracle in the way it turned out so beautifully. We even got snowed in on the set one night in Birmingham! That’s a first – but something none of us will forget.
4. At times in the film the character of Donovan was reminded of God through one of her most loyal customers Max, especially in the times when she felt that the coffee shop was struggling and there was no sign of help anywhere. There were also subtle references to the Bible made throughout the film. Can you give a bit of insight into how the casting process occurred in light of that covert faith element of the film, and can you also highlight how the cast and crew cohesion and work atmosphere was on the set?
We set about to get the best actors for the role. I’m a firm believer that we must always strive for excellence and to do that we need talented people. We had a great script and all of the actors responded to that and it’s what got them interested. I had known a few of them already. Laura Vandervoort worked on two of my television shows in Toronto 10 years ago (Doc and Sue Thomas; F.B.Eye). She was a delight to work with then and I’d followed her career because I knew she’d be big. When she was suggested to me by my daughter and then by our casting director on the same day, I thought maybe that was something I should pay attention to! I’m so thankful she said yes. Her performance is amazing! I also knew Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey from October Baby and I just love what they did in this movie. I’ve known Kevin Sorbo for a couple of decades and he did the movie as a favor – and because he really liked the role of the Broadway producer. Many have never seen that side of Kevin and it’s very fun. God brought us the others through the casting process and we just caught lightning in a bottle with them. I’m so happy with the ensemble and they all melded together in a special way. One might say in a ‘divine’ way. I couldn’t have asked for more. The cast and crew are still close friends and I believe they always will be. It was a very fun group to be around every day.
5. You have worked in Hollywood for around 2 decades, creating, producing, and writing and collaborating with many top names and entertainment companies in Hollywood, inclusive of Steven Spielberg, and companies such as Disney, Sony, FOX, NBC, Paramount and Dreamworks. As this is your feature debut directing a film, how was the experience, especially since it is for a film debuting on TV? What have you learnt about being behind the camera, and can you also talk about the similarities and differences between creating TV shows (you have created 2- Doc and Sue Thomas: FB Eye)?
I’ve actually created four network television shows and been ‘show runner’ on a few others. Being a ‘show runner’ in TV means you are in charge of everything. All the writing, casting, producton, look of the film, music – everything. So, the decisions one makes as ‘show runner’ also include all the decisions a director of a film must make. Actually ‘showrunning’ is a bit tougher and you’re actually in charge of more – but you also do what the director of a movie does. I’ve always been very hands on and have directed some of my shows before, so this really wasn’t different. It was just great to not have to also be editing and writing other episodes at the same time – which is what a ‘showrunner’ must do.
6. As you have been immersed in Hollywood culture for a fair amount of , have there been any opportunities to share your faith to the writers, producers, directors and actors you have worked with? Can you also tell us about how you came to be a Christian?
Oh, I could go on and on and on about this question! Yes, many opportunities over many years. I’ve seen some miraculous things happen. I see what I do as my mission field and I’m always grateful for the opportunity to do it!
7. Which directors have influenced your work, David, and in the future, are you thinking of creating more faith based films, or films primarily for Hollywood? Can you briefly tell us about other films or TV series that you may have on the horizon in the future (writing, producing, directing, acting)?
Frank Capra is my standard for directing. I’m always trying to make a ‘Capraesque’ film! I also loved the style of Sydney Pollock in Tootsie and other movies he’s done. I actually don’t particularly like the term ‘faith based’ movies. I want to create more excellent and entertaining and uplifting and compelling and inspirational movies – which just happen to have ‘faith’ elements in them. That is what I think Coffee Shop is. It’s what a movie like ‘The Blind Side’ is. That’s what I plan to do until God doesn’t let me do it anymore! We’ve got two other movies that we will shoot back to back in the next few months. I’ve been very blessed to do this and we’re having fun.
8. Coffee Shop has received many glowing accolades recently. It has won at the Movieville Film Festival for best actress, best director, and also voted audience favorite. The film has also received highest recommendations, praise and accolades, from organizations such as the Dove Foundation, Focus On The Family, Salem, AFA and MovieGuide. What it is that motivates you as a film maker and a director, and in particular with this movie and story, what was the one fundamental thing that inspired you to create this movie? Do negative reviews (especially critics of your previous work) sway the direction your next projects venture into, and change your outlook on filmmaking, or are you content with this film no matter how many lives are changed?
You ask the BEST questions I’ve been asked. I love how you ‘get’ the movie so well. As I mentioned I wanted to make a movie that was very entertaining and very romantic and to make a movie for women who believe you can be romantic and be a Christian at the same time! I believe Hollywood has gone way too far and out of bounds in the way they have cheapened romance and I know there is a very large audience who doesn’t want what they are selling. But that large audience does want quality and smart writing and beautiful photography and great acting etc. – which also respects and validates their world view. I believe that is what Coffee Shop does. I’ve been very blessed to have had mostly very positive reviews from both secular and faith outlets. I’ve come to the realization long ago that I will never please 100 percent of the people. I just try to make smart, funny, emotional content that I like and I’ve found when I do that most of the audience does too. It’s one of the gifts I’m most thankful for – popular taste!
9. Who are your role models/mentors, and who has impacted you in your lives, either personally or professionally? Have the influences of your role models enhanced and impacted your careers and in what ways?
Oh my, that is a long answer. I’ve had so many people before me who’ve helped shape who I am. I’ve had a chance to thank many of them in the past and I thank God for them all the time. I am who I am because of the people who’ve poured themselves into my life. I try to now give that to other younger artists. It’s the least I can do. That’s how I got involved with the Erwin Brothers. I saw some good guys with God given talent and felt compelled to help them if I could. The result was October Baby got released and touched an amazing amount of lives. Then Coffee Shop grew out of that. It’s funny, I did it to help them and I ended up getting the great benefit of directing and producing this movie – which I loved doing!
10. Is there anything in your life that keeps you grounded and places things in perspective as you act in thought-provoking films and create inspiring media? Is there any song, or Bible verse, or even famous quote that reminds you about why you do what you do and why you chose cinema as a career and ministry? How can people stay connected with you via social media?
Again, I could write a book on this. One of the verses is in Coffee Shop – from Philippians – ‘no one has ever heard, no one has ever seen what God has in store for us’… My wife has always been an amazing partner and teacher to me on spiritual things. I was rolling through life – making some money and doing nice work, but not sure if I was doing what I should be doing. She asked me, ‘where else on earth needs missionaries more than where you are right now’. That was a moment that changed my life. It changed how I look at what I am blessed to do for a living. I realized in that moment why I had been given whatever gifts I have and why I’d been blessed with the opportunities I had been blessed with. I always try to remember that. People can follow me on Twitter – I haven’t been very active, but I have vowed I’m going to start. I’m @davejohns1 Also I’m now on Instagram dave.alan.johnson and now on the Coffee Shop Facebook page. I’d love to hear how everyone enjoyed the movie! Thanks for the great questions!!
Coffee Shop airs on UPTV on Sunday September 14th at 8pm/7pm c. Be sure to watch the film and let us know what you think of it!