Christina Johnson believes the only way to achieve your dreams is to work hard – whether she’s co-chairing ACU’s FilmFest or working for one of the biggest film production companies in the United States.
So perhaps it’s a bit serendipitous that last spring she landed an internship with Mandeville Films at Walt Disney Studios – where “a dream is a wish your heart makes.”
“My dream was always Disney ever since I was young,” she said.
By the end of her internship, Christina had worked with the script for a new Muppet movie and helped cast a new TV show.
Dream big, work hard
Christina understands the value of dreaming big as well as the importance of a strong ethic. She interviewed for the internship during January 2010, competing with 50 other applicants for a position at the prestigious Los Angeles Film Studies Center.
At the Film Studies Center, Christina took intensive courses in producing, screenwriting, theology and an internship seminar. As she was looking for an internship in the area, she discovered that Disney’s studio had a position open for a script reader and coverage writer. With her background as an English major, Christina decided to apply and was accepted.
“There were a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten unless I was out there looking,” she said.
As an intern, she did whatever was needed – running errands around the studio, serving as a receptionist for the producers, and participating in brainstorming sessions about actors and casting. Her hard work paid off. Her supervisors noticed her efforts and began to integrate her into the decision-making processes of the studio.
“It was a good way to get my feet wet,” she said. “I love screenwriting – the environment and just film in general.”
Christina learned the value of filmmaking and developed her strong work ethic as an English major at ACU, working with professors, staff and students. As a student worker in the English department, she brought both professional and academic experience to her L.A. internship and coursework.
The ACU ‘oomph’
“ACU really prepared me,” she said. “ACU has that extra oomph. It was an honor to be able to go up there and be so prepared.”
The lessons Christina learned from professors and mentors in the English department have shaped how she views filmmaking and its purpose, she says – particularly Dr. Bill Rankin’s class on literary criticism.
“It just really opened my eyes to the way we read a text and the way film is a text and directing can be a way of reading a text too,” she said. “I really started thinking about what I wanted to write about and that I have something to say as a writer. All of us have a voice. And ACU gave me a lot of introspection and the background to think critically.”
Those skills aren’t just applicable in class or during internships, however.
“I learned from my professors that learning never stops,” Christina said. “And the English department is very strong in love and loyalty and friendship – there’s a sense of support and community.”
Christina is now working toward her master’s degree in literature and creative writing at ACU.
She used the skills she’d learned in the English department and in L.A. as she served as co-chair for FilmFest, a position she’s held twice before.
To improve the festival, she decided to have workshops in the fall and an awards ceremony in the spring and also decided to bring in experts and alumni in the filmmaking business to train participants. Her efforts resulted in over 15 entries in the contest and several high quality films, as well as a packed audience at the official screening.
“It was really rewarding,” she said. “It’s just been incredible and so fulfilling to see the interest on campus and to be able to provide the tools. I brought all the knowledge I’d gained in L.A. to ACU, because I think we need some of that.”
For Christina, filmmaking isn’t just a career, however. It’s a way to express her passion for stories and to demonstrate her faith.
Faith and filmmaking
“How do faith and filmmaking relate? It’s a daily question, one that you constantly ask yourself,” she said. “It begins with setting your own moral boundaries as a Christian, which makes life far more complicated. You really need to know who you are as a person, who you are with God, and how you see your job.”
Faith can be a subtle message, however. Christina believes it’s possible to integrate her Christian beliefs with her career in a way that’s inspiring without being sanctimonious.
“I love the way films don’t have to be overtly Christian in order to bring a good message. I really view my job as a mission field,” she said.
Relationships with others are important as well in demonstrating her faith.
“At my internship, it was about being a Christ-like figure,” she said. “I worked on being friendly, being encouraging, and most of all, being a servant. I think it’s important to be a Christian through your actions; it begins when you start working with people, not just when you watch a film. Because you’re in communication with other lives, you can open that door.”
Her purpose is simple, even if her means are complicated. Christina just wants to achieve one goal with her career in filmmaking.
“The most important thing is to touch people’s lives,” she said.