Courtesy Photo

Will Foster Stewart (left) plays Louis in AbamediaÕs new film, Bendiner Zoltan, J. Mitchell Johnson and Ferenc Pap World Without Waves.

Man with a Movie Plan

Brownwood native working to get his film in theaters

By Celinda Emison
June 20, 2004

Ten years ago, on the Greek island of Crete, inspiration hit J. Mitchell Johnson like a mythical bolt, lighting the flames of a poem that would lead him to realize his dream. ''I was sitting there looking at the mountain that is where the Greek god Zeus (the god of lightning) lived in mythology, and the poem came to me,'' Johnson said.

A few years later, a good friend, fellow writer and poet Betty Sue Flowers suggested he make a movie about the poem, ''The Artist Against Electricity,'' that he wrote in Crete. At her urging, Johnson, a native of Brownwood, found himself writing a somewhat autobiographical screenplay about a man who, at the height of his career as a television producer, becomes addicted to technology and suddenly develops a debilitating allergy to electricity. Johnson spent eight years on the film, writing and eventually directing it. The next step is getting the finished movie, ''World Without Waves,'' into theaters, and that means finding a distributor.

''We're working on that,'' Johnson said. ''It has been a labor of love, but we want to create a situation where people will want to see the film.''

The film debuts Friday at the Moscow International Film Festival.''He represents someone who I used to think I wanted to be, a successful television person in New York,'' said Johnson, who now lives in Fort Worth. ''My drug of choice was technology and the ease of the electrical life.''

Johnson, 50, said that while he isn't allergic to electricity, he is uncomfortable around power lines.

The movie also explores the question of whether an addiction - be it technology, drugs, alcohol or sex - can be overcome.

''In my case, I look at it more as an analogy - I am becoming unwilling to accept a life driven by machines. But on the other hand, it seems I can't live without them,'' he said.

Johnson decided the main character should remove himself from the fast-moving world of information saturation and electricity in Manhattan. The character ultimately landed smack dab in the middle of central Texas near Mullin and at the Regency Bridge. The movie stars Will Foster Stewart as Louis, the electrically challenged television executive, and Tara Bast, who has guest-starred on ''Third Watch,'' as Louis' lover, Sarah. Also in the movie are Jeff Kober (''China Beach,'' ''Coyote Moon''), Steve Bruton (''The Alamo'') and Brad Leland (''Cadillac Ranch,'' ''The Patriot,'' and ''The Stars Fell on Henrietta.'' Johnson calls the Regency Bridge, one of the only suspension bridges in the state, a ''major character in the movie.''

Louis ''walks on and across the bridge, and his life will never be the same,'' Johnson said.

Johnson said he loves his home state and the area near his hometown and tried to show Texas ''in a nonstereotypical way.''

''I feel it's authentic.''

After doing his undergraduate work at the University of Texas, Johnson went to film school at the University of Southern California. After graduating from USC, he began working as a documentary filmmaker.

He was mentored from 1975-77 by Charles Guggenheim, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker. Later, Johnson made contacts with other filmmakers, beginning a career that would take him around the world making documentaries.

He took a brief detour in 1977, when he decided to move back to Fort Worth to create what he called ''the new Hollywood.''

But that dream didn't come to fruition, so Johnson returned to his earlier path - focusing on documentaries. One of the first documentaries Johnson received recognition for was the three-part series ''The 1981 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.'' It ended up on PBS and gave a boost to his career, he said.

From there, Johnson began doing classical music and dance documentaries that were shown on ABC, PBS and A&E.

In the mid-1980s, Johnson and his partner, Louis Kornfeld, then president of Radio Shack, embarked on a project making travel videos. The series was called the Fodor Travel Guides and included videos on 14 countries.

After that venture, Johnson formed Abamedia, which produces television shows and movies, as well as archiving movies and photographs for the global marketplace. He began doing work in Russia.

When the Berlin Wall came down in East Germany, doors opened in what was then the USSR. Film and photo archives once hidden away were made available to Western journalists and filmmakers.

Then, in early 1993 while on a trip to Moscow, Johnson started a project archiving Russian films and photos. In 1996, he signed a 20-year contract with the Russian government to archive 38,000 films and 1 million photos to be placed in an Internet-accessible database.

While there, Johnson completed another documentary for PBS titled ''The Red Files: A Cold War History.'' It won Best Limited Series in 2000 from the Los Angeles-based International Documentary Association.

Now he is back in Moscow, working both on his present project archiving Russian films and photos, as well as attending the International Film Festival as a film director/screenwriter.

Johnson dedicated the movie to his sister, Kathleen Dabney, who has had her own struggles with addiction. She was an actress who had a role in ''Alice's Restaurant,'' a '60s cult classic.

''Some of the aspects of Sarah's story (in the movie) were inspired by Kathleen,'' he said. ''But I will always remember her for encouraging me to become a movie director, the kind of support only a big sister can give.''

Contact Brownwood Staff Writer Celinda Emison at (325) 641-8804 or