February 24, 2023
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator
A Conversation With Levi Johnson: VSU Alumnus, Filmmaker Introduces “The Buick Special” to South Georgia Film Festival Audiences
Levi Johnson’s “The Buick Special” is one of 95 films that will be screened during the seventh annual South Georgia Film Festival March 3-5 at Valdosta State University. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Mass Media from VSU in 2019 and says, “It’s so exciting to be selected for the 2023 South Georgia Film Festival because this is not only where I live, but it’s also a film festival that I was a part of when it all first started. I remember volunteering during its first years of operation and seeing all those films from all those filmmakers from all over! It’s amazing to be a part of it again like this.” His film was shot all on location in Brooks County, Georgia.
VALDOSTA — Levi Johnson’s “The Buick Special” is one of 95 films that will be screened during the seventh annual South Georgia Film Festival March 3-5 at Valdosta State University.
Johnson, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Mass Media from VSU in 2019, says, “It’s so exciting to be selected for the 2023 South Georgia Film Festival because this is not only where I live, but it’s also a film festival that I was a part of when it all first started. I remember volunteering during its first years of operation and seeing all those films from all those filmmakers from all over! It’s amazing to be a part of it again like this.”
The South Georgia Film Festival celebrates the art and industry of film, particularly those films that showcase the beauty of South Georgia and its people. Preference is given to filmmakers from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina, but the festival also includes films from across the United States and around the world. Selected films represent a variety of categories, including shorts, features, family friendly, high school student made, and college student produced. Visit http://southgeorgiafilm.com/ to purchase passes and view the full schedule of special events, screenings, and panel discussions.
VSU: What have you been up to since you graduated?
LEVI JOHNSON: Right before I graduated in Fall 2019, I was approached by two incredibly talented and gifted women — Cathy Parker and Honnie Korngold. They were fiercely passionate about bringing film to South Georgia, something I very much wanted to see happen myself, and they offered me the chance to work with them in doing just that. It’s amazing to see that dream become a reality!
VSU: Tell us about your film.
LEVI JOHNSON: Effectively, “The Buick Special” is a half-hour short film about a young teenager and an old man who could not be farther apart from one another, and yet they find common ground in their love for an old car — a 1952 Buick Special.
VSU: What inspired you to make this film?
LEVI JOHNSON: Inspiration for the film came from two key places. One was the community around us; we wanted to make a film that showcased the amazing people and world that exists right here in South Georgia. Two was a deep sense of wonder; great cinema has always had this sense of wonder to it, this ability to transport an audience to another place and leave you in amazement. That’s what we wanted to capture in this film.
VSU: Where was “The Buick Special” filmed?
LEVI JOHNSON: This film was all shot on location in Brooks County, Georgia.
VSU: What are some highlights of this filmmaking experience?
LEVI JOHNSON: Each day on set had its own unique highlights for me! Everything from watching our amazing actors bring the film to life before my eyes to transforming a whole block in Quitman, Georgia, back to the 1950s were all so amazing! But one highlight that really sticks out for me was watching our cast and crew — men and women of all ages at all levels of experience — come together to make a movie, to be a part of something bigger than themselves that they believed in and wanted to see come to fruition.
VSU: What challenges did you have to overcome?
LEVI JOHNSON: There are always challenges when making films. This project was no exception. One struggle we had was that due to practical restrictions, there were certain scenes where the car — an actual 1952 Buick Special with an older shifting mechanism — had to be pushed by our some of our crew members, sometimes uphill, in order to make it look like the person in the driver’s seat was actually driving the car. You’d never be able to tell that when you’re watching the film, but knowing the lengths and efforts that our cast and crew went to in order to make this film happen is extraordinary.
VSU: What advice do you have for emerging filmmakers?
LEVI JOHNSON: One huge key to being good at filmmaking is knowing how to collaborate. No matter what role you fill, making films is a group effort. Not any one person brings all the answers to all the problems. As a director, or any roll of leadership on a film set, you have to act as a conduit, guiding the creative talent of the team that has come to work around you. It’s truly amazing to watch people, who are really good at what they do, solve the problems they were always meant to solve.
VSU: What’s next for you?
LEVI JOHNSON: I work with a few different groups and companies, one of which is South Georgia Studios. South Georgia Studios is a film studio facility that will be located right here in South Georgia! We’re currently tracking to open our doors in 2024.
VSU: How do you hope “The Buick Special” impacts audiences?
LEVI JOHNSON: My hope for the impact of “The Buick Special” is two-fold:
(1) At its core, “The Buick Special” is about bringing people together, about overcoming our differences, seeing each other for who we are — warts and all — and helping each other to heal and be better. My hope is that people who see the film understand this and do the same throughout their lives.
(2) Film is happening in South Georgia! I want people to watch this film and understand that! To know that it is not just possible; it’s already happening, and you can be a part of it!
Johnson calls Valdosta, Georgia, home and says his mother and father are his biggest supporters.
“They’ve always believed in me and encouraged me to do what I was always meant to do. Without them, Honnie, Cathy, and all the friends and acquaintances who came to help on set and in the editing room, this film would still only be a dream on a piece of paper. I’m so grateful for every single person that came alongside, dug in, and helped bring this production to life!”
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