Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
My name is Chauncey Johnson, founder of Alpha Stella Productions, and along with my Co-Founder, Katherine Marie, we run an independent film production company.
To date, we have produced a few projects, ranging in genres from Drama, Comedy, and Horror. Our most recent project titled “Control”, a short film about unpacking the anxieties of a first-time father as he reflects on his own educational experiences is currently making its way into the film festival circuit.
Our goal within this industry is to challenge the way we think about characters and stories that fit outside of the social norm, whatever that may be. As we did with our award-winning short film, “And Then There Was Damien”. A story about mental health and how we treat and view people struggling with mental breakdowns in the black community.
However, we’re not just two people who woke up one day and said “I wonder what it would be like to produce movies”, we actually have experience in this business. Katherine is an experienced director, stunt performer, and actress who has appeared in “The Godfather of Harlem”, “Blue Bloods”, “The Get Down”, and “Royal Pains”. I have made appearances on shows such as “Shades of Blue”, “Wu-Tang: An American Saga”, the feature film “Soul Santa”, and have won awards for directing.
Our way of crafting stories and characters comes from our love of cinema, social awareness, social injustice, and the horrors and mysteries of being a human being. However, outside of our talents, we are two people looking to make an impact on the world.
As a person living with a disability, I wanted to make a change for myself and others who live with hearing loss. I am going to break the limits of what people think we can do, as an entertainer, business owner, and martial artist.
Katherine has also found ways to turn passions into life-changing adventures, from her social media cooking app Homeys for food lovers to share their culinary dishes and recipes, to her love for real estate and interior design. These are the things that make us Alpha Stella Productions.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
In this industry, we often hear people say they do things from experience, but we actually craft everything we do from our personal experiences. We live without fear and welcome challenges like no other. Nothing we do is to check the box of inclusion for the sake of just checking the box.
Yeah, hard work is in us, but never giving up is what makes us. Our philosophy is to work smarter in order to work harder and longer. We also welcome people and stories with open hearts and open minds.
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
One day, while sitting at home in New York and thinking about life lessons, I thought back to a time when I was fired from my job as a car porter for a dealership in my hometown of Detroit. The reason, I needed to take two days off was because I was graduating from school on my birthday. I went to school for radio broadcasting, and I’ll never forget this general manager for the dealership who said, “It’s not like you’re going to need this job, Mr. Radio Man.”
It was the first time I was ever fired from a job at the age of 19, I was upset and felt misunderstood. Not even a month later, and I’m showing my age here, I was hired at a music store called Sam Goody. There I met someone who would have a lot of influence on me as a cinema lover, Mr. Andre Seewood, he gave me my first acting role in his independent project.
Six months later, as that general manager said I did become Mr. Radio Man and took a job working at the number 1 radio station in Detroit. But, it kept calling me, cinema was the nagging voice in my head, the voice that wouldn’t let me forget how as a kid I used to watch movies and then recreate them with my G.I Joe’s and play for hours not realizing I’m a creator in my own way.
So, while I was working at the radio station I started writing a screenplay, and then life took over. I found myself constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place and after years of working in radio and then experimental marketing, I moved to the East coast. I responded to a casting call for a sketch comedy show.
I had no monologue or any comedic scene I could perform, so I wrote a monologue about a terrorist making a video from the basement of his girlfriend’s home and she keeps interrupting him. I got the part and the performance went well but something else was missing.
Fast forward back to the day in New York when I was sitting at home thinking about life lessons, the screenplay I was writing while working at the radio station came to me and it wouldn’t leave me. That was the day in 2017, that I started Alpha Stella Productions. That was also the day I called Katherine and told her this had to be now or it was going to be never.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
Katherine and I both wanted more out of life and we also want to bring up as many people as we can so they can do the same. In 2018, It looked like that was going to be the moment, we had a group of fellow creatives who wanted to bring our talents together to make an incredible production company. It was a moment where I felt, I’m surrounding myself with my peers and with people who I think are smarter than me and want exactly what I want.
Needless to say, that was true, but a part of me felt like I was only doing this with other people because I was afraid to do things on my own. We then filmed a project that I wrote, a dark comedy, and it did not turn out the way I wrote it.
The director saw the film differently from what I wrote, taking all the humor away to make this dramatic work of art. I was also the editor for this project and I have never felt so disappointed, what I created wasn’t coming through on screen. But, I’ll admit it was ambitious, I penned together something to showcase the talents of 8 performers with 12 scenes for a 20-minute short film.
I laugh now thinking about it, like seriously a 20-minute short film with 8 characters and 12 scenes that’s crazy. But it was then that I realized keeping it simple is the way to go and not letting anyone compromise the story I wanted to tell.
The way I had to grow through it was by being the voice and protector of my work, and collaborating with people to enhance my storytelling, not with people who want to limit my creativity.
Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?
Spike Lee is someone I would love to meet, he holds a special place in my love for cinema. The way he writes and directs his stories are signature and relatable even to this day. Spike Lee’s creation of 40 acres and a Mule is the true representation of cinema independence for black people.
To quote a favorite line from one of his movies Mo Better Blues “The people don’t come because you grandiose motherf***ers don’t play the s**t they like. If you played the s**t they like, then the people will come. Simple as that!” That line throughout the years has always been just a funny line to say, but the truth is this piece of dialogue means so much to me in the context of being true to yourself.
The founders of A24 Daniel Katz and David Fenkel, business-wise I’m inspired by them. They’re bold and daring in the projects they produce and put out. I feel they know how to capitalize on creativity and not just what’s going to make them hundreds of millions of dollars. I aspire to make bold and unique projects like A24.
Rounding out our top three would be Ava DuVernay. Katherine and I have been greatly inspired by her work, creativity, and tenacity. Her range of work is also impeccable. From the realness, heart, and relatability of her characters and Nawlins life in “Queen Sugar” to her full blockbuster creative fun-filled directing in “A Wrinkle in Time”. Her tv shows and movies are awe-inspiring and show the full range of life and characters people of color can portray. We are inspired to create as freely as she does and bring that level of heart and soul to our work as well.