I wrote and directed the films Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper. Also directed the Breaking Bad episodes "Fly" and "52." Also can play the banjo, horribly. https://twitter.com/rcjohnso/status/250367319560302592

Comments: 1064 • Responses: 78  • Date: 

ICanLegoThat614 karma

No question here; only a thank-you. It was Brick that made me want to be a screenwriter: I saw that noir world and heard that dialogue snapping with rhythm and style and damn I wanted it. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I...wrote my own noir script that would probably constitute plagiarism, but AFTER THAT I found some originality. That originality led to film school, which led to internships, which led to representation, and now I find myself in Hollywood, with my own projects in the works at studios and companies I never thought I'd see from a passing car, let alone wander around after my own meetings.

And it all started with Brick, the cool little detective story that opened my eyes. Hell of a thing to spring on a guy, indeed.

So, as a token of my appreciation for lighting the fuse that led to where I am now, I'll do what my username suggests; my way of saying thanks. I'll be first in line for Looper and I'll always hold Brick and The Brothers Bloom in the highest regard. Keep being awesome, Mr. Johnson.

rcjohnso279 karma

Thanks so much, really appreciate that. And congrats on your projects!

Alarune209 karma

Hi Rian, thanks for doing an AMA! I loved Brick and The Brothers Bloom and I can't wait for Looper. I have a few questions:

  1. What's it like working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt?

  2. As a writer/director, why do you think Hollywood produces so few original films these days?

  3. Favorite Cowboy Bebop episode?

rcjohnso439 karma

Joe's been a close friend since we made Brick, so it's nice to have that shorthand. But when we're on set together we're both pretty focused, I think that happy sets are ones where everyone feels like they're doing their best work. That happens when everyone knows what you're gunning for. Working with your friends just helps the communication.

That's a really good question, but it's encouraging to see original stuff bust through now and then. Also, I think maybe "original" isn't the real golden egg we should all be after. If you look at Looper for instance you can see the wide range of stuff I drew from, from Terminator to Witness to Akira... "original" is less important than just focusing on telling a story that hits the audience hard.

Pierrot le Fou :-)

ndyjones196 karma


This morning in Raleigh there was a bank robbery, a resturant kitchen fire and a major downtown power failure within the same block. This was clearly a heist. What could possibly be in the loot in this scenerio? Nazi diamonds, Soul in a suitcase, Confederate Acapulco Gold? Also, I love your fucking movies. Thank you. Have a nice day.

rcjohnso413 karma

My alibi is airtight and you'll never break me, ndyjones.

You'll never break me.

rcjohnso152 karma

6:27pm - fingers falling off, looks like the questions are thinning out. I'll check back in later on and answer any stragglers. Thanks for the great questions guys, this was awesome.

GWRbananaman137 karma

"Fly" remains the most divisive Breaking Bad episode; some (myself included) laud it as the series' best, others decry it as a hideous waste of time. First, is it true that it was born of a need to produce a particularly cheap episode with minimal cast and sets? Second, how did you feel handling one of the show's most tense, character-driven episodes and how did you approach that?

rcjohnso148 karma

Yup - bottle episodes are specifically designed as budget cutters. When I first read the script I wasn't sure what I thought of it - part of me felt what the episode's detractors probably felt, which is "NO! THE WHOLE STORY STOPS FOR AN EPISODE!" But I think what the writers Moira Walley-Becket and Sam Catlin did with that episode is genius, and was just what the show needed at that point in the season. I've got a feeling that even the episode's detractors would feel something missing if the season had cruised by without stopping to dig into that Walt/Jesse dynamic as deeply as that episode did.

It was all there in the writing, I just tried to bring it to life as honestly as possible. But if you read that script, it's all there.

translucentfish126 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA Rian, a few questions if you don't mind:

  • How'd Brick get started, production wise? Did you just decide you wanted to make a movie and made it happen?
  • Your /Filmcast episodes are some of my favorites, have you ever thought about starting your own podcast or the like?
  • What's your script writing process? Scene cards, checklist, wing it?
  • Can I have a job on your next movie? Anything you've got... seriously

rcjohnso230 karma

I wrote Brick when I was just out of college, and basically spent my 20s trying to get it made. We had a producer break down the script, and we said "ok we need X amount to make it." Then we started looking for that amount. And after years and years of failing at that, I met my producer Ram Bergman, who told me I was doing it wrong. I should see how much money I can scrap together right now, and then figure out how to fit my film into that amount. So that's what I did. It wasn't easy but we were able to get it made, we shot it in 19 days on 35mm for about $450k. This is before digital was really an option or at least before it saved you any money.

haha - I'm glad to hear that, I figured I annoyed most people with my David Chen baiting. (Dave is awesome by the way, I just love giving him shit for some reason.) I love so many podcasts, like WTF and Bullseye and The Memory Palace, I don't think I'd come close to doing what those guys go. I'm happy just to listen.

If I spend a year an a half writing a script, the first year will be outlining in notebooks. I really spend as long as I can sketching everything out and working on the structure before I sit down to type out scenes. Just the way I work, definitely not necessarily the best way. At some point in the process I'll go to Staples and get really excited and buy notecards and sharpies, and lay them all out or put them on the wall. It's a nice way to procrastinate for an afternoon but inevitable they just end up sitting there for the next month, and I don't really use them. I find notebooks much easier to work in fluidly.

Very flattering of you to ask, I've got no idea what we're doing next though, I've got to write it. In the meanwhile, keep making your own movies. That's way more important than working on sets.

reidock99 karma

After Brick, Brothers Bloom, and Breaking Bad, is Looper just an effort to not make your entire filmography an alliteration?

rcjohnso383 karma

I really should have gone with Blooper.

FFUUUUU74 karma

The camera work in Brick is the most fresh and innovative I've seen in a modern film. What inspired you to move the camera in such a way?

(Also, why so many lens flares!?)

rcjohnso151 karma

MORE LENS FLARES!!!! They are the cow bell of cinematic language.

I love the way they look, and if they're motivated by a light source that makes sense I just really dig them.

Thanks for the kind words about the camera work - I guess the important thing is that it's always motivated. That's what I get excited about in terms of camera movement, when it perfectly serves the emotion of the moment that's on the screen. Scorsese is the master of this. The things he makes you feel with his camera moves are insane, but they're all focused and to a specific end. People sometimes talk about feeling "the hand behind the camera" with Scorsese, but I totally disagree - his camera work feels so organic to the scenes, I feel much more distanced by subdued but uncreative half-handheld camera work than by any overcranked dolly move in Goodfellas.

gracefulfailure73 karma

  1. Your work on Breaking Bad is unparalleled. What is it like working within the set confines of an arced story, while trying to create something that you're satisfied with on a personal level? (bonus: What do you think of Albuquerque?)

  2. I really loved the in-theater podcast for Brothers Bloom. Made me see it a couple more times. Can we get one of those for Looper?

  3. Who can we bug to get Brick on Blu-ray?

rcjohnso91 karma

  1. Thanks - I loved it, the writing on that show is so damn good, it was just fun to come in and try to make each scene land as well as possible on the screen. You don't come into it wanting to put your personal stamp on it, you just totally are serving the material and trying to tell the story on the page as effectively as possible. Your natural voice may come through, I guess that's inevitable, but I try to just create Vince's world when I'm directing for his show.

  2. Thanks for reminding me - I need to try to do it this week!

  3. Focus Features, I guess - last we heard from them they had no plans to release one.

ConorBroberst71 karma

I think you are a pretty groovy dude. I was wondering: what does it feels like to hug JGL? And how can I experience it myself? I like to think it's like hugging a gentle rain shower with a beautiful rainbow above.

rcjohnso224 karma

It's like hugging a rainbow made out of sincere kittens.

Ruptunexx68 karma


Ahem. First off, thank you for being such a hardworking and intelligent director, it's something we definitely need in this world.

  1. How do you feel as being compared to, by JGL, as in the same league as Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan?

  2. Do you think Looper is the stepping stone to a career in the big blockbuster world of Hollywood or do you think that you'll take a step sideways creatively ala Joss Whedon in order to maintain "creatively fresh" or whatever

  3. How awesome is Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul?

  4. Will you cast Aaron Paul in anything as a lead? That kid deserves to be the next big thing in the world.

Cheers dude, and congrats on all your success!

rcjohnso108 karma


  1. He is a silly, silly man. Seriously, those are two guys I really look up to, all I do is try to contain my desire to constantly ask Joe "so... what are they like?"

  2. I don't think it's good to think in those terms when you're coming up with the next thing - it has to just be figuring out what you're excited about next, and going with that. Once you start thinking of things in terms of career building or audience expectations I can see getting up against a creative wall pretty quickly.


  4. I really really really want to work with Aaron someday. That guy is really something special. I feel like I've been typing the word "really" alot in this thing.


shutupcrime_please67 karma

How was the jump from a tiny budget like in Brick to a much much much larger one like Looper/Brother's Bloom been?

What surprised you most about dealing with these larger budgets?

What was the best thing and worst thing to you with larger budget films?

What overwhelms you most about making movies, or what moment in making them do you feel like it's never going to work out and you feel like giving up?

And lastly, how exactly did you get your start in the business, and would you have any advice for the young filmmakers/dreamers?

rcjohnso131 karma

Weirdly, a bigger budget doesn't really change much. Or at least doesn't change what's important. Everything is easier because you have more time and more resources, but you're still using the same basic tools to the same basic end - choosing where the camera goes and working with the actors in front of it to make things feel real. That's the same whether you're making a Bruce Willis movie or a short with your friends.

The momentum of production keeps you from giving up, so it's really the editing and writing phases where things can look bleakest. When you're writing is when the "god should I just drop this" feeling can hit. When you're editing is when the "god this is awful and I've wasted everyone's time and money and will be revealed as a fraud" feeling can hit. So, uh, I guess editing is worse.

I got my start by making Brick for a small budget, basically what we could get our hands on from friends and family. The only advice I can really give is to be persistent, don't give up, and keep watching and making as many movies as you possibly can. Generic and boring I know, but that's honestly what I think counts.

i_AN_LEGEND58 karma

Did you go to film school? How have you gone about learning all the technical aspects of directing? Do you prefer to direct only your own material?

rcjohnso100 karma

I went to USC, and had a great time and met some great people, but when I'm asked if film school is necessary the answer is definitely no. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea - film school gives you time and resources to watch and make movies. But you can do that outside of film school.

I do prefer it, at least for now. But I hate writing. So maybe one day my hatred of writing will overpower my preference. :)

donust48 karma

What is the best advice you could give for a budding filmmaker?

rcjohnso97 karma

Watch and make as many movies as possible. :)

TheMattman40 karma

What is your opinion on film school? Do you think USC was worth the time/money?

rcjohnso51 karma

Wrote a bit about it above.

kukamunga66 karma


FYI Rian, stuff moves around on reddit based on its vote count, so "above" and "below" references can be confusing.

rcjohnso73 karma

Ah, sorry bout that. Still learning the ropes!

digifreak64235 karma

How well do you expect Looper to do at the box office?

rcjohnso73 karma

I've got no idea - I want our financiers to be happy but just the fact that sci-fi fans seems to be digging it is all I hoped for. If we do well it'll be easier to get the next one made I guess, so it does matter. But from Brick and Bloom I've learned to keep my expectations low, and to not rely on that measuring stick for any sort of personal fulfillment.

Bwian31 karma

My friends in the 20-30 year-old mainstream crowd are interested, hopefully good news for the public at large.

I got the chance to see The Brothers Bloom at TIFF and my wife and I loved it. We were disappointed it didn't do as well as we thought it should in wide release.

rcjohnso32 karma

Thanks - yeah the release for Bloom was a weird experience, it definitely got lost in the shuffle a bit.

Argham33 karma

  1. Other than your own, what are your favourite episodes/moments of Breaking Bad? (I'm a massive fan of Fly btw)

  2. What kind of input did Shane Carruth have on Looper?

rcjohnso101 karma

Walt putting the plate together still gives me chills just to think about.

"Run." Obviously.

But my favorite scene is actually still the cold open where Badger gets busted on the park bench. Hilarious and gutsy and brilliant, kinda sums up what I love about the show.

BromanBrolanski32 karma

after three features would you consider shooting a film without Steve Yedlin as your DP?

rcjohnso75 karma

I really hope I never have to. I've had a great time working with Michael Slovis on Breaking Bad, but Steve's one of my closest friends, and we've got a great mind-meld on set.

a113er29 karma

Firstly, i am a huge fan of everything you've written and/or directed (although i still haven't watched Terriers). Your tweets about The Mountain Goats a while ago introduced me to them and they are now one of my favourite bands so for that i am eternally grateful. Also, your appearances on the slashfilmcast are always a highlight.

Anyway, Looper is my most anticipated film of the year but due to poor health I will be unable to see it until it comes out on dvd/bd which is enraging so what films would you suggest I watch in lieu of Looper? Whether it's films that inspired it or films that you feel a 20 year old lover of film and aspiring writer/director should see.

After seeing you do a neo-noir, conman caper and now a time travel film i'd love to see your western but is there any genre you'd particularly like to tackle?

rcjohnso74 karma

I guess besides the obvious sci-fi time travel movies (Primer, 12 Monkeys, Time Crimes) I'd say check out the movie Witness. Big big influence. And if you're looking for some good sci-fi to read, Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World by Murakami will blow your mind.

Sorry to hear you're sick, wish you a speedy recovery!

TheHeroPig28 karma

Hi Rian.

Firstly, I'm not pitching a story to you here…

I've got a feature script I'm drafting and I feel like I'm at a good point to start looking for investors (somewhere between $400-500,000), but I'm absolutely lost and have no idea where to start.

I've read that you spent a few years unsuccessfully pitching Brick, and it wasn't until some family members pitched in that others were willing to invest -- I've actually heard before that investors are usually more willing if they see that somebody else is investing first.

So as a starting point on seeking investors, what advice can you offer based on your previous experiences combined with what you know now?

I guess I just need a little push.

Thank you!

Oh! And everything you've touched so far has been gold! Brick, Brothers Bloom, Breaking Bad, Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!! All of it! I'm very excited for Looper!

rcjohnso68 karma

There is nothing harder than getting someone to actually write a check for your independent movie. It's just nearly impossible. But it happens. I was about to type "it comes down to luck" but really what it comes down to is persistence. My dad, uncles and grandfather are all in the homebuilding business, and after seven years of putting the movie together and getting actors and a great producer and tracking down money and losing it and tracking it down and losing it again and just not going away or quitting, finally they happened to have a big deal go through and were able to put a little money into it, and that made it possible to get others to jump in the pool. So it's one of those "work seven years to get 'lucky'" things. The other important distinction is that my family was not investing in the movie per se, they were investing in me. They didn't look at the proposal and think it was a good investment (because a movie is never a good investment) - they looked at me and believed in me. If your money ends up coming from sources close to home, that's going to be the motivation I think.

CharlestonPew27 karma

Brick got me into Dashiell Hammett. So, thanks for that.

rcjohnso23 karma


jeltzin26 karma

What's your next project?

rcjohnso70 karma

I dunno, I'm working on a few things now. They've both vaguely sci-fi, but very different from Looper. I'm a pretty slow writer. It's sort of a problem.

Corpuscle44 karma

I would pay actual folding money for you to collaborate with Shane Carruth. Folding money.

rcjohnso67 karma

I would pay money FIRST. Fat stacks.

MoeLesStache25 karma

When shooting Brick, what was the hardest part? I always found the dialogue to be insanely intricate. Was that done on your end or the actors?

rcjohnso48 karma

It was definitely the hardest part, and it was a collaboration with the actors. We tried approaching it with naturalism at first, throwing it away, but that didn't work. We found we had to play the words big, and dig into them. Also we found that the more we rehearsed them, the less "fresh" it was and the more the actors just knew the words backwards and forwards, oddly the more real it felt. Because the words were so odd, having them down cold let the actors get to the emotion behind them.

brendonconnelly25 karma

Looper has, for numerous reasons, garnered a lot more mainstream attention than your previous films. Will this make it harder for you to go a little more "off piste" again? Or are your sights set on big, wide-release stuff now?

rcjohnso49 karma

I'm intrigued by the idea of going bigger. I see what Nolan did with Inception for instance, and I wonder if we could paint on that kind of canvas, while still telling our stories that engage audiences the way I'm looking to engage them. But of course that's if the next story I get excited about requires that kind of scale. If it doesn't, I don't think it'll be hard to recede and just go smaller. I'm pretty good at receding.

forceduse22 karma

How did Shane Carruth get involved with Looper? As a fellow Primer geek, i must say his involvement is a HUGE bonus. Any chance of you two doing a full-on collaboration together?

Lastly, what films inspired you to be a filmmaker and which continue to motivate you these days?

rcjohnso30 karma

I just met Shane through some weird connection, I think my DP Steve had met him somewhere and introduced us. He gave some notes on the script but wasn't involved beyond that, sadly. As fun as it would be, I wouldn't want to work with Shane because I love what he creates and I wouldn't want to mess with it - he's got such a specific vision in his head, we're all better off having it undiluted.

There are so many right now, it's a really good time - PTA, Wes Anderson, Edgar Wright, Del Toro, Spike Jonze, Kaufman, Coens, Tarantino, a ton more. Lots of great people doing exciting stuff.

SlySeventySeven21 karma

Hey Rian, just want to say I'm a huge fan, and, as an aspiring filmmaker myself, I love and hate you. I spent my last years of high school developing a noir detective story set in a high school; then I saw Brick. You knocked it out of the park and I've been trying to get mine to work ever since, but I'm terrified of my film being compared to yours. Do you think there's room in the world for more than one high school set film noir?

Also, I know you're a fan of Cowboy Bebop; the visual influences are all over Brick and Brothers Bloom in wonderfully subtle ways (I haven't seen Looper yet, but I'll be there on opening day). Do you have any interest in directing the live-action Cowboy Bebop movie should it ever happen, and who would your dream cast be?

rcjohnso28 karma

OH GOD I'M SORRY! I've had that happen before and it sucks. But yes, there's room in the world for anything if it's good. Don't let it stop you.

Bebop is something I love, I'd be curious to see a live action version of it. It's so tricky with adapting anime, what makes it work is so specific to its form...

finguck20 karma

How did you end up directing for Breaking Bad and do you think you will be doing more episodes of it or any other shows in the future? Also, this may sound very cliched, but where did the idea for Brick come from?

rcjohnso36 karma

Vince Gilligan had seen Brick, and he just dug it and got in touch with me when they were putting together their second season. I hadn't seen it at that point, but I watched it an flipped out. Unfortunately I was off making Bloom and couldn't do it. But they got back in touch for season 3, and then I kept after them for season 5. I'm not doing one in the back 8, they have some great directors lined up, and I'm sorta happy I get to just watch the end of the series unspoiled as a fan. I think it's going to be a good one.

It all came from Dashiell Hammett's books. If you haven't read him, Red Harvest is probably the place to start.

MeanOldPig19 karma

I’ve read that you watched a lot of Godard films while writing Looper and did the same thing with Fellini flicks for Brothers Bloom. Is this a cognitive choice when writing or do you just find something that speaks to you in the middle of the process? If so do you have another director’s catalogue you hope to marathon for your next work? Love all of your films and can’t wait for Friday.

rcjohnso28 karma

It's important, but it's also important to draw creative energy from stuff you love without letting that stuff become the driving force, if that makes sense. In other words, the style and feel of Fellini movies specifically served this story I cared about one brother trapped in the other's storytelling. Or with Looper, the Godard helped spark the visual style of the devil may care lifestyle Joe lives at the start, that anarchy of youth. I guess I'm saying it has to serve your idea, it can't be the starting point. Maybe that's obvious.

Sempere18 karma

Hey Rian, Thanks for doing this AMA!

1.) What is your writing process like? (Inspiration, influences, Initial Draft, Revisions, etc.)

2.) What do you think is essential for your characters to feel authentic and fleshed out?

3.) Did you make Bruce Willis quote Die Hard or ask JGL about Dark Knight Rises?

4.) Did you ever consider a different career path aside from writing/direction films? If so, what was it?

Been a big fan since Brick. When I read Looper, there was a moment where I teared up a little. Bought my tickets for friday.

Until then - I'll be in Boston. Drinking.

rcjohnso46 karma

  1. I talked about it a bit above. In a nutshell: I spend tons of time outlining and working on structure before I start writing.

  2. I think it's as simple as making sure they're living breathing people in your head before you start writing their words. PKD described a mourning process he went through after he finished writing The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, where letting go of the character of Angel in his head was the same emotional process as actually losing a person you know in real life. That's pretty extreme but I think the heart of it is really true, your characters have to be alive for you, they have to be like people you know and (even the "bad" ones) love.

  3. The first rule of fight club is...

  4. Not really. Sometimes I wonder if I should have, if having another career before filmmaking would have made me a more rounded person. But it's really all I've ever wanted to do.

Thanks for the kind words about Brick & Looper - hope you like it.

baddxf15 karma

Hi Rian! Will you be writing anymore pieces like The Man in the Herringbone Hat? That remains my favorite short on Popcorn Fiction.

rcjohnso17 karma

Thanks - yeah I love writing in verse, and I love writing short form. I definitely will be doing it whenever I can.

eraw17E14 karma

How does it feel making a highly anticipated action film, compared to the 10 year struggle to get Brick made independently?

Did you ever think you'd get to make films like Looper? (and work with Hollywood stars like Willis!)

rcjohnso26 karma

I never did, and I am befuddled and slightly dazed. In a good way. :-)

eraw17E10 karma

Please don't ever stop making movies Rian.

You have a unique vision and you're our only hope to save cinema!

rcjohnso20 karma


greenwood1149113 karma

Hey Rian.

First off thanks for doing this, I'm such a big fan.

Secondly how much of an influence was Philip K Dick to Looper?

Also what films inspired you to become a director?

rcjohnso26 karma

Thanks! When I wrote the initial idea for Looper about 10 years ago I had just discovered PKD and was blasting through all his books. I wouldn't say it's influenced by him in the direct way that Brick was by Hammett but having my head saturated with his brand of sci-fi ideas had alot to do with this story popping out.

My dad introducing me to Scorsese's movies was pretty pivotal, it was the first time a director was presented to me as an author, and as someone whose work should be studied and revered. I think I still have Raging Bull memorized shot by shot, I can play the whole movie in my head.

kidbloom11 karma

A request for a protip from an aspiring writer: How much do you write per day when you're working on a project?

rcjohnso28 karma

It really depends. When I'm still in notebooks I'll go for months and months without writing a single page, just working on outlining. Then when I actually start going I guess three or four pages in a day is a really good day. I'm way too slow, don't do it the way I do it.

Thompson_11 karma

What films inspired Looper?

rcjohnso26 karma

Terminator was the biggest influence in terms of the time travel, but Witness is probably the movie I studied the closest. The stuff in the back half of it owes quite a bit to that movie.

dandollar11 karma

Hi Rian, thanks for doing this AMA. Here are my questions:

This is a very complicated screenplay, as are most time-travel stories. How difficult was it to get all the logic and plot structure down, compared to your other works? What was your outlining process like? How many drafts of the script did you go through? How long did it take you to write it overall?

Also, was the concept of telekinetic powers something you always wanted to do, or did it kind of come further along in the process of writing a time-travel movie, as kind of an addition?

rcjohnso29 karma

Thanks - yeah, it was not easy. It was much easier than it would be for a script like 12 Monkeys or Primer, I made it easy on myself by keeping time travel technology out of the story's present day, so the characters can't use it themselves. But anytime time travel gets mixed into a story it's a beast. I just spent lots of time staring at notebooks thinking, and sketching, and throwing out ideas. The hardest thing was keeping it simple, but I guess that's always the hardest thing. Then once I spent all that time coming up with a timeline that made sense and a set of rules for my time travel I disciplined myself to not have to explain it all to the audience, but trust that just seeing the effects of it onscreen would carry the story through.

The TK stuff came in fairly early in the writing process. Figuring out how to ease it in with the time travel stuff was the tough part - I took the approach of underplaying it at the top, when the time travel exposition is the thickest, almost treating it as a throw away joke. Then in the back half when it comes back it's hopefully set up sufficiently but is still a surprise.

hhh4308910 karma

Rian, how did you enjoy the experience of working with an independent financier like Endgame? Was there far less interference than you'd encounter on a typical studio project?

rcjohnso23 karma

I've never worked with a studio so I don't have anything to compare it to, but Endgame's great. They're still a group of people you're accountable to, and there's still back and forth, but Jim Stern who runs it is a great and smart guy, and it feels more like collaborating with another filmmaker. (He is a filmmaker actually, he made that Chorus Line doc "every little step")

anclag10 karma

Hey Rian! Think I spotted at least 1 nod to Brick in Looper (all I shall say is "footsteps")...did you sneak a few in there? Any Brothers Bloom ones?

Also, awesome work!

rcjohnso15 karma

Hmmm, not any intentional ones - I'm impressed if you spotted the brick nod though, I didn't expect anyone to see it till home video. :)

anclag3 karma

Ahh okay, think it was an unintentional link I was making then! Going to have to keep an eye out for something more cryptic now...

Also, since you might see this, I spoke to you on twitter back when you were trying to get The Brother Bloom distribution in the UK, so thanks for sticking with it...I finally managed to see it in an old school cinema and it made the experience even better :)

rcjohnso8 karma

God it came out like a year late didn't it? I guess better late than never. Thanks!

ChangeTheReel9 karma

Evening Rian, many thanks for dropping by for this AMA.  Couple of questions;

1) What was the main difference in your writing process for Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper?

2) Do you keep your ketchup in the cupboard or in the fridge?

rcjohnso22 karma

  1. Brick was unique in that I wrote it as a prose novella first, then translated that into screenplay form. But Bloom and Looper were both similar just in terms of process, just lots of outlining and then a panicked realization that I was taking way too long writing this goddamn thing, followed by fast writing.

One unique thing with Looper: when I finished the first draft, I realized the back half of the film wasn't working. So I threw out the last 60 pages and started over. I've still got those defunct 60 pages, they're like a bizarro version of the last half of the movie. But I don't know if I'd ever release them - they really don't work, it's kind of embarassing.

  1. Fridge, but now that I think about it, I'm not sure why.

Vaudevi77ain9 karma

"Fly" is one of my favorite Breaking Bad episodes because I feel like it plays well outside of the sandbox that the show sticks to. The unsettling tension mixed with moments of slapstick humor and unhinged imagery came together in a way for me that was really memorable and distinct. I held my breath as these two criminals, well out of their element, aired out their emotional baggage with Walt almost coming close to an admittance of guilt.

My question is, how did "Fly" come about, and what did you mean to convey with it?

rcjohnso11 karma

Thanks! You don't get to choose your episode, they just give you your script and you're assigned it. So it wasn't so much trying to convey something of my own with it, it was just trying to bring the script to life as vividly as possible.

Frajer8 karma

Hi Rian, can't wait for Looper! Would you say the process or experience was different in making this at any stage, writing filming etc?

Also what were Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis like to work with?

rcjohnso8 karma

It was a very different experience in some ways - the content of each movie kind of defines the experience I guess. Making Bloom sort of felt like the movie, it felt like we were a traveling carnival, going through all these countries in eastern europe, wrangling camels. There was a controlled chaos to it all, and a sort of romantic exoticism. Looper was much more focused and intense, we still had a great time but we were in a city and more buckled down.

Blackchaos938 karma

Huge fan of your work! Thanks for doing this AMA!

I'm hugely interested to hear how it was working with JGL and Bruce Willis on Looper and your anticipations for the movie (awards, box office, cult classic?) if you have any anticipations at all.

rcjohnso30 karma



Joe was awesome, but I knew he'd be awesome. I was more nervous about working with Bruce, just because he'd Bruce f'ing Willis. Wish I had some entertaining war stories to tell, but he was just awesome too. Boring, right? I need to start working with some horrible people so I'll have better stories for AMAs.

jjackrabbitt7 karma

Brick is one of my absolute favorite films. What other films strongly influenced you while you were making it? Also, same question for Looper!

rcjohnso15 karma

For Brick it was less about movies and more about Dashiell Hammett's books. Getting what I got from those books up on the screen was where it all came from, and in a way the visual language of classic film noir (as much as I love it) was an obstacle to that. I watched more Sergio Leone movies than anything else.

I mentioned a few Looper movie influences above, but one big influence was Katsuhiro Otomo's mangas Akira and Domu. I guess it's a spoiler to say why, so I won't.

misterplum7127 karma

How does your experience with Breaking Bad compare to your experience with feature films; I only ask this because I'm a huge fan of the show. Is it easier directing the show where everything is already set up and prepared for you (in terms of story, sets, cast, etc.)?

P.S. Your description says you directed "52." Wasn't it "Fifty-One?"

rcjohnso10 karma

Damn yeah sorry - it was 51. Typing too fast. Brain too slow.

It's so much easier, but it isn't easy - you still have to do your job as a director and make sure you're doing the writing justice with the visuals. But yeah, you're serving someone else's vision, which takes some of the pressure off. Especially when the writing is that good.

spacedfan7 karma

Big fan of your movies, but can't think of any good questions. So whats your favorite food?

rcjohnso16 karma

Right now, aged gouda. Because my girlfriend just put some of it down on the table.

StartledBane7 karma

Rian! Not only are you an incredible director, from your appearances on the /Filmcast and Filmspotting, you come off as an awesome guy as well, one of us (one of us).

So far you've stuck to writing and directing original films. After Looper, I have a feeling you are going to be a go-to "franchise" director for studios. Is there a particular property you'd love to dig your teeth into? If nothing big and mainstream comes to mind, any lesser known properties out there for you?

rcjohnso15 karma

Thanks! We'd all like to give Dave Chen a little shit, wouldn't we? It's what unites us.

Because I'm a fan of so much stuff, and there are things from growing up that I always dreamed of making, that tug of "ooooh THAT would be cool to do" is something I feel pretty often. But then when I stop and chew on it a little, I realize that just because I love something doesn't mean I want to translate it into a movie, and in fact translating something I love into a movie would most likely require ruining it in some way. What I love about something like Valis, for instance, is not really translatable. So why would I want to? I guess I'd rather think about what I love about it, what speaks to me, and feed that back into my own life and come up with something new that gets to exactly that thing in a more focused way. If that makes sense. So anyway I guess the short answer is "yes but not really." :-)

Zimb07 karma

  1. Fly is likely my favorite episode of Breaking Bad. I recall watching it with my roommate and just being blown away by such a contained, yet telling story. I can only imagine how you had to direct it, in order to convey those things. What was it like directing that episode?

  2. What was it like hiring Shane Carruth as a time travel consultant? If I have my facts straight, this happened. Such a strange and awesome consultant for an film.

rcjohnso5 karma

  1. It was so much fun, but it was just focusing on bringing it to life as vividly as possible. The script was so good, I was just trying to put it on the screen.

  2. Shane gave some feedback on the script but he didn't work on the movie, sadly.

lnlyhsewief6 karma

what was the most difficult part about shooting Brick? i love that movie, and your work on breaking bad. thanks for being a badass.

rcjohnso13 karma

Thanks - the time was definitely the hardest part. Even beyond money, the less time you have the harder things are. But there's also a strange thing that happens where you just adjust to it, and something that seems impossible needs to get done so you just do it.

Funtruck6 karma

Hey Rian! Please don't skip my question:

Which film, besides your last two, would you recommend one watch before seeing Looper?

Thanks! :D

rcjohnso20 karma

I don't think I'd recommend any stuff I specifically drew from... so I'll just recommend a great time travel movie. Time Crimes!

Sdetolve6 karma

Will you renew your twitter fight with Jason Reitman anytime soon?

rcjohnso10 karma

Nah. We're cool.

artfullybedraggled6 karma

First of all, huge thanks for releasing Looper on my birthday, what an awesome gift from one of my favorite filmmakers out there.

Question is not film-related but rather about TV, though. I know you've directed what to me are two of the best six or seven Breaking Bad episodes. So, other than that show, what series would you like to guest direct an episode of? Cable or network.

rcjohnso51 karma


I'd love to do a Game of Thrones.

But what I'd really kill to try, although it would be terrifying because I'm such a big fan of it? Doctor Who.

ken272386 karma

what is one movie you wish you could of directed?

rcjohnso12 karma

Paper Moon.

Brosnapz186 karma

What would you say was the first film you saw that made you conscious of the power of cinema?

rcjohnso9 karma

Probably Wizard Of Oz - that's my earliest movie watching memory also, but it's the first time I can remember that feeling where the screen disappears.

JonSnow145 karma

Rian, Brick is one of my all time favorite films and I just rewatched The Brothers Bloom and still absolutely love it. Looper looks great and I have been anticipating it ever since you talked about it on the /Filmcast around the time Bloom was released. You have been a major inspiration for me since I discovered your work when I was first seriously getting into film, and I can't thank you enough for it.

Question wise, have you been following the reviews for Looper as closely as you did for The Brothers Bloom or have you decided to stop looking at them?

rcjohnso5 karma

I'm trying to not look at them as much. It's impossible at the start, but I'm trying to get to a point where I can just feel ok about people enjoying the movie and not read every review. I don't think it's healthy.

owenhargreaves5 karma

I coincidentally came out of a screening of our new movie and followed you on twitter just as you tweeted of your AmA on my favourite site.

How long was the notion of Looper percolating and gestating in your mind before you had the opportunity to bring it to the screen? Given the choice would you have made it with more $ and more time, or was it made on precisely the terms you would wish?

Thank you for Looper; I loved it. Thematically it struck upon so much, none of which was related to its central silence fiction conceit; the highest accolade I can give.

rcjohnso10 karma

I came up with the idea for it about 10 years ago, but only started working on it in earnest after we finished Brothers Bloom. I think you always feel like you could have used more money and time, but I'm happy with the scale we made it on, it feels right for the story.


rcjohnso5 karma

8pm Pacific time - I've gotta hang it up for the night and grab some dinner but I'll revisit tomorrow morning. Thanks for all the interest and all the great questions everyone!

apathymonger4 karma

Saw Looper in Dublin two weeks ago and loved it. Also big fan of Brick and Brothers Bloom.

Is it difficult coming on to direct an episode of Breaking Bad or Terriers, where you're essentially a hired hand and the whole crew know each other, how the show runs etc, compared to your movie work?

On a related note, have you ever thought of writing something for TV? I'd love to see what you could do with a miniseries or something like that.

rcjohnso11 karma

I loved working on both those shows, it was like a vacation to just show up and serve someone else's vision that I was a fan of. It's like just doing the fun part in a way.

At some point I'd love to do television, but I'm in awe of those who do it well. It's like documentaries to me, it's still magical, I have no idea how Vince Gilligan sustains his story and characters on that scale. But down the line it would be a fun challenge to take on.

ofrelevantinterest4 karma

Hello Rian!

1) Thank you for making such amazing films. The imagery, the dialogue, everything about them is a huge inspiration to me.

2) Is it difficult to work with family on your projects? Is there ever moments of creative differences from the music, to the graphic design?

3) What advice would you give to other filmmakers who want to create their own imagery for the world to see?

Thank you so much for doing this AMA!

rcjohnso12 karma

sorry, and 3. watch as many movies as you possibly can. Watch the entire criterion collection. And make as many movies as you can as well, with any means you can get your hands on.

rcjohnso6 karma

  1. Thanks!

  2. No, actually the opposite - because Nathan (my composer) and I have been making movies together since we were kids, I feel like I can say anything to him. There isn't any sort of ego between us on either end, we shoot back and forth with each other in a way that's really healthy. That's hopefully the upside of familiarity, it clears away some of the niceties and protocols and lets you just get to work.

dustyzvidz4 karma

What films or tv shows from your childhood do you consider the most influential on your film-making? Thanks for doing the ama btw, really looking forward to Looper!

rcjohnso7 karma

There are so many of them, it's hard to list! I was a big Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fan as a kid. And Infocom games were a big part of my adolescence - they made text adventures like Zork, and they were really amazingly written immersive stories.

RobIreland4 karma

Now that Breaking Bad is coming to a close, are there any BrBa alums your desperate to cast in future projects?

Also, I'm a huge fan of the film Primer (as well as your films) and heard the director Shane Carruth had a hand in Looper's development. Could you shed some light on his role?

rcjohnso5 karma

Dude, I hope to work with all of them at some point. They're all amazing.

stanleypoobrick4 karma

It's been cool seeing a billion Looper ads around New York lately. Very excited to see that standoff resolve. Have you tried John August's Highland screenwriting app?

rcjohnso9 karma

It's a real trip seeing ads all over, this is the first movie I've made that's been advertised! Is that the one that uses plain text? I've been looking for an alternative to Final Draft, that software drives me nuts.

kaypea1293 karma

Where do you find your inspiration? Or, what inspired Looper?

Also...unrelated...any advice for upcoming college grads trying to make it in the film world?

rcjohnso7 karma

A ton of really random sources. Looper was inspired by PKD but also by Eliot's 4 Quartets and MacBeth, and the movie Witness. Cast your net far and wide.

Biggest advice is to keep your head in your craft, stay focused on what matters: getting better at telling your stories. It's easy to start obsessing about breaking in or making it in the industry, and to start putting the cart before the horse. If you make something truly new and exciting using a DLSR and iMovie, the industry will beat a path to your door.

BrianFromConcentrate3 karma

Do you have a lot of input on the marketing for your films? For example, the series of posters for Brick, the new Looper posters or the editing of the trailers for your films. I know you have Zach Johnson do a painted or pen drawn poster, but what about the main posters delivered to theaters etc...?

rcjohnso5 karma

Sony has been awesome about keeping us involved with the ad campaign for Looper, but they've also been creating some great stuff. I'm really happy with their print campaign, and they cut some really effective trailers that smartly sell the action elements. Zach's posters are a tradition for us though, they're the ones I want on my wall. The mondo poster for Looper is pretty damn cool too.

gopher123453 karma

Hi Rian, huge fan of your films and Breaking Bad eps.

What was it like working in a studio movie like this one? Did you ever get certain praises/rejections for ideas you wanted to put in the movie?

Also, was Bruce Willis willing to do makeup to look like Levitt, or was Levitt in makeup the plan all along?

rcjohnso6 karma


We didn't work with a studio on this one - it was Endgame, the same company we made Bloom with. We had a great experience with them, and didn't have to really deal with any committee decisions. But they did lean heavily on some of the riskier things in the script, which I think was a great thing - I wanted those riskier moments challenged, I wanted to have to back them up and defend them. Don't want to go into spoiler territory but it was all constructive.

Making up Joe was always the plan - everyone knows what Bruce looks and sounds like, so it made sense to give Joe those cues to grab onto, and to use that instead of fight it.

HereToBeHappy3 karma

Do you have some idea for a story/character/setting that you keep being fascinated by, but you haven't been able to make into a working script yet?

rcjohnso10 karma

A bunch of them. At the moment, I'm trying to sort through all the ideas I've got and see which clicks first into something that'll work in a working script. I guess that's just writing. Or pre-writing. Or fishing.

idkidd3 karma


Your films are not standard Hollywood fare. When choosing a subject for a film, do you think about how it will be received? Or do you just go with your gut and pick whet you're passionate about?

rcjohnso7 karma

I try to just stick with my gut, but it ends up being a weird mixture of the two. I think at the end of the day though, if it's not something you're passionate about it'll die an appropriate death before you get too far with it.

HereToBeHappy3 karma

Before you ever made your first film Brick, what do you think was the important experience (or experiences) that allowed you to grow into the filmmaker you are today?

rcjohnso11 karma

I think all the experiences that had nothing to do with movies were tremendously important. That's a huge part of being writer I think, is living a rich life. Traveling and getting your heart broken and all that stuff that turns you into an adult, that's what all goes into the soup that you make your stories out of. So watching movies and making them is important, but also grab a cheap ticket and backpack around someplace strange for awhile. I went to Berlin alone in my 20s once, the memories from that trip heavily worked their way into Bloom.

iamleighanne3 karma

I am really looking forward to Looper :)

What's your favorite film to watch?

rcjohnso6 karma

Thanks! I don't think I have one favorite, it all depends on the mood you're in.

diabettis3 karma

I was reading up on The Brothers Bloom yesterday (one of my favourite films -- so awesome) and saw you hid quite a few Easter eggy thing in there. Literary, visual, thematic -- talk about "Russian novels" -- my questions is: what's your favourite Easter egg to date, and what's the most mind-shatteringly awesome one no-one's noticed.

Is there anything like that to keep an eye out for in Looper?

rcjohnso11 karma

There is a Brick symbol hidden somewhere in Looper. MY GOD I'VE SAID TOO MUCH!

armoscientist3 karma

Which director has most influenced your visual style?

rcjohnso4 karma

I think you draw on different ones for different things, or at least I do. I looked at lots of Fincher for Looper for instance. The elegance and precision of his camera moves was something I wanted to get better at.

sleezsisters3 karma

Hello Rian. I am a huge fan of your short film "Last Ditch." Have you heard that the BBC has revived the sitcom "Bottom" for a new series next year (http://bit.ly/NHLtWL), and what do you think of that? Looking forward to seeing Looper.

rcjohnso7 karma

I love Bottom. And I love you. WHOEVER YOU ARE.

HereToBeHappy3 karma

Are there some small things about your films that you always insist on getting right no matter what?

rcjohnso8 karma

You have to pick your battles. But increasingly I realize that any technical stuff I obsess over should always play second string to getting the performances where they need to be, and making sure the actors feel like they're hitting something real. Everything else you do with the camera and lighting and design can back that up and enhance it, but what those actors are doing has to be the one thing you make sure you get right when you're on set.

[deleted]2 karma


rcjohnso8 karma

Thanks! Good luck finishing up film school!