Investigating ‘The Time War’ with Writer/Director Neil Johnson ( @DirectorNeil )

Its been a while since I sat down with filmmaker Neil Johnson (Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, Starship Rising), and so i thought Id bridge the Atlantic ocean and fire a few questions his way and see what he was up to. Thank you Neil for taking the time out to answer just a few questions about how things are and of course about your current work in progress ‘The Time War’ 

Pictured here is Neil Johnson with Actor Tracey Birdsall (Rogue Warrior:Robot Fighter, The Time War)

So what have you been up to recently Neil?

I believe I am now 5 years in post production on The Time War, which is a TV series being treated like a film.  It’s actually about 6 films worth of content.  Unlike most TV series who amble around a storyline for many hours, The Time War is story-driven.  What happens in episode one is what would happen in an entire season for other shows.  There is so much of my heart and soul inside the story.  I’m not writing with an agenda or a message.  I am telling the story of a character whose story needs to be told.  It’s the epic tale of Adolf Hitler who tries to use time travel to re-write history.  He quickly discovers that re-writing history creates bigger problems and there are suddenly many versions of himself.  His daughter, Dijanne (played by Tracey Birdsall), embarks on a mission to stop him, and take control of a world gone insane.  The series is really from her perspective.

Will there be a season 2 and will it take 5 more years?

I actually wrote the original story for The Time War in 1995.  Season 2 originally was written in 1992 as a novel called The Journey Home.  That novel was always intended to be a movie, but would be better as a series.  And no, it won’t take 5 years.  It will probably be a year to a year and a half after the Time War is completed.  It’s not really a sequel, but a story set in the same universe with different repercussions.  It will be less World War 2 and more future-tech.

But didn’t you originally start shooting some of The Time War in 2013 or 2014?

Around that time, yes.  The fascinating thing is that Tracey Birdsall, the actress, has aged ten years as has the character as we progressed.  So we have been dealing with younger and older versions of the same person.  But to be honest, the real blessing is that she has discovered some skin care routine (no, not a facelift), but a whole bunch of vitamin creams that have almost de-aged her.  It’s quite strange. You can see a bit more baby fat in her face in the earlier scenes, but the later years she has more facial definition.  She actually looks better in my opinion.  Quite a trick!  You really should interview her someday about this, because it’s just raw chemicals.    

But the BIG reason why this has taken so long is that in 2018, everything was finished and on hard drives, and then the fires happened in Malibu.  It wiped out cameras, lenses, editing equipment, props, costumes, and personal stuff.  Thankfully I had some stuff in a storage shed, including some backup drives, otherwise it would all gone.  I went from having a nearly completed film trilogy, to being homeless and getting food from the Red Cross.  Thankfully a famous German photographer, Guido Karp, and his wife Nicole helped rally a fund to get myself and the production back on its feet.  So through the kindness of yourself and others, we have been able to reshoot and finish the series.  The losses were in the millions but money is just a tool to get what you need to survive, so all is well.  The issue now is that we occasionally have to reshoot some scenes of the younger version of the character, so Tracey has to train her muscles to sit differently and change her make-up.  It’s quite amazing to see.  That woman deserves a freaking Oscar of Emmy or something.  I think she’s over playing the character now and I am happy to see tat she was recently on a sketch comedy show “I Think You Should Leave Now” with Tim Robinson. She looks very different in that show, much younger and more glamorous, and less blood of course.

So how do your survive and pay the bills for so long?

Thankfully there have been interest in my older films so I have re-sold the rights to streaming services.  Having a body of work really helps.  Sadly there are a couple of distributers and also record companies that owe me hundreds of thousands. Over time they just forget they owe you money and kind of ignore you.  It would be easy to spend my time going after them, but I am focusing on finishing The Time War.  Once done, the legal hammer is going to fall pretty hard.  I take it personal, as would anyone.  

In the past, I was shopped around as a guest at many film events and festivals with a 2 day course on how to make films (in my special way).  I stopped doing this in 2014 because I became so busy with the production.  That being said I have been approached by a couple of film festivals to do a mini version of that course, now that Masterclass is a thing.  I’m not really a teacher or anything, and never will be, but about 15 hours of edited video exists of me telling the world how I do things and why.  I am not sure I ever want it released, because this is not what I am about.  That being said, The United States Motion Picture Alliance have asked me to be the keynote speaker at their film festival event.  This is sometime in July in Northern Malibu.  Following that I have another Festival, The Bigfoot Film Festival, and then an old favorite, The LA Sci-fi festival.  It’s actually fun because I don’t have to entertain a room full of students for 2 days.  I can just tell stories for an hour and then drink free wine (I hope)… though to be honest I don’t drink wine anymore much.  I prefer to work 24/7 with a clear head.

And what has happened to the re-release of Humanity’s End and Rogue Warrior The TV series?  You have spoken with me about those two things over the past couple of years.

Both are still happening, but I have to finish The Time War first.  Maybe they will start again in 6-8 months.

Has a lot happened in Los Angeles after the pandemic to the film industry?

It’s completely transformed.  I can actually name a dozen colleagues who have passed away in the past 2 years.  A lot of people have left, in fact people are leaving in record numbers to other states.  Online streaming and working remotely has changed everything.  I am about to employ an editor in Portugal to do some basic editing for me.  How cool is that?   And whenever I can, I can drive to the mountains in Lone Pine and see the snow, and shoot in the desert.  In fact, I have a colleague/friend Brian Dunning who runs a science organization called Skeptoid.  They create documentary content and have one of the highest rated educational podcasts out in the world.  It’s even on NPR!  He is dong a UFO documentary, and it’s from a science-perspective, rather than making stories up, like they do on Ancient Aliens.   I am helping him out a bit with some additional shooting.  So we will be in Bigfoot country, surrounded by real bears and snow, and epic mountains, and talking about UFOs and Real Science.  This is really a dream!

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