Most filmmakers might consider earning a law degree to help further their artistic careers, but Birmingham Seaholm graduate Cort Johns takes a pragmatic approach to his craft.
"I went to law school with hopes of being a better producer, in order to understand contracts, labor relations, copyright and trademark law. There are a lot of technical skills I needed to improve upon to navigate the world of art," said Johns, who partnered in founding Eden Road Pictures in Michigan after earning an entertainment law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy. "A movie product is like a sandcastle; it's very fragile, especially when it's just an idea. You have to apply the right care to manage the risk and finances of it to make sure the creative vision and artistic vision are maintained. You have to use all kinds of different gloves, from kid gloves to boxing gloves, to no gloves at all, sometimes."
Prior to founding Eden Road in Michigan, Johns was a managing member of Galaxy Film Studios in Novi; and a founding member of Digitelio Film Development, which focuses on film and music production, and produced several short and feature-length movies. In 2015, Johns collaborated with his partners, Luke Jaden and Phil Wurtzel, at Eden Road to release "World Who Cried Boy," a short film starring Oscar-nominated Barkhad Abdi, of “Captain Phillips.” The short film was made, in part, to tour the film festival circuit and produce a possible feature film. The filmmakers also optioned FOX 2 News anchor/reporter Lee Thomas' 2007 book, "Turning White," for a movie, which is based on Thomas' condition that causes his skin to lose color.
Johns' credits in the independent film projects typically focused on production and pre-production work, including writing – an area he got interested in while still in high school. While his undergraduate studies focused on anthropology and international business, he said he continued to study creative writing. Outside of his studies, Johns' interest included lacrosse and playing music in a couple of bands. The latter, he said, eventually helped to lead to his interest in film.
"Having a background in music and playing in a rock band was a big part of it. There are so many analogous elements with filmmaking," he said. "Filmmaking is really a sound recording studio that happens to have cameras in it. Ears are really more of a primal sense. Sense of smell would be more primal than hearing, and the closest filmmakers can touch to that is nostalgia, and olfactory memory."
Johns, who has lived in Los Angeles for the past three years, continues to work on independent projects outside his position as a studio liaison with Studio 71 in Beverly Hills. The company represents over 1,200 channels on YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, Seeso and other platforms, receiving more than 6 billion views per month.
"Studio liaison is a vague term, but it's basically assisting producers for whatever needs coordinating. There are a lot of logistics behind the scenes," he said. "My group just wrapped a cool sci-fi video on YouTube Red with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as executive producer.
"I'm always writing on my own and working on creative projects," he said, talking about some of the contrasts of his studio work and independent film projects. "It's interesting, going from a development role with just a handful of people, or even further back to just a blinking curser on a laptop."