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Rian Johnson

best known for writing and directing the neo-noir mystery film Brick (2005), the comedy-drama film The Brothers Bloom (2008), the science fiction thriller film Looper (2012), and the space opera film Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

He is also notable for directing three episodes of the AMC crime drama television series Breaking Bad: “Fly”, “Fifty-One” and “Ozymandias”. Both “Fifty-One” and “Ozymandias” received universal praise, and are
considered to be among the series’ best episodes. For his work on “Fifty-One”, Johnson won the Directors
Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series in 2013.

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Rian Craig Johnson was born December 17, 1973 in Silver Spring, Maryland and grew up in Denver, Colorado. He was raised in San Clemente, California since he was in sixth grade. Later he attended San Clemente High School (graduating in
1992), where Brick was predominantly filmed. He attended the University of Southern California and graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1996. His first short film, Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!!, which is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, was included as an easter egg on the
Looper Blu-ray.

Johnson’s film career, as told to Robert K. Elder (author of The Film That Changed My Life) was largely inspired by Annie Hall, a film he said “broke so many rules in terms of film narrative.” He stated: “It moved me in a way that very few other films have moved me. That’s something that, I pray to God, if I am able to keep
making movies, I can only hope, twenty years down the line maybe, I’ll be able to approach.”

His debut film, Brick, made for just under $500,000, is a crime drama. Johnson has often said that he looked to the novels of Dashiell Hammett as inspiration for the film’s singular use of language. While the film is classified as a film noir, Johnson claims that he made no references to film noir during production, the better
to shift the focus of the production away from reproducing a genre piece. Brick was released on DVD by Focus Features.

Johnson directed the video for the Mountain Goats’ song “Woke Up New” in 2006. He is a professed fan of the band, and was asked to direct the video when bandleader John Darnielle noticed a reference to them in the credits for Brick. A song is credited to “The Hospital Bombers Experience”, which is a reference to the Mountain Goats song titled “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton”. Johnson also directed a live performance film of the Mountain Goats’ 2009 album The Life of the World to Come. The film consists of a single shot, depicting Darnielle performing the entire album on guitar and piano with minimal accompaniment.

This film was screened in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon upon its completion, and was released as a limited edition DVD on Record Store Day (April 17, 2010).

Johnson’s second film, The Brothers Bloom, is a con-man tale released in theaters in May 2009, and later on DVD.

Johnson’s third film, Looper, began shooting in Louisiana in January 2011 and was released in late September, 2012. Set in the near future, it has been described as dark science fiction, and involves hitmen whose victims are sent from the future. The film opened the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2012 Palo Alto International Film Festival. It was a surprise success at the box office.

Johnson has made a number of short films, some of which he has made available on his website. His short film from high school titled Ninja Ko is available as an easter egg on the Brick DVD. The Brothers Bloom DVD features a short, Buster Keaton-esque silent film he made in college. After working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Brick, the two shot a short film in Paris titled Escargots. In 2002, he directed another short film, The Psychology of Dream Analysis, which is available to view on his Vimeo account.

Johnson directed the episode “Manifest Destiny” of the TV series Terriers.

In March 2010, he announced on his website that he would be directing an episode of Breaking Bad for its third season. That episode, “Fly”, aired on May 23, 2010. Johnson later directed a second episode of the show, “Fifty-One”, which aired on August 5, 2012, and earned him a Directors Guild of America Award. He then directed a third episode, “Ozymandias”, which quickly became widely considered one of the greatest episodes of television ever aired.

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On June 20, 2014, news broke that Johnson was set to write and direct the eighth installment in the Star Wars film saga. Johnson confirmed the report that following month and the film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was released on December 15, 2017 to positive reviews from critics and audiences.

Though it was initially reported that Johnson would also write the follow-up to The Last Jedi, it turned out that
director J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio who were in charge of the script for Episode IX. On November 9, 2017, it was announced that Johnson was writing a new trilogy of Star Wars films, separate from the main story arc of previous films in the franchise, and would direct the first installment of his trilogy. However, before he returns to the franchise, he is set to direct the recently announced murder mystery Knives Out. Johnson penned the script and will work with longtime producing partner Ram Bergman.

Aside from filmmaking, Johnson is a folk singer and banjo player. His brother is music producer Aaron Johnson. His cousin, Nathan Johnson, composed the score for Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper. Rian and Nathan make up a folk duo called the Preserves.

He has been in a relationship with film writer Karina Longworth since 2011.


Rian Johnson’s directing credits include…

Year Movie
1990 Ninja Ko, the Origami Master (short film)
1997 Evil Demon Golf Ball from Hell!!! (short)
2001 Ben Boyer and the Phenomenology of Automobile Marketing (short)
2002 The Psychology of Dream Analysis (short)
2005 Brick
2008 The Mountain Goats: Woke Up New (short)
2008 The Brothers Bloom
2010 Terriers – Manifest Destiny (TV series)
2010 The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
2010 Breaking Bad – Fly (TV series)
2012 Breaking Bad – Fifty-One (TV series)
2012 Looper
2013 Breaking Bad – Ozymandias (TV series)
2017 Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2018 LCD Soundsystem: Oh Baby (short)
2019 Knives Out

Memorable Quotes by Rian Johnson

“I bristle a little when the argument for film gets put into the nostalgia ghetto. Film is still the highest quality and best-looking image capture medium available. I don’t think it always will be. The digital image will get better, and it will eventually surpass the quality of the film image, but it isn’t there yet.”

“[on if the idea of the “loop” in Looper (2012) is at all influenced by Eastern religion or the notion of karma] – I guess so, yeah. We’d have to talk for another hour about what exactly that means. It’s about the notion of breaking that loop because the loop is at the an unhealthy cycle of self-interest motivating violence, which motivates the self interest of someone else, which motivates violence, which motivates — blah, blah, blah.”

“Teen movies often have an unspoken underlying premise in which high school is seen as less serious than the adult world. But when your head is encased in that microcosm it’s the most serious time of your life.”

Things You May Not Know About Rian Johnson

Wrote the screenplay for Brick (2005). in 1997. It took him six years to get financing for Brick (2005).

Graduated from USC’s School of Cinema-Television in 1996.

He has been in a relationship with film writer Karina Longworth since 2011.

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