Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson in 2012
Born (1973-12-17) December 17, 1973
Maryland, U.S.
Alma mater USC School of Cinematic Arts
Occupation Director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1995–present

Rian Craig Johnson (born December 17, 1973) is an American writer, producer, director, and voice actor. He won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with his debut feature film, Brick.[1][2][3]

Johnson directed The Brothers Bloom (2008) and Looper (2012), as well as three episodes of the AMC series Breaking Bad ("Fly", "Fifty-One", and "Ozymandias").

In March 2015, Johnson was announced as the writer and director of Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017), the eighth film in the Star Wars saga and the second in the sequel trilogy. He will also write the story treatment for Star Wars: Episode IX (2019).

Early life

Johnson was born in Maryland. He was raised in San Clemente, California, and attended San Clemente High School, where Brick was predominantly filmed. He then attended the University of Southern California and graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1996. Johnson's 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.[4]


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 that 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."[5]

His debut film, made for just under $500,000, Brick is a crime drama. Johnson has often said that he looked to the novels of Dashiell Hammett as inspiration for the film's unique use of language. While the film is classified as a film noir, Johnson claims that no references were made to film noir during production, so as to focus the production away from reproducing a genre piece. Brick was released on DVD by Focus Features.[6]

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 story released in theaters in May 2009, and later on DVD by Summit Entertainment.[7]

Johnson's third film, Looper, began shooting in Louisiana on January 24, 2011 and was released on September 28, 2012 by TriStar Pictures and FilmDistrict.[8] Set in the near future, it has been described as dark science fiction, and involves hitmen whose victims are sent from the future.[9] The film opened the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival[10] and the 2012 Palo Alto International Film Festival.[11] Looper was a surprise success at the box office.

Johnson has made a number of short films, some of which are 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, France titled Escargots. In 2002, he directed a short film titled The Psychology of Dream Analysis, which is available to view on his Vimeo account.[12]

Johnson directed the episode "Manifest Destiny" of the TV series Terriers.[13]

In March 2010, Johnson announced on his website that he was directing an episode of the TV series Breaking Bad for its third season. The episode, "Fly", aired on May 23, 2010. This is notable in that it is his first time professionally directing a script that he did not write, which he has stated many times that he had no interest in when it came to film.[14] 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.[15] He directed a third episode of the show, "Ozymandias", which quickly became widely considered as one of the greatest episodes of television ever aired.[16]

On March 12, 2015, Johnson confirmed that he would write and direct Star Wars: Episode VIII, which began filming in September 2015 with a scheduled release date of December 15, 2017.[17][18][19] On June 20, 2014, Johnson was reported to be in talks to write a treatment for Star Wars Episode IX.[20][21]

Personal life

Aside from filmmaking, Johnson is a folk singer and banjo player, and some of his songs can be found on his website. His brother is music producer Aaron Johnson. His cousin, Nathan Johnson, composed the score for Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper. Johnson and Nathan make up a folk duo called The Preserves. Other cousins, including Zachary and Marke Johnson, have been involved in design and illustration work for Johnson's films.



Year Title Director Writer Other Notes
1996 Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!! Yes Yes Short film
2005 Brick Yes Yes Yes editor
2008 The Brothers Bloom Yes Yes
2012 Looper Yes Yes
2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Yes Death Star technicians, Cameo
2017 Star Wars: Episode VIII Yes Yes Post-production. Set for release on December 15, 2017.[19]
2019 Star Wars: Episode IX Yes Yes Story treatment


Year Title Director Episode Role Notes
2009 Terriers Yes "Manifest Destiny"
2010–2013 Breaking Bad Yes "Fly"
Yes "Fifty-One"
Yes "Ozymandias"
2015 BoJack Horseman "Yes, And" Bryan Voice only
"Out to Sea"

Awards and Nominations

Year Work Award Result
2005 Brick Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision Won
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize Nominated
2006 BIFA Award for Best Foreign Independent Film Won
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Award for Best Overlooked Film Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Director Won
Citizen Kane Award for Best Directorial Revelation Won
Deauville Film Festival Grand Special Prize Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Breakthrough Filmmaker Nominated
2007 Empire Award for Best Male Newcomer Nominated
2012 Looper Austin Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Houston Film Critics Society Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Nominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Screenplay Won
National Board of Review Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
2013 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Saturn Award for Best Director Nominated
Breaking Bad Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series


  1. "Rian Johnson". The New York Times. 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  2. "Car Talk with Rian Johnson". The New York Times. 2009. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  3. "IN THE NEWS Rian Johnson". Los Angeles Times. September 7, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  4. "Blu-ray.com". Bluray.highdefdigest.com. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
  5. Johnson, Rian. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life. By Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p17. Print.
  6. Stephen Holden (March 31, 2006). "Joseph Gordon-Levitt Is a Teenage Bogart at Noir High in 'Brick'". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  7. Stephen Holden (May 14, 2009). "My Brother, My Partner in Crime". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  8. "Official Looper production blog". Loopermovie.tumblr.com.
  9. Fischer, Russ (May 13, 2009). "Rian Johnson lets slip a few more details about Looper". CHUD.com. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  10. "Looper to launch Toronto film festival". BBC News. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  11. "PALO ALTO INT'L FILM FESTIVAL RETURNS SEPT. 27–30 2012" (PDF). Palo Alto International Film Festival. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  12. from rcjohnso Plus 5 years ago Not Yet Rated (2008-08-19). "Vimeo.com". Vimeo.com. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
  13. "TV Squad". TV Squad. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
  14. "Comingsoon.net". Comingsoon.net. 2008-07-30. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
  15. Couch, Aaron; Kilday, Gregg (February 2, 2013). "DGA Awards: Ben Affleck Named Best Director for 'Argo'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 7, 2013.
  16. Mendelsohn, Tom (September 17, 2013). "Is Breaking Bad's Ozymandias the greatest episode of TV ever written?". The Independent. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  17. "Rogue One Is the First Star Wars Stand-Alone Film, Rian Johnson to Write and Direct Star Wars: Episode VIII". Starwars.com. March 12, 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  18. Breznican, Anthony (September 9, 2015). "CORRECTED: Star Wars: Episode VIII will shoot in Ireland this month". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  19. 1 2 McClintock, Pamela (January 20, 2016). "'Star Wars: Episode VIII' Gets New Release". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  20. Fleming, Jr., Mike (June 20, 2014). "'Star Wars' Bombshell! Rian Johnson To Write, Direct Next Two Films". Deadline.com. Retrieved June 20, 2014.
  21. Shaw, Lucas (June 20, 2014). "Rian Johnson to Write and Direct 'Star Wars' 8 — But Not 9". The Wrap. TheWrap.com. Retrieved June 20, 2014.
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