Entertainment Magazine: Film
Daring to Dream: Johnathan Gorman, Bryan McCulley and their Dandelion Dreams
By Madelyn Ritrosky
If you can dream it, you can believe it. If you can believe it, you can do it. If you can do it, you can dream the next step.
Like nature intended, all those dandelion seeds can germinate, take root, and spring forth new life.
Filmmakers Johnathan Gorman and Bryan Patrick McCulley dared to dream – and their beautiful dandelion is blossoming and springing forth into so many new, next projects.
Their short film Dandelion Dreams follows a turning point in the life of one Michael Gregory (played by Bryan McCulley). His life has been pretty ordinary, with a job he now takes for granted and a relationship that’s going nowhere.
Enter Jeff Carlson (Johnathan Gorman). He is Michael’s unanticipated work associate. And he’s not someone Michael can deal with on a business-as-usual basis.
Unintentionally, and then with a sense of subtle yet eye-opening purpose, Jeff triggers the soul-searching that Michael apparently needs at this juncture in his life. Michael takes too many things and too many people for granted, without bothering to look inside - or beyond the surfaces outside.
Photo of the GEM Team in Los Angeles(left to right) Bryan Patrick McCulley, Adam Cassel, Johnathan Gorman.
Dandelion Dreams is a thoughtful, socially aware film that has a message not of tolerance but of that next step, real social acceptance. The film has a good vibe – it’s not preachy, not sentimental, not clichéd. With two lead characters who come from rather different backgrounds and whose relationship changes a bit, Gorman and McCulley play well off each other.
I had the chance to ask Johnathan Gorman how the film, which is currently playing film festivals, and his new production company, in partnership with Bryan McCulley, got off the ground. It seems that dreams can disperse seeds of inspiration - just like dandelions. Dandelions are beautiful flowers, thriving in places where previously there were none. That certainly is daring to dream.
OK, Johnathan, let’s take a look at those dreams...
How did GEM Filmworks get started?
Bryan Patrick McCulley is largely responsible for bringing GEM Filmworks to life, whereas I was responsible for developing Socially Aware Productions, but none of this would have ever come to fruition if it were not for my late mother-in-law, Bobbie Mattasits. It was her tenacious belief in my talents that convinced me to return to the entertainment industry and see if I could be accepted by the Helen Wells Agency in Indianapolis.
Luckily, I was, and that is how I eventually met Bryan at an audition. After he learned I had lived in California and achieved tremendous success in the entertainment industry over a twenty-year career, he asked if I would be willing to share my experiences with him. I accepted, and following our conversation, Bryan shared my script, Dandelion Dreams, with his producing partner, Adam Cassel.
Both young men enjoyed my script and asked me what I thought about directing and starring in it. I was interested in directing but declined to star in it. After a month had passed without any forward motion on the project, I told them they had reignited my flame and I was interested in being the producing lead. They happily accepted.
Before we knew it, Bryan and I were meeting daily developing a plan for the film. Since we were relying on my prior experiences to lead the way, Dandelion Dreams would be produced under my company, Johnathan Gorman Enterprises, already established as my personal development coaching business.
With a common passion for filmmaking and life, Bryan and I formed a new company, GEM Filmworks. The “G” stands for Gorman, the “M” for McCulley, and the “E” for Entertainment.
What are your goals for the production company?
We have developed two specific divisions of our company. GEM Filmworks develops feature length films and full scripted television shows, whereas Socially Aware Productions is dedicated to the development of social-message short films and documentaries. We believe it’s important that both production companies possess their own brand in order to balance the slate of projects we choose to produce. Some are profit-driven while others are designed to “pay-it-forward” for the betterment of societal causes.
Dandelion Dreams is the first film produced under GEM Filmworks under the Socially Aware brand, and our current concentration is launching Socially Aware Productions. We believe producing films that will positively impact our society is immensely rewarding. This also provides greater opportunities to produce projects at a faster rate while still displaying a high level of quality in our work.
As the screenwriter, what are the origins of the Dandelion Dreams story/script?
The concept of Dandelion Dreams was initiated in 1991. While working on the Academy Award-winning film The Usual Suspects, my eyes were opened to a lot of predetermined opinions that people possessed about individuals who they didn’t know much about. I found myself caught between two types of groups, labeled “normal” and “odd or different.” Being open enough (or resistant to pressure to choose a “side”) allowed me the opportunity to really see everything from various perceptions.
I found that people believed they accepted differences, when in reality they were only being tolerant. These are very different, and that is what sparked the idea to write this film. I immediately decided it would be a short. At the time, I was producing my first feature film, Final Decision, so I knew the complexities involved, especially back then when everything was expensive 35mm or 16mm film. I wanted to kick out my next project right away. Little did I know it would take twenty years.
Amazingly, my original script, then titled Society, stood the test of time. In fact, societal debate over acceptance of same-sex lifestyles has become even more complicated than it was in 1994. Back then, conversations were still predominantly inside the closet. The initial script was much darker because of that. Over the years, my revisions were affected by society’s increased acceptance and tolerance.
Did you plan to write, direct, produce, and co-star from the beginning?
No. I wrote, produced, and starred in Final Decision. I knew what a huge undertaking that was and how much it beat me down. That was the cause of my ten-plus-year hiatus. Obviously, I wrote it, so that part was done before deciding what other position I would assume on this film. That being said, when I wrote it, I did draft the character of Michael based on me, and if I was gong to act in it, that would be the role. At the same time, I drafted the film hoping I would be courageous enough to try and direct it, but I was deeply afraid of the director’s chair. As for producing it, that almost happens automatically because I’m so driven and passionate that people want me involved in that capacity. That was the case with Bryan and Adam.
What is your favorite part of making a film?
Sitting in the last row of a theater watching the audience view the final version. That’s where you really learn what filmmaking is about - what worked and what didn’t is evident. As you become a better filmmaker, you notice that the gap between what you thought would work and what didn’t shrinks with each film.
I must admit, it took me over thirty years to develop enough confidence to helm the director’s chair, but I’m really glad I took the leap of faith. Now I’m hooked!
Although I have achieved an award-winning screenwriter status, I still do not consider myself a writer. Writing and I have a love/hate relationship. I’m constantly thinking, developing, but hate the entire process. It takes me to places I don’t typically like, or want to go. The main reason I write is that it’s really hard to find quality content that doesn’t cost a fortune to option. The proper development of unique characters and good structure is a lost art, especially when working with first-time writers or small-budget films. I spend a lot of time developing my characters and storyline. I believe I can make something we have “already seen” yet is still unique.
Acting is how I started, therefore it’s just comfortable for me now.
What has the festival experience been so far with Dandelion Dreams?
I have mixed emotions about the festival experience. The upside is you get to meet amazing filmmakers, attend filmmaking classes led by recognizable people, and maximize networking and develop fabulous relationships. All of that is rewarding.
At the same time, there is a tremendous level of politics with many festivals. That bothers me. Our producing team made a conscious decision to place Dandelion Dreams in festivals that are not local, or ones where we didn’t have ties to anyone involved at the festival. We didn’t want a false sense of acceptance. In no way are we saying that films accepted locally are not good films, but if we are honest, there are many films that only will be accepted locally. That’s no coincidence.
You have to be willing to openly review your film’s outcome and learn from your mistakes. I think we accomplished quite a bit this first time out of the gate. We have plenty of room for growth, and we are excited to make our next project.
What are your current projects?
Dandelion Dreams has provided incredible opportunities to work with various writers, producers, and directors, locally and in Los Angeles.
Under Socially Aware Productions, we are in pre-production with another short film I wrote and will direct, Butterfly Kisses. A young woman tries to piece her life back together after her mother’s death, abandonment by her father, and her own failed suicide attempt. This film stars talented local actress Jessica Froelich. We shot a few scenes in November for marketing and a crowd-funding trailer to be launched in February. Our goal is to shoot it in Spring 2015.
We have been working with IU Health Simon Cancer Center to produce Mike’s Run: Find Your Normal. The documentary follows the recovery and ambassadorship of Mike Magdycz, who was diagnosed two years ago with Myelodysplastic cancer.
As for GEM Filmworks, we are negotiating to produce a feature script by Mitchell Klebanoff. He wrote Beverly Hills Ninja (starring the late Chris Farley) and Disorderlies (with the late Ralph Bellamy). As a result of meetings at the Awareness Film Festival, we are developing a psychological thriller that we will produce with Global Film Group.
Locally, we are teaming with Scott Cassidy to co-produce his short film, Black Figs, which tells a wonderful story about dealing with loss and grief in different ways and the impact on individual lives. This project provides me another opportunity to act – and in a lead role.
With various requests from actors I worked with as actor and director, I am launching, in conjunction with the GEM team, the new Indy Actor Studio. Set to launch in March, I have researched what local actors want in a class which is not already offered in Indianapolis.
One major differentiator for the Indy Actor Studio Master Acting Class is that I will utilize my contacts in Southern California for wisdom-sharing Skype sessions. This will provide real-life perspectives from producers, casting directors, directors, and agents. This is critical to developing a career. Applicants will be accepted into the program through an interview and audition, allowing a class where students are committed and open to new ideas, methods, and experimentation. You have to be willing to adapt in this ever-evolving business.
As a certified personal development coach, I will incorporate that perspective to help talent overcome subconscious limitations and access creative abilities. You have to be conscious about your choices and know that many characters will conflict with your belief system. The classroom must provide ultimate freedom to an actor, to play without judgment, and utilized regularly for optimal results. Private coaching sessions will give personal attention and guidance. What works for one actor may not work for another. The website is now live at www.indyactorstudio.com
All in all, 2014 was a good year, and in 2015 we have solidified enough projects to become a full-time production company. What is ahead of us we could have never imagined, or maybe we could and that is why it has happened.
Johnathan, thank you so much for your thoughtful answers and for making such a thoughtful film like Dandelion Dreams. It is indeed a film and message whose time has come. Right now. I look forward to the other upcoming screen “gems” from GEM Filmworks and Socially Aware Productions.