Betty Johnson and Grace Franco
Paul Wellman

Most great filmmakers started small. Directors as diverse as Joel Coen and James Cameron even share similar histories: stories about scoring Super 8 cameras as birthday presents and obsessively filming backyard epic toy-soldier-versus-pet-hamster battles, then screening their tales for parents’ and schoolmates’ horror and edification. Then, it’s off to film school (or Roger Corman’s production company) and, before you know it, Oscar town.

Santa Barbaran Betty Johnson is offering an alternative route to celluloid heaven, while giving the whole community a chance to enjoy novice—or at least brief—filmmaking. Start even smaller, she suggests. “The one-minute film!” proclaimed Johnson one recent rainy day over lunch. “What could be easier? It doesn’t cost much, and you don’t even need a crew.” What makes Johnson such an expert on this form stems mostly from a show her son and daughter-in-law recommended two years ago.

“I went out of curiosity. What I saw just amazed me,” she said, her head reeling with the thought of these 60-second art pieces made by directors from around the globe. Since then, she’s brought the idea home with her, and on May Day at the Faulkner Gallery she plans to show 50 films gathered from S.B. and global filmmakers that will blow your mind in less time than it takes to buy a ticket in a downtown theater queue. It’s called The Santa Barbara Minute: 2010 Film Festival.

“I really thought what a wonderful opportunity this would be for Santa Barbara filmmakers,” explained Johnson, who hails originally from Ventnor, New Jersey. To launch the event, Johnson has made herself a tireless pilgrim, putting up posters and wandering campuses, showing sample films and daring students to submit their minimum opuses for preview. “I’ve been to UCSB, City College, San Roque, Anacapa High School, Santa Barbara High’s MAD [Multimedia Arts and Design] Academy, San Marcos, Dos Pueblos, and Bishop High,” she explained, running out of breath before our meal arrived.

At 73, Johnson came to her Hollywood chutzpah honestly. She moved to Santa Barbara nine years ago, following her daughter, an independent grants writer. But her son, Stephen Johnson, an Emerson College grad, is now chief writer and editor for G4TV’s The Feed. His spouse, Robyn Simms, is an actress, comic, and costumer on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, and both have made award-winning short films. Though it was their urging that got Johnson to appreciate the films, she says her son is a bit disquieted by the outcome. “He told me, ‘I think I’ll make a movie about an old woman who sees a One-Minute Film Festival and then changes her career,’” Johnson laughed. While in whirlwind mode, Johnson, aided by an all-volunteer army that includes S.B. High grad Grace Franco and Simms, also secured an impressive body of judges, including screenwriter David Self (Wolfman), Angela Lepito from DreamWork’s animation division, actor T.J. Thyne (Bones), triple-threat Bo Zenga (Scary Movie), and some UCSB Film Studies guy named Joe Palladino.

But if that is not enough enticement to sample something that could become tradition in this filmophile town, it’s good to remember that Johnson’s real hidden agenda is support for the very worthy people at LifeChronicles, the Santa Barbara nonprofit organization that produces videos of people who are terminally ill or in any of a variety of life crises. Johnson has been working in hospice organizations since she moved here from Jersey, and it’s sweetly ironic that the capricious form of the one-minute film might help preserve a documentary form that’s working to immortalize people for their friends and families.

Fir Johnson, it’s really more about the art, though. Entries include all genres of film, from documentary to animation, and a great deal is possible, she assures us. “I’m very excited and very proud to be able to help novice filmmakers to be seen by these great judges,” she said. “And already the community response has been much higher than I anticipated.”


The Santa Barbara Minute: 2010 Film Festival kicks off Saturday, May 1 at 8 p.m. in the Santa Barbara Library’s Faulkner Gallery (40 Anapamu St.). For tickets and details, call 563-0218 or visit


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