By Mikhail James
As is the case with many artists and creatives, it’s difficult to pin down a direct influence from which to attribute the work of 22-year-old filmmaker/musician Austin Johnson. Formally educated in film at the Pratt Institute, Austin’s creative journey began long before then, when he first picked up his dad’s mini point-and-shoot camera to record his friends during skateboarding sessions, and compile and edit the clips into skate videos. Though residing and attending school in Brooklyn for the past few years, the New Jersey native spent much of his childhood in London, where he lived with his family from ages 1-10.
It’s not single instances or frozen frames, but rather eclectic moments and experiences like these which make up and inspire Austin’s work. His latest short film babyteeth, released Friday 10/13, is an intimate glimpse into the life of a young boy grappling with anxiety. The 8-minute film takes viewers on a beautifully shot and emotionally charged ride, all without using a single word. As if that’s not enough, Austin also composed the soundtrack for the film under his new alias, breaking – doubling as his debut album, babyteeth o.s.t. serves as the perfect sonic accompaniment to the film, augmenting the already winsome imagery with lush and ambient tones. We spoke with Austin to learn more about the film and album.
Tell us a bit about the film and the inspiration behind it!
So initially the film was supposed to be a musical, but it was kind of hard getting people on board with that. ~laughs~ Also, writing it without making it too cliché or pastiche was really tough, so I decided to take it into more of a different... realm, I guess. More of a slice of life type film.
Basically, I just wanted to portray these feelings of anxiety and angst in a different light. It’s sort of me revisiting this anxious and angsty time of my life with this newfound sense of tranquility and calm that I haven’t found until recently. And I’m still an anxious person; I’ve just learned how to deal with it now. So it’s viewing that time of my life through the lens of understanding how to deal with those feelings.
So you would say the main character, the little boy, is kind of a caricature of your younger self?
Can you walk us through some of the process behind the film?
So a lot of times when I’m writing a film, I’ll write it in stills. Basically, images that I know I want to be in the film. For babyteeth, that image was of the opening running sequence, and then the match cut to the classroom. Once I had those pictures, I knew I had to make a story out of it, and kind of just started writing whatever came to mind. It was a really long process of critique, seeing what people thought, and taking that feedback to rework what I had. And eventually I had a finished script.
In terms of getting a crew, a lot of my friends are filmmakers so that helped. The DP Mark who shot the film is amazing, we’d worked together before but I just felt like he’d be right for this project. My sister produced it. My brother was also on set, he worked on stills. And we shot it at my Grandma’s house. All in all, it was a really low-budget film.
And the music?
Yeah, during the writing process for the film, I was writing a lot of the music as well. So the soundtrack, not all of those songs are in the film, but I wrote all of those songs for a specific scene or a specific tone that may have gotten cut out or something. But basically every song on the soundtrack is inspired by the film.
Is there a story behind the name?
The name came after I finished the first draft of the script. I didn’t really know what I wanted to call it. I had the script printed out to show somebody, and it said “untitled” on it. So I just scratched that out with a pen and wrote babyteeth- but in that, like, logo style that’s in the film with the really long a. So I wrote it that way and was just like “okay, I guess this is it”. No one really questioned it or critiqued me on it, and people said they liked it when I would ask them about it. Also I think it just fits, too.
So with the release of the film as well as the soundtrack/album, what is the reception and impact you’re hoping to have?
If one person can watch it and say that they like it, that’s enough. I was just making something that I would like, and the fact that other people have seemed to enjoy it so far is already amazing to me.
Ideally, where do you see yourself/your art taking you in x amount of years? What do you want to be doing with this type of work down the road?
Honestly, I’d want to be doing what I’m doing now. That’s kind of where I’d like to be ~laughs~. Just having the freedom to do whatever, you know? I’d like to make films and make music. And wherever I can do that is fine with me.