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Taylor Johnson's Thesis Film - Fiction Blooming from Their Own History

Talisa Lemke
February 25, 2022

Taylor Johnson came to the School of Film three years ago to learn more about filmmaking and to explore the type of filmmaker they are. Now, Taylor is in the post-production of their final film at OU and it’s their most ambitious film of their career yet. Taylor shares their process before the film, gives insight into the story as well as some advice for young students. 


cicada still 1
Still of Kai in the aisle of a church.

Synopsis: A teenager who is going through the traumatic reality of having their mother either going or not going to jail, depending on their choice of speaking at the trial and testifying against her.


behind the scenes setup at a church
Behind the scenes setup at a church.

The summer before their third year, Taylor was brainstorming what they want to make their thesis film about, and through other projects, as well as writing about trauma and similar themes, they decided to take a piece of their own history, which then made the film bloom from there.

“I wanted to do a slice of life how it is like for the person who dealt with the trauma, how that looks like in their relationships and day to day life, their last week leading up to the trial.”

Taylor realized that they are a filmmaker that likes telling personal and character driven stories. In their film, Taylor had to make the decision if the trial and the protagonist Kai’s decision should be included. In the end, Taylor decided against it and approached it by focusing on the relationships, with the grandad, their partner Ollie, the conversation they had to have with the social worker, and their relationship to faith and religion. This way Taylor was just focusing on the day to day of the characters by showing a few days leading up to the trial and the direct aftermath of it.

Taylor goes on to say that they made this decision because a lot of times films that deal with trauma like this, focus on the decision, and dramatizing the trial itself. Taylor felt like that is not important, because in the end of the day the trial is going to happen, but it is more interesting to focus on the reality of the character going through that.


Kai standing by a door
Kai standing by a door.
Kai with their partner Ollie in a bed, view is looking down on them
Kai with their partner Ollie in a bed.

The trauma that Kai goes through, is physical abuse by the mother, which gets revealed through some conversations with the social worker as well as in Kai’s physicality and how they interact physically with others. Creating stories like this about trauma, isn’t easy, especially with a personal connection or history. Therefore, Taylor wanted to approach it by not necessarily using their own history like an autobiography, but rather just taking a little pocket of it. While Taylor’s personal history might intersect with the one of the protagonist Kai, they pointed out that they run parallel to each other and don’t necessarily touch. Taylor was interested in exploring a character that dealt really differently from how they responded to their trauma, which in the end helped Taylor to address their own trauma.


Taylor with their crew setting up a shot
Taylor with their crew setting up a shot inside of a garage.

“I hope the audience takes away that trauma and specifically trauma based on abuse, is not just black and white, there is a grey area. And we often forget especially when it’s dramatized that they are people that have to deal with the consequences for the rest of their life. When people don’t experience that trauma, they don’t realize it is such a complicated process for the person and their decisions. It’s never that easy, because of fear, memory, love, or history. I really wanted to show the grey area of this story.” 


the actors playing Kai and Ollie getting ready, sitting on a bench. Kai is on the ground.
Actors portraying Kai and Ollie getting ready for their next take.

Taylor had seven shooting days, during which some days were challenged by the weather and forced the crew and talent to be flexible. Taylor points out that their crew was really amazing and helped breathe life into the film, as it can be overwhelming as a person and director, but having the amount of people helping, made the story cohesive and alive.

Currently Taylor is in post-production, going through their rough cut, and hoping to be able to create a fine cut for their defense, and then enter it into festivals. Taylor is very proud of this piece as it is part of them.

For the future, Taylor knows that leaving OU will be the first time they are not going to be a student. While Taylor is ready to go out in the world, it will also be weird to not be in this immediate creative and supported space.


Taylor with their crew, posing for a picture
Taylor (holding slate) with their crew after finishing filming.

Taylors biggest takeaway from these past years:

“Having faith in themselves as a creative being, being able to look back on these three years and seeing the growth and seeing what was accomplished.”