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Family's spoofs are a serious business

Making movies is educational, dad says

Dec. 19, 2012

Oak Creek - Clare and Jonas Johnson squared off for the duel.

Armed with cardboard tubes, brother and sister thrust and parried with all the exuberance young people can muster, and the family video camera rolled away.

A little editing on dad's part, and voila! The cardboard tubes turned into glowing lightsabers and the good-natured child's play into an epic battle between Jedi and Sith masters.

And a slightly off-beat family tradition was born.

A family affair

No one could have predicted then that the Johnson family's "Star Wars" spoof would lead to a pastime that would snare the attention of fans around the nation. But it did. The videos were featured in a Wired.com article Dec. 12 and their "Ghostbusters!" video has had nearly 5,000 views.

Aaron Johnson is a graphic animator by day and syndicated cartoonist by night. Those skills come in handy when he shoots and directs movie spoofs with his kids, both who attend Deerfield Elementary. Clare is in first grade and Jonas is in third.

That first movie was such a hit with the family that the Johnsons knew they had to do more, and better. The next few years saw "Ghostbusters," "Batman" and "Indiana Jones" tributes, just to name a few. His wife, although a little camera-shy, also gets in the mix as an actor.

As the years progressed, so did Jonas' and Clare's involvement. They now contribute to the scripts, editing and costume design.

Johnson said when it comes to directing the films, he isn't a ruthless dictator.

"It teaches them about compromise," he said. "It's very much a learning process, not only in how films are made, but I really emphasize scripts. You can't just whip out a camera and start shooting scenes. We need to have a plan."

And some of the plans need to be shot down.

When his children wanted to shoot an "E.T."-inspired movie this year, Johnson knew there was no way he could get a puppet or makeup to create the alien creature. They opted to shoot a "Ghostbusters" spoof instead.

So if you saw something a little wacky at the Oak Creek Public Library or Pick 'n Save, it could have been the Johnsons proving they "ain't afraid of no ghost."

"There were a few glances, but the kids loved it," Johnson said of filming out in public. "They didn't care. It was nice to get some Oak Creek locations in the movies as well."

While they don't know what movie to parody next, the family is always looking for the next big opportunity. Most ideas come from Aaron's 1980s-era childhood movies.

Lessons to learn

Not only is movie-making big in the Johnson family, but movie watching has become a staple of family night. The crew regularly watches anything from G-rated movies to the "Dark Knight" trilogy.

Clare and Jonas often ask who is good and who is bad in the more sophisticated movies they watch. That's when it's time for Aaron to hit "pause" and explain that life is usually too complicated to allow a stark divide between good and evil.

"They're expanding their horizons that way," he said. "It's just like in real life. A good person could have some dark secrets and a bad person isn't inherently evil."

Sharing the joke

Aaron had Internet fame even before the home movies found their audience.

Six years ago, he became a syndicated cartoonist.

At the time, he was in a band and wanted to create a comic so dry and niche that it would be an inside joke for his fans. Within days his inbox exploded with hundreds of emails asking when the next comic would arrive.

Johnson continued the series, which revolves around a fowl professional photographer. The series, titled "What the Duck," has been picked up by newspapers and magazines all over the country. The series is nearing its 1,400th strip.

The reason behind the comic's success and the level of detail in Aaron's home movies boils down to energy.

"I can't just dabble in something recreationally," he said. "It's all or nothing for me. I have to pick my things carefully, but then it's like hyper-focused into it."

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