Creative Interview

Today I’m not posting about my own books or commenting on the ins-and-outs of indie publishing. Instead, I’m interviewing a fascinating creative talent and former Michigan resident, Dale Johnson.

Welcome to “Painting With Light,” Dale.
Thank you. Glad to be here.

You have a fascinating creative background. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I grew up in the Detroit area. Blue collar. High IQ. Strong work ethic. A contrarian that follows the scientific method to solve life’s issues. An accomplished college and semipro pitcher. Clutch hitter because of my ability to tune out everything and focus on one thing.

I married young and moved to NYC, lived there 40 dream years and reached the top of my field at one of the leading ad agencies in the world as an EVP Exec Creative Director. Now run my own agency.

My wife (and best friend) died suddenly three years ago, so I moved to SF to live near my daughter. I am considered kind and respectful, but can have my angry moments.

Understandable. Where did you go to college?
Wayne State University in downtown Detroit.

What was your major?
Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. I also got a Marketing degree from the school of Business, and spent two further years at night school for a minor in journalism.

What were you like at school?
In high school I acted out, was a class clown. Independent, a kind of troublemaker with quips, followed a different drummer. I thought people who joined groups were giving up their individuality. I rejected school/society rules when they didn’t fit my scientific analysis.

Got kicked out of Physics class my senior year because I didn’t feel the teacher was teaching how to understand it, only wanted us to memorize it.

Were you good at English?
I was different. My teachers didn’t understand me. Extremely avant garde and offbeat but lacked grammar and structure training, so I rambled a lot…I wish I could say like Ken Kesey (the author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”). They didn’t know what to think of me.

Where do your ideas come from?
Countless ideas pop into my head just when I sit and think. They are random and it took decades to learn how to merge them into a concept and focus them correctly.

My years in management at the top ad agencies in the world taught me conceptual and strategic discipline, and how to not only understand an idea but be able to explain it to others. Generally, my ideas start by asking the question “Why?”

You were into marketing big-time. What led you into plays and then film?
I’m still in marketing, but am now also a filmmaker. I love advertising and mass behavior change and totally understand how politicians win. In my thirties I was restricted creatively to maximize mainstream commercial success in advertising, so I looked around for another outlet on the side. Writing novels didn’t work for me.

I discovered theater and fell in love. When I started to write plays, I wondered if I had anything important to say and if anyone would care. I apparently did, and created a cult following that liked my uncensored honesty and willingness to pursue controversial topics.

My play on date rape in 2004 went to the Philly Fringe, and my play on racism was optioned by the Theater League’s Broadway Producer of the Year. When I left my last job and started my agency, I switched to filmmaking in hopes of making some money, which plays never do.

Were there writers or filmmakers who inspired you?
When I discovered playwrighting I had been deeply immersed in off-off-broadway and performance theater. I particularly loved Karen Finley. At the Strand I discovered a book called In Your Face, about a theater movement in the 1950’s in England.

This was a time when a homosexual act would put people in jail. They believed that theater should tell the truth, that anything you didn’t do onstage you were denying its existence. It resonated with me and is my credo. People who censor you have an agenda, they don’t want a different opinion to be expressed. It’s natural of course.

People who question threaten the status quo. I followed that belief and was very provocative, but meaningful, and I had a cult following of mature, independent thinkers. One of my plays ran six months. I study art movements as well as artists and love every true artist. I’ve become very visual.

Do you have an “elevator speech” for your work?
I guess you could say it’s “the off off broadway of film” – but major distributors want Broadway.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
At first, I was chaotically creative. Journalism classes gave me some structure. Then I wrote in the ad business and became extremely disciplined. Too disciplined. I felt unable to create naturally, so took a sabbatical for a year and lived in Greece and France.

I wrote five hours a day, every day, and learned how to channel my subconscious directly onto the page without filtering it through my conscious. It was like dreaming for five hours, then waking up wondering what happened.

But I was still able to consciously “aim” the writing, just like I learned to “aim” my fastball as a pitcher. If you completely let go you won’t get it over the plate, if you control your body too much it won’t be relaxed enough to throw fast. It’s called a “controlled explosion”, that’s how I write.

What is the hardest thing about what you do?
The hardest thing is convincing people my work has mainstream appeal. They generally rely on stars in front of and behind the camera in order to finance a movie, so I have to hire stars and be one.

Do you have a favorite author? Playwright?
Several: Steinbeck, Robert A. Heinlein, Lincoln Steffens, Ernie Pyle, Gene Roddenberry, William Goldman, Billy Wilder, David Lean, Alberto Innaurato, Anthony Burgess, Gilbert Gotfried, Lerner and Lowe, Salinger, Mark Twain, Ken Kesey, Bob Dylan, Ferlinghetti, Rod Serling, Vonneghut, Camut, Dr. Suess, Ken Burns, Woody Allen, Kurasawa, etc. – and all playwrights.

What is your favorite book? Movie? Play?
There are lots of them: East of Eden; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Catcher in the Rye; The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, Volume 1; Contagion Theory; Casablanca; Clockwork Orange; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; The Wild Bunch; Cinema Paradisio; Princess Bride; Don’t Look Now; Lawrence of Arabia; Sand Pebbles; The Battle of Algiers; A Thousand Clowns; Bridge Over the River Kwai; A Man for All Seasons; The Seven Samurai; Ordinary People; Lilies of the Field; and a host of others.

What is your favorite quote?
One of my own quotes: “Art is my religion. Truth is my God.” Or TheaterWeek’s quote about me: “When you watch a Dale Johnson play, be prepared to lose your virginity again.” Also from Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2): “First…let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Where can we find out more about your work?

What social network sources do you use?
None. As a creator of entertainment, I need to be paid tons of money to entertain people on the internet and I already have two careers.

I don’t have tons of money, so I’m eternally grateful you decided to do this interview. Good luck, Dale…and thanks.
Thanks for having me, Ron.


I will be joining other authors signing books at SterlingFest in Sterling Heights, Michigan this Saturday, July 27, 2019.


Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;


You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my three local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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