Wayne Johnson has a natural charisma that is more befitting of a movie star than his behind-the-scenes roles.
The 46-year-old film industry veteran has an infectious sense of humor, eliciting laughs throughout our video call. That ability to invoke emotion is part of what makes him so apt at his job as a screenwriter and producer.
The proud Baltimore City native grew up playing football and baseball, but always had a passion for writing. He is now the president of Lafayette Pictures Entertainment Co., an independent film production company involved with films such as “Southpaw” and “The Legend of Tarzan.”
As a producer and talent manager, Johnson is still able to work despite strikes happening across Hollywood, but “I feel it would only be right if I stand with my union folks,” he said. The actors’ and writers’ union shutdowns have touched every part of his movie career, from day-to-day conversations with longtime industry friends to plans to host a premiere in Baltimore that he hoped would shed a positive light on the city.
Johnson talked to The Baltimore Banner about his journey in the film and television industry, the importance of the ongoing strikes and other important ventures he wants to make happen in his hometown, where he now lives full time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you begin writing screenplays?
Pure laziness. I was writing a book loosely based on my life in ‘97 or ‘98 then ended up changing it into a screenplay after going to the movies one night and seeing a Michael Douglas movie, I think. The book was taking too long and I figured it would have to be about 350 pages whereas a screenplay could just be 90 pages. After selling that screenplay, I knew I wanted to pursue this so I started taking courses, doing more research and fully diving in.
Prior to that, I was always into writing since I was a child. Dating back to elementary and middle school, I would come home to write stories about my day then turn them into superhero comics.
What was the first studio screenplay that you wrote?
The first one was an original “Green Lantern” screenplay that I wrote for Sunrise Entertainment. While doing that, they helped mentor me and helped me make the transition from just a screenwriter to a producer as well. I saw how everything is always in the studio’s hands or a producer’s hands and they don’t have to make anything if they don’t want to.
So once I realized that, I decided to move over to the producer role. There, I can write my scripts, buy other scripts that I like, or rewrite scripts that I like and work with the writer. Then I can pursue it and make it happen instead of waiting until others feel like doing it.
Could you give your thoughts about the ongoing Hollywood strikes?
It’s a mess and it’s fueled by greed from studios. They have the money and reasoning to give up a small percentage to make the writers and actors happy, but are choosing not to do so. It’s affecting people’s living situations such as health care, so it’s a serious matter that needs to be resolved. It’s even scarier now with things like the AI because they’re looking to use that to replace humans, so it is great seeing the writers and actors show their unity. It adds real pressure, which is necessary.
It’s affecting me directly because I have several projects with different studios and networks that I won’t move on right now. I could as a producer, but I feel it would only be right if I stand with my union folks. It’s funny though because it alters even my daily conversations since it’s such a tricky situation. Like I have friends that I have known for 20 years, but they may be executives or work for a studio, so the conversations often tend to just be “hi” and “bye,” which makes all of this so awkward.
We’ve had a whole premiere planned for Harbor East here in Baltimore to bring something cool to the city and allow some of the locals to get their art out, but now that can’t happen. As a proud native of Baltimore, I really want our city to be viewed as more than just “The Wire” and I thought this would be a good moment.
You’re keen on helping and supporting others. What other ways are you doing that?
As the head of content for TMT Digital Network [a subsidiary of The Money Team brand founded by Floyd Mayweather Jr. launching in October], we’re providing people an outlet to showcase inspirational, positive and educational work that they develop and want to put out to the world. They can show their work, show their creativity and show their art without any kickback while still having the support of a large network.
Through Lafayette Pictures and TMT Digital Network, I’m also in the process of assisting with building a digital studio over at Baltimore City juvenile center. That way, the children that are there can learn a life skill during their time there. And then when they come out, should they go through the steps of the required mentoring program, I’m going to assist them in learning the industry if that’s what they choose.
A lot of people will just give them [the kids] a list of places to apply for jobs, but I’ll genuinely give them job placements since I ultimately can make the decisions. It’s all about just showing them a different way: There’s more than just the block or the neighborhood that you come from, there’s more out there that you can do. We’re going to provide them different programs and outlets where they don’t have to resort to old ways.
What is your favorite film or television series that you have worked on?
“Southpaw,” without a doubt. From Kurt Sutter writing it to Eminem being involved as well as Jake Gyllenhaal coming on, it was just great. I really liked the whole father-daughter relationship and his [the Gyllenhaal character’s] determination to get back on top while struggling.
No exaggeration, I probably have seen that movie 75 times in different theaters in different cities. If people wanted to see it, I would actually pay for some of their tickets, then I would just watch the movie with them to see their reactions. Out of the 75 times that I’ve seen that movie in different theaters, people in the audience would cry except for one time. The only time nobody cried in the theater was when I went to see it in the Owings Mills theater.