Monkey Movies: An Interview with Jen Johnson

Posted by hpalmer on September 14, 2016

For the past year, Barrel of Monkeys Company Members Jen Johnson and Matt Miller have been working on an exciting project that takes some of our favorite student-written stories and adapts them to the medium of film. Both have been involved with Barrel of Monkeys for 15+ years, and this project was a way for them to put their production expertise to use and share our work with a broader audience. We sat down with Jen Johnson to learn more about this ambitious endeavor.

So, we’re seeing all of these Monkey Movies this week. Can you tell us about the project?
Matt Miller and I decided a year ago that we wanted to professionally produce some of the stories our students had written over the years. We took a long time to pick the first 5 stories we wanted to film. Some are older classics and some are newer and were adapted in the recent years. We spent an entire day filming and many months editing and now we’re presenting them to the world.

So you and Miller have been heading this project up. Who else has been involved?
Well, Monkey movies have been made before by several Company Members, particularly Mike Tutaj. We were inspired by what he had done and excited about how important social media and a significant online presence is right now. We’re planning to have an ongoing and steady production of Monkey Movies over the next few years. . Many Monkeys helped throughout this process. Our Company is very collaborative and you’ll see lots of familiar Monkey faces in the videos. Jonathan Mastro and Ricky Harris made some music that you’ll hear. The animation was done by Lizzie Bracken. Several staff members were involved in editing. It has been a very collaborative process.

What do you want viewers to take away from these videos?
When you hear the name Barrel of Monkeys and then you learn we teach children in Chicago Public Schools, I think it’s difficult to understand the quality of art that we produce as a Company. We walk a fine line of adult and child humor when we adapt stories, but it is always an adult adaptation of something a child wrote using sketch and improv. Our hope is these videos will appeal to a broad audience- both an audience we are not reaching in Chicago, locally, and a national audience. We hope that they’ll be an example of the work we do- as it is incredibly unique.

What Monkeys does is incredibly particular. In the classroom and in the adapting process, we operate under the agreement that every idea is a good idea. We don’t steer our students’ stories. We don’t correct their spelling or grammar. And it’s really our students’ imaginations that bring this work to life.

What has been most exciting for you in this process?
I’ve been an active Company Member with Barrel of Monkeys for 15 years.It is exciting to start a new journey, artistically, and to adapt for the screen with the guidance of Matt Miller, who has a lot of directing and Monkey experience It’s professionally exciting for me to experiment with this format in addition to the great work Barrel of Monkeys is already doing in schools and on stage.

You mentioned that we can expect more Monkey Movies after the release this week?
We are in the process of creating a timeline to film our next movies. We’re looking at stories right now and once we select those stories, we’ll start to plan the next steps!

Check out the Monkey Movies!

 

 

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