NEW YORK—Filmmaker and Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson certainly shoots what he knows. In 2003, he controversially turned the camera on his moneyed pals for his first documentary, “Born Rich.” Now he’s taking America’s top earners to task — his own family included — in his latest project, “The One Percent,” an examination of the nation’s growing wealth gap, which screens Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Though Johnson’s parents are less than thrilled at the intrusion, the young charge finds more willing subjects in Steve Forbes; Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, and even Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer and Iran Contra figure. “He had a self-assurance that someone would need to have to do what he’s done in life. He had no reservations about any of his business practices,” Johnson says, taking a break from furiously editing his film to dish with WWD.
WWD: How was this experience different from working on “Born Rich?”
Jamie Johnson: “Born Rich” was strictly a coming-of-age story about 10 kids from rich families, and this film is more about ideas and concepts. I think “Born Rich” indirectly may have said something about our culture and been some sociological statement, but I think this attempts to do that more directly.
WWD: Have your parents seen it?
J.J.: My mother has.
J.J.: She thought that it was interesting and seemed to be supportive of it. My mother wasn’t born rich so she is always more understanding of what I’m doing in terms of what films I’m working on and different opinions. I think I probably wouldn’t be able to make these films or want to if I hadn’t had one parent who didn’t come from that world that was so exclusive and concerned with the unspoken codes involved, especially with money. My father is more complicated. He definitely does not like being in them [the films]. I think as a father he supports me, but he feels very uncomfortable with it. That’s why I haven’t shown him the film yet. It’d be awkward.
This story first appeared in the April 27, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: Is there any sense of you being a sort of black sheep in the family?
J.J.: Certainly my father and I have a relationship where now he’s like, “Why are you here? Did you bring a camera?”
WWD: Have you always been the kind to stir things up?
J.J.: Certain hypocrisies I always found troubling. More than anything else I feel [that] anyone who’s dishonest with themselves I’ve always found absurd to the point where I feel like I can mention it.
WWD: What do you hope to achieve with “The One Percent?”
J.J.: I hope that it adds to this debate and dialogue about the growing wealth gap in America. I think it’s an important time to do that because we have these things going on like Hurricane Katrina in which disparities in wealth that people aren’t willing to acknowledge most of the time are on television every day. It was a very harsh reality.
WWD: So, do you have any concerns you’ll be written out of the will?
J.J.: No. Although he doesn’t agree with me and doesn’t necessarily like what I’m doing, he’s not the type of person who would cut me out of his will. I don’t think he would end our relationship as a result of our conflict over these films. I even say to him, “You’re in these movies just enough to say you don’t want to be in them. That’s a strange way of being complicit.”