Emmy Award-Winning Feature Producer Johnny Sweet: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
Learn how to read people. Knowing who to trust early on will save you many future headaches and you won’t get burned as much. Listen to creative criticism and feedback. Don’t ever take it personally. Figure out what works and what doesn’t and go from there.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Johnny Sweet.
Born and raised in NYC, Johnny Sweet graduated from Syracuse University in 2003. He was recently nominated for an Emmy for Best Long Sports Documentary for “Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story.” Sweet was an Emmy Award-winning feature producer at ESPN for 10 years, primarily covering the NBA and the NFL. In 2016 Sweet directed his first film, “Vick” which won the Associated Press Sports Editor Award for journalism. His second film, “Quiet Storm,” a documentary about the life of Ron Artest was released in 2019 on Showtime. The film won the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Cleveland International Films Festival for Best Documentary and was selected by the Hot Docs and Big Sky Film Festivals.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up in New York City in the 1980s and early 90s. Public school kid. My family moved to the Hastings/Yonkers border during my high school years. After high school, I attended Syracuse University where I majored in magazine journalism and history. To help pay for a portion of college I DJ’d local parties and at a bar off-campus where I made some of my closest friends to date. After college, I went on to work at ESPN as a feature producer for nearly a decade. Got the best storytelling training I could’ve ever asked for. From there I’ve worked at NFL Network, TNT and have worked on projects for CBS and Showtime.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, I couldn’t play sports at a higher level than high school so the next best thing was to work somewhere where you get paid to watch sports. That’s what led to my producing career beginning at ESPN.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
Witnessing Jamie Foxx and Gary Payton have a passionate debate on who was better: Lebron James or Larry Bird. Foxx had Lebron, Payton picked Bird. It was in Miami at Prime 112. I’ve never seen better live entertainment up close while on the job.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Well, there’s plenty. Kobe was one (rest in peace). I would probably say rapper Noreaga (also known as N.O.R.E.) was the most entertaining interview I’ve ever done, we interviewed him for Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story which is still currently airing on Showtime.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
We all hit roadblocks. Mark Kriegel is probably the greatest sports writer/reporter I’ve ever read and worked with. At a time when my confidence was wavering the most, he stuck by me and helped me push through. I’ve never told him this in person but if he ever reads this, thank you Kriegs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is a very cutthroat industry. Even those who you think are your friends in this business will at some point let you down. I would say try not to let the industry change you as a person. It’s tough but try your best.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Well, I grew up in the most diverse area of the world and still live there. I find it to be beyond invaluable. The production company I work with has been very diverse for a long time and there’s no doubt that trait has affected our storytelling in a very positive way.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, we are working on a sequel to the Last Call. All of my other projects at this time I can’t discuss due to legal reasons.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
Probably telling stories as authentically and truthfully as possible and see them have a humanizing effect on the audience. I think when we did Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story we were the first to really open a lot of eyes to the mental health debate in the sports world.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Most ideas are rejected, if you’re passionate about your idea don’t take “no” for an answer.
- Learn as many skill sets as possible. Writing, interviewing, producing, working with different cameras, editing. Make sure you’re able to master 3 of those skills so you don’t become a jack of all trades/master of none. If you do that people most likely will take advantage of you. I wish I could go back and re-do interviews I conducted in my mid to late 20s. My work would’ve been much better.
- There will be many setbacks. As confidence-crushing as they might be just keep pushing. Our Ron Artest documentary concept was rejected many times. Showtime graciously took a chance on our film in 2019 and we could not be more grateful.
- Learn how to read people. Knowing who to trust early on will save you many future headaches and you won’t get burned as much.
- Listen to creative criticism and feedback. Don’t ever take it personally. Figure out what works and what doesn’t and go from there.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
Our loyalty is 100% to the story and the viewer. If the documentary doesn’t resonate then we didn’t do our jobs. There were people who wanted us to take out the Queensbridge music section of Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest film. It would’ve sucked the soul out of the authenticity of the story. We made our case and thankfully we were allowed to keep it in.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Lol. I’m not one for political speeches. I wouldn’t know where to start. If I did I wouldn’t be in the current business that I’m in.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Ezra Edelman. If he reads this I just want to let him know he’s one of my muses and would love to chat someday if he ever has the time.
How can our readers further follow you online?
IG: @johnnysweetocp, ocp-productions.com and also check out hsc.tv, they’re incredible talented and amazing people to work with
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!