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Faculty discuss their freetime

February 9, 2019

In an attempt to make staff more approachable to students, as well as a place for staff to show off their accomplishments, The Student Voice is proud to showcase UW-River Falls staff and faculty members with interesting hobbies or pastimes.

If you’re interested in having your interesting hobbies showcased, contact reporter Kacey Joslin.

This month’s note-worthy staff member is Erik Johnson.

Erik Johnson has taught stage and screen arts at UW-River Falls for ten years, all while maintaining an intense passion for art, music, skateboarding and all things “punk.”

Johnson grew up in a musical household, and his father was a band director. “I’ve been playing music most of my life as a social outlet, which intersects with my professional life in film. I started violin in the first grade and in second grade, I played piano. Then, in fourth grade – on the last day of school – my friend and I went on a vandalism spree,” Johnson admitted. “We trashed a bunch of cabins, and I’m not bragging about it, I’m not proud of it, but it happened. We got busted.”

As punishment, Johnson was forced to choose an instrument and spend his summer break with his father, practicing in a little sound-proof room.

“I chose the snare drum. At the time, it sucked. But as a result, when fifth grade rolled around, I was so far ahead of my peers in band that I was always first chair. Marching band, jazz band, concert band, you name it,” Johnson continued. “It’s been a huge part of my life, and that’s how music and my passion for skateboarding have come together. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with the culture.”

This “punk” culture was a huge influence when Johnson began developing his brainchild, “SceneTV,” in 2001. In the earliest stages it was a one-man show, but the project slowly grew, gaining sponsors and partnerships with other creators.

“I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I had a career, I worked in news and I worked in production and commercials. I just did this for fun, so I thought ‘why not pair my skills with my hobby?’”

Johnson joined forces with the owner of a skateboard park who agreed to host the television show. For about three years, Johnson created a “pilot” for the show. A pilot, as described by Johnson, is an example of what the series could be. He gathered footage of well-known bands and interviewed numerous famous skateboarders.

Johnson sent DVDs of the pilot to different networks around the country until 2004, when he was picked up by a local broadcast affiliate, KSTC, Channel 45 in the Twin Cities. His show would be broadcast to the upper midwest to a couple million households. “At the time, it was an unbelievable deal as an independent producer,” Johnson said. “I was given a free time slot and the opportunity to share commercial time.”

During those first few years, opportunities started rolling in. “I got on the mailing list of lots of record labels. I went to five Warp [record label] tours in a row to hang out behind the scenes. I went to countless band shows and skateboard demos,” Johnson said. “It was just amazing, for me. I grew up skateboarding and playing in bands, but not on a huge level. These were people that I looked up to as a kid, and now I’m meeting them and interviewing them. It was amazing.”

Johnson’s office walls are covered in skateboards. The earliest, dating back to 2002, was signed by Tony Hawk. “The second year, when it started taking off, I had a skateboard deck and had him sign it,” Johnson said. “Everyone that I interviewed, every year that I’ve done the show, I had a blank deck and then I had people sign it.”

Most of the skateboards decorating Johnson’s office were received in trade for producing promos and commercials. He offers many of them for prize drawings that fans of his show can get involved with. “This all started as a passion project,” Johnson continued. “I wasn’t doing it for the money. It became a social outlet, something I was personally interested in it. I got to see all these cool people that I otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to meet.”

Despite riding high for a solid two years, in 2006, “SceneTV’s” downfall came in the form of a blood-drenched skateboarder.

“I got into trouble with the FCC, because skateboarding and punk rock can have a little edgy content to it,” Johnson admitted. “Back then, on the network, you can’t say certain things. In punk-rock, there are certainly some offensive things, lyrically and otherwise, that have to be censored.” However, swearing wasn’t the problem.

For the network, Johnson was allowed to make his own commercials based on the content of his show. With the intention of promoting a documentary titled “Who Cares? The Duane Peters Story,”  Johnson was invited to cover a screening event for the documentary. “Duane is a very colorful character, that’s what the documentary was about. He’s had some drug problems, he’s almost died and he rehabilitated himself, it was a great story. The ‘edgy’ part of it is who he is,” Johnson defended.

The venue Johnson attended was filled with skateboard competitors from around the country. “It was packed. There were people from California, there were big screens, and they were cheering – it was so awesome. Duane came on stage, and there’s this one shot I recorded of Duane covered in blood flipping the bird. And that is an FCC no-no.”

“I didn’t think much about it. It was just a quick little frame of him, and I thought it was something that was contextual for the show.” Johnson explained. “The next week I was sitting at home with my wife watching TV, and at the part where Duane Peters was supposed to be it cut straight to a public service announcement.”

His promotion was censored, and Johnson received a voicemail from the program director stating Johnson had violated their policies and his show was to be canceled. Johnson later found out that all the other independent shows on his network had been canceled.

He assumes the cancellation would’ve happened one way or another. “The vision of the station was shifting. They went onto what they call ‘syndicated programs’; shows that could be re-run. I always joke that I have a personal vendetta against [the television show] Friends because that was the show that replaced mine,” Johnson joked. “You know, sometimes in life, you have peaks and valleys; things that happen for a reason. Personally, for me, I needed a break. In hindsight, it was a good thing that it happened.”

Shortly after the show’s cancellation, Johnson was on the receiving end of a literal break. He was skateboarding with his children and broke his right, dominant wrist. The injury affected his ability to work in hands-on, analytical pursuits such as producing, and, as Johnson explained, “The planets must have aligned or something because I took my kids to art camp at my alma mater, and I ran into a former advisor who asked if I ever thought about going back to school to become a professor.”

Johnson described his position here at UW – River Falls. “I teach primarily the screen side of the stage and screen arts; film, media, video. The types of courses are production-related, hands-on, but I also do some theory and conceptual stuff. Prior to getting into teaching, I worked professionally in film and television for thirteen years which gave me the experience. Like I said, music and film have been a part of my life pretty much most of my life.”

Johnson hasn’t forgotten about “Scene TV” and his humble beginnings. Johnson has adapted “SceneTV” into a web series titled “SceneTV Raw.” The web series features ‘uncensored interviews and action with pro skateboarders and punk rock bands’.

 

Johnson is juggling a number of creative projects, including collaborative web-series, radio podcasts, punk-rock bands, and documentaries. The podcast will include in-depth segments on skateboarding and music, aired on Real Punk Radio. “My goal is that it should be out by the end of the semester. I’m holding off just because I want to do it right.”

In addition to the podcast and the web series, Johnson is an executive producer for “The Milk Show.

“The show’s about a possessed refrigerator puppet that interviews bands. So,” Johnson laughed. “As a result of working with ‘The Milk Show,’ we’ve started a new band called The Red Reapers. The Red Reaper is the mascot of ‘SceneTV Raw.’ It’s really just me dressing up as my alter-ego that I invented,” Johnson explained. He had found a skull mask in his children’s Halloween costumes and painted it red for dramatic effect. “It’s become the face of the show, so whenever I meet someone that I interview, I put this mask on and have my picture taken next to them.”

“The friend who started ‘The Milk Show’ did an interview with the Red Reaper and thought it was funny, so we did a couple events and had a live show where bands played and the puppet did skits in between the show,” Johnson continued. The band will consist of three members, and Johnson states that they’ve written a song called “Queen of Snakes.” Using his skills in filmography, they will be creating a music video that ties into an upcoming film of the same name. “We’ll probably play some live shows, too. We wanted it to be more theatrical, like performance art. I mostly invented the Red Reaper to reach out to a niche audience. [The band] is creative and fun, and it ties in what I do on both the film side of things and the creative side of things.”  

When asked to summarize what to expect from his podcast and web series, Johnson gave a secret smile. “Skateboarding and punk rock,” he said. “That’s what it is. Even in skateboarding and punk rock, there are subgenres. But for me, it’s emulating a culture – as a kid, growing up – really set the course for my whole life. Granted, for people of my demographic ‘old-man skateboarder crew’, it’s all about keeping our youth. For me, it’s been a heckuva lot of fun.”

“Something I tell my students all the time,” Johnson concluded. “Is that if you can find something that you’re passionate about, and you can take that passion and connect it with a career or profession, then mission accomplished! But even if you don’t have that direct connection, I highly recommend you keep a passion project, so you have a reason to explore new things and have a fun time. Everyone should have a passion. I have this modus operandi of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ . . . and if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Johnson mentioned that Episode 24 of “SceneTV Raw” will be published within the next week, available online at SceneTVRaw.com.

Comments

Sheila Bliss on 18 Feb 2019: Nothing ever boring about you Erik! Awesome! Sorry about the people that suffered the vandalism. But, it's awesome it kept you out of trouble for a time period, and led you on a path to doing really awesome stuff! Drat that I can't find your "The Milk Show" on the internet.