From Seawolf to Shazam!

By Matt Jardin
(Photo courtesy of D.K. Johnston)
Every year, millions of people crowd movie theaters around the world to watch the latest blockbusters starring beloved comic book characters, but D.K. Johnston, B.A. Journalism and Public Communications ’06, is one of the lucky few who get to watch them from behind the camera as they’re being made.

Johnston served as additional second assistant director on Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Released on March 14, 2023, the DC Studios and Warner Bros. Pictures sequel to 2019’s Shazam! filmed in 2021 from May to August at Atlanta Metro Studios in Georgia.

“What I will say is it was the best film I ever worked on. It was one of those few sets where everyone was in sync and no one walked away unhappy,” laughed Johnston when pressed to share any juicy on-set anecdotes. “There are stories involving Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu that I would love to talk about, but not until way down the road when I know I won’t get in trouble.”

As additional second assistant director, Johnston managed the hundreds of background extras required to breathe life into a scene. One such scene depicts crowds of civilians running from monsters rampaging through the streets of Philadelphia. In reality, they were running from stunt performers in motion capture suits and on stilts — the monsters to be added later digitally.

Before his role in the Shazam! sequel, Johnston worked in virtually every other position in the filmmaking process, racking up more than 45 production credits across Alaska, California and Georgia. He’s worked on everything from low-budget independent films to Netflix reality shows and multimillion-dollar Marvel content like Black Widow and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Further back, Johnston got his start recording Seawolf hockey matches and Great Alaska Shootout basketball games on the Anchorage campus. Thanks to professors who would recommend students to other UAA departments looking for video work, Johnston was able to practice with professional video equipment and make mistakes, which he describes as essential training for any burgeoning filmmaker.

“My UAA professors encouraged us to make our education our own and were not the kind of professors who would come to class, teach and then go away,” said Johnston. “There was a lot of one-on-one time that I don’t think you get at a bigger university where you’re just another number, and that experience really helped develop who I wanted to be as a filmmaker.”

By shooting videos around campus, and also deejaying for UAA’s college radio station KRUA, Johnston linked with other student filmmakers. Together, they made dozens of music videos, short films and feature films, building essential skills that would transfer to larger projects when their careers took off.

“The lifelong friendships I made and the amazing stories we got to tell helped me become a leader in the industry, and being able to pass that knowledge along is the biggest gift Alaska and UAA gave me,” said Johnston. “The experience of being on a set with the community of creative people that it takes to make these movies is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Mentioning the passage of knowledge, Johnston offers this advice to up-and-coming filmmakers:

“Your phone has the capability of a camera that I didn’t have access to until I was in my late 20s. So grab a tripod, go to the UAA skywalk with your phone and your friends and see what you can imagine,” he said. “The other big thing is networking. Find like-minded people who share your passion. Join the AV club, join a radio station, find a TV station that has an internship. Just find someone and ask questions.”

Hear more about D.K. Johnston’s filmmaking trajectory in Seawolf Voices >>