Opportunity, capital, clicks, poise. 6AM sleep in. When I first met Ronnie I was too young to be at the party I snuck in to. They were filming a music video for PawPaw Rodney where you can catch a little cameo of my friends and I ducked off in the kitchen. I knew him as Grand National back then and only recently, over a latte and americano, did I really meet Ronnie Johnson. Ronnie has always struck me as the vibe check or the executive energy in the room. To discover his goals and ambitions was to sanctify my beliefs. As a self taught lighting expert, now embarking in a directing role, he is a valedictorian of The University of Youtube. Ronnie believes in voice, instinct and reference. We sat at a couple coffee shops to talk more about film and music in Oklahoma, relationships between the old heads and the new guard, and what it’s like working in arts in an emerging city.


Elyjah: When you see people out in the streets do they call you Ronnie or Grand National.

Ronnie Johnson: Most people do call me Grand.

Do you ever want to change the alias all into one, into Ronnie? Or do you like the separation?

It is what it is at this point. I don't even have time to think about it.

So what's new with you? What are you working on?

Not much, bro. Just same old, same old. Working to get this film made, about to work on another film while in the process of getting this one made. Really trying to build my network to get this film done honestly and finish this musical project. 

When you say musical project, are we talking about another Grand National project? 

Another Grand National project. I haven't dropped a project since 2021. 

Is this a project that will go into the films that you're making? 

No, not this one. It's going to be two separate entities 

Stassi Baby is the movie? 

Yes, Stassi Baby is the movie, and No More Blunts is the album. Not for sure on when any of those will be done, but that's what I'm working on.

Let's talk about those titles. 

Stassi Baby. It's named after the main character in the movie. The main role. Her name is Anastasia but they call her Stassi. No More Blunts started back in 2014 when I stopped smoking blunts. I was like, man, I'm going to make a project about this and just been gradually making songs ever since. So, yeah, it’s like a stupid amount of songs. 

I’d have to imagine that's almost a decade. 

I'm at the part where I'm actually consolidating songs and all my reference joints to re-record in the studio and get the features. So I should have that done, hopefully before August. I'm still making new songs, too. I don't want to eliminate the possibilities.

So the chicken or the egg? How does your music influence film and vice versa? 

The chicken or the egg? Okay, that's a fucking great question because did God just make the chickens already full grown or do you just have these eggs here on Earth? 

You’ve been doing music longer but have the ideas for film always been in your head or do these ideas start coming because of the way you write?

Film was the first thing. I just didn’t know how to, as a youngin, even get to a point where I could try to do film stuff. So, with music it was something I could do by myself and it was accessible. I was like I can just do music till I figure out the film shit. So I was just doing music figuring out the film as well.

It’s a much lower barrier to entry to get into music than it is to get into film.

Exactly. I was like well I’m always writing anyway so I’m going to make music regardless and I’ll still figure out this film.

That sounds like a natural progression. 


Yeah, 99% of films would not be shit without a score.

And if you can make it without one…

You did a phenomenal job. For real. Going through music, making music and really having an acquired taste for music can really help with films as far as when I’m writing and thinking. With Stassi Baby I know what songs I want at what point in the film, I got a playlist of songs I want to license to use at certain parts. I’m working with a composer and we’re going to make some original music for it as well. I know exactly the feeling I want being that I make music and I’m very adamant about what’s going to match on screen. I can’t wait for Stassi baby because I feel like I really hone in on pairing the right songs to the right moment.

How do you feel about the film industry making its way to Oklahoma?

I feel like it’s a gift and a curse. It’s like that when you’re building any new infrastructure or industry because of course people want jobs and to be able to work on a big budget film but at the same time we can’t let that over shine the film makers that want to be on the same level as the people that the city is trying to bring in. We've got to water that. If we start watering our own film makers and championing them up, their ideas and their Oklahoma stories, from Oklahomans we can start building our own industry. That way (companies) won’t be able to just come out here and bring everybody above the line (because it's cheaper to produce here). Instead, we'll have 10 great directors that are from Oklahoma and we can reach out to them. We want to work with their writers and build something that more production companies will want to come to Oklahoma to work with the Oklahoma Directors and producers to make Oklahoma stories because they’re interesting and feel like we have a lane to offer. That’s where we need to be headed and we need more people that are trying to help people like me get to that goal as far as like “alright let’s champion up the film makers”.

Who are those people?

I know for sure Jil Simpson, she’s the head of the Film Commission for Oklahoma City. I’ve been having meetings with her and she’s on the same thing. She wants us as Oklahomans to champion our own people and filmmakers. We are definitely trying to cook something up to make that happen.

Do we only have one production studio here as of right now?

There’s a bunch of little production companies but no major production companies, there aren't any major ones, yet, that could take on a big project. 

Is that part of the core issue?

We just need to champion the film makers here. The film makers here have good ideas and we just need to figure out how we can get this made. We’re at the point where we can pitch to people that are in the industry that have the way to move these pieces together to get our ideas off the ground to where it isn’t just an idea. So many people’s ideas stay ideas because there’s no financial backing to move the idea. So people get discouraged and start to move away. Which is perfectly fine because if you’re telling me I can’t get this done here but I can go to these other places probably work in the industry for like 6 months and meet somebody that’ll be like “oh, yeah I like this idea” and potentially blow it up. Or at least create it.

How was it working on the Martin Scorsese film?

Man, it was very informative and eye opening to be able to work on such a large film with one of my favorite directors, one of my favorite DP’s, one of my favorite gaffers. It was just surreal. One of my favorite actors, DiCaprio, was in it. Just being on set with professionals everyday for 109 days straight. It’s like a bootcamp. 

You get to see how it’s supposed to run at the top level.

Exactly, you really have to take it all in and ask all the questions. Become comrades with all those people that are world renowned at their position and recognize that I can hold my own.

What are some immediate things that you thought to yourself, hmm, when it’s my time I’m taking these elements here.

Definitely the team aspect. The ad team and the directors team, that has to be a solid cast of people. When I’m directing mine I need to have people that I could trust around me forsure. Organization and how the director leads the ship, that’s the main thing, you have to lead the ship. You can’t be one of those guys that just freak out or panic when somethings not going right because things never go right. It’s just how you adjust to it, being able to adjust. That’s one thing, while I was working on Killas (Killers of the Flower Moon) I was also working on my short film and I had a situation where I had to do that. We just got done shooting at 89th Street Collective and then the gas station for the gas station scene no one answered the phone when we were supposed to pull up, so now it’s like bam, what do you do? Do you just pack it up and quit? Nah! There was a gas station next to 89th so I went in and they were like ah nah so I was like bet, well I know there’s another gas station over by my house so I was like man let me go check and see if we can use this gas station. Pulled up on them, equipment and everything and was like “ah man, we’re trying to shoot this, you know blase blah” and he was just like yeah forsure. Dude was closing and was like yeah I’ll leave my lights on and stuff for you ‘cause I didn’t need to go in to do what I needed to get done. So he left all the lights on and we shot at that gas station. I was never thinking about quitting, I was thinking what can I do to mend this situation. You have to be able to find solutions. 

What are the stories that you’re wanting to tell and where does the inspiration for them come?

I just want to tell stories about, I know it may sound like everybody wants to do this, but about people that look like me. People that grew up like me. As far as my experiences and seeing things and displaying black women. I was really inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s film Jackie Brown and seeing Pam Grier, lead lady and she was a bad mu’fucka and I was just like damn why don’t I see more movies with black women as bad mu’fuckas or just different types of shit we haven’t seen yet from black women roles. I feel like I know a lot being that I was raised by a bunch of black women, there’s different little nuance’s that I feel I can bring to the pallet of film.

Not to mention nobodies really championing people from the midwest, let alone Oklahoma. I think it’s really important and inspiring. We’ve seen so many LA movies, New York movies, and there are so many of us underrepresented out here in the middle of the country.

We’ve seen the landscape. You know what you're getting when you see South Central, you know what you’re getting when you see Brooklyn, but what about Oklahoma City. Then It’s going to be like “okay what’s really going on.” I have stuff that I really want to make that when I get a real budget it's going to show the people where I’m from what I’ve seen and they're going to be like "yo this shit is crazy." And for people outside (of Oklahoma) are going to be like damn, I didn’t know such a complex story could be told in Oklahoma. Since I already know, I’m like just you wait.

So how do we get proper funding for filmmakers in Oklahoma?

Working with legislation to draw up something so that filmmakers can be able to access it through applying or through fellowships and things like that because we’re going to need to water our own grass. I keep saying that. You’re going to have a program to implement for first time directors or people that are wanting to show you that they can do this and bring you the Oklahoma stories. That way Oklahomans have the opportunity to work with their peers of writers and producers here. Even more so, we can all get together to work on a project and apply for funds.

What are you looking for most right now with Stassi Baby?

Man, Finances. That’s the forefront because once we get the finances we can put everything into play. I have a lot of things in play already, I just can’t solidify a date because we don’t have all the money. Since I’m about to start on this project with Universal, I’ll probably push back shooting to the end of August. I was hoping to get started by the end of this month but I can’t short change it. Honestly, I’ve probably raised enough money to shoot it, but not enough to shoot it how I want to shoot it. I want to be able to do it how I want to do it or I’m not doing it at all. I will leave if it comes to a point where I can’t do it here and I’ll go somewhere else because I promise you, it will be made. It’ll just end up being an Oklahoma story or an L.A/Atlanta story. 

So, Stassi Baby, let’s find some money. 

Let’s find some money for that. Then we are finishing our musical endeavors with No More Blunts. That should be finished up this summer. God Willing. Hoping for a fall roll out. I’m doing a photography exhibit. I’m hoping to make it all a weekend thing where I drop the project, screen for Stassi Baby, do a show, then Sunday show the Exhibit. 

Like a whole Ronnie Johnson Festival. Have you been looking for locations?

Yeah I’ve been looking for locations and partnerships for that. 

Sounds incredible, any shoutouts you want to make before we wrap?

S/O to South Extracts go get the Grand National pre-roll. 

Cause it’s papers only now.

Of course, No More Blunts. There’s a barcode on the preroll that you can scan to learn everything about me and Stassi Baby. Those my guys over there. They are the same weed company that helped me shoot my first short film and they’re gonna be in on Stassi Baby too.

Reach out to grandnationalliving@gmail.com to make sure Stassi Baby is told in Oklahoma.