ETX native, filmmaker reveals 'Underdog' for ArkLaTex

ETX native, filmmaker reveals 'Underdog' for ArkLaTex
Derek Johnson with actor Sylvester Stallone
Derek Johnson with actor Sylvester Stallone

EAST TEXAS (KSLA) - Filmmaker and east Texas native Derek Johnson returned to his roots to reveal his biggest Hollywood production to date, a documentary about the underdog of all movie directors, John G. Avildsen.

"I always felt he never got enough credit for 'Rocky'," says Johnson, who began raising money for the documentary, "John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs" nearly 5 years ago.

"He won the Oscar for it, best director, but I feel Sylvester Stallone's magical story and rise in the Hollywood overshadowed John," Johnson said.

Johnson hosted a Tuesday night premiere of 'King of the Underdogs' at Shreveport's Robinson Film Center in downtown Shreveport.

It's his latest stop on a nationwide tour of select showings of his documentary featuring Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, Martin Scorsese, Ralph Machio, Burt Reynolds and many others who signed on to share personal stories about working with Avildsen.

"He turned me down twice on a couple of scripts I sent him," recalls Johnson when discussing the first time he reached out to Avildsen many years ago. "Two weeks later I get a call from John. He says, 'Hey, get a pen and paper ready. I don't like your script. Let's talk about it'."

That phone call would eventually lead to a full blown Hollywood documentary on the man Derek truly sees as an underdog, just like many of his big screen characters.

"John gave me, an underdog filmmaker from east Texas, a shot and I'll forever be grateful to him for doing that," adds Johnson about the man who sadly passed away this past June.

Johnson says his dreams to be a movie maker began when he was just a child growing up on Lake Murvaul. That dream grew closer to reality after watching movies like 'Rocky' and 'Karate Kid' at the old Carthage movie theater, both movies directed by Avildsen. And it was only further encouraged during his high school years.

"He did what he said he would do," points out former Carthage High School teacher Donnie Pitchford.

"As a junior in high school, he said, 'I want to make movies'. And I said, 'Have a seat and we'll talk about that later," Pitchford laughingly remembers.

"You're living your dream," adds fellow teacher Bud Worley, who along with Pitchford, met Johnson in downtown Carthage to reminisce a day before his Shreveport premiere.

After this brief visit to the ArkLaTex, it's back to Hollywood to continue work on two other film projects, says Johnson, both involving Sylvester Stallone.

But before saying their goodbyes, Pitchford offered this advice.

"Never look around and say, 'I'm from Carthage. I can't do anything because I'm in Carthage, Texas', explains Pitchford.

"That's bologna. You've got the drive and ambition. Push forward and you can make anything happen."

King of the Underdogs can be downloaded or rented on Amazon, Google Play or iTunes.

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