Choose Hope: Michael Johnston

My name is Michael Johnston and I am the Founder and Creative Director at Momentary. Three words to describe myself would be passionate, empathetic and curious. My ideal Friday night involves having dinner and drinks with close friends. I am passionate about documentary storytelling because I believe it has the power to change perceptions, enhance understanding and lead to  positive social impact.

Have you always wanted to make documentaries?

During high school, I was initially interested in making comedic short films. I think it all began to change when I discovered that there were people in my own backyard, and around the world, that had fascinating stories to tell. My genuine curiosity for people of all walks of life led to a passion for documentary film making. For some reason or another, I became particularly interested in stories of hardship and resilience.

You traveled before and during your studies in Media and Communications. Can you tell us a bit about where you went and what you took away from that experience?

When I was nineteen, I traveled to South America and volunteered in Peru for three months. I wanted to learn about an entirely different culture and contribute to the community whilst I was there. Following this, I backpacked around Colombia, Bolivia and Argentina for two months. It was during this experience that I learnt a lot about poverty and the importance of education in developing countries.

After completing a year of my studies, I traveled around India by myself for three months. I chose to throw myself in the deep end and get out of my comfort zone. This involved going to towns where there wasn’t a single person who spoke English, being smuggled into a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and sleeping on the floor of night trains with rats scuttling past my body. I learnt a lot about myself during this trip, but I came back with more questions than answers.

Overall, I reaffirmed my fascination with humanity and I discovered the powerful influence that stories can have. When I would meet someone, their story would give me a greater sense of understanding and broadened my perspective on different issues.


How did you come to start your own business?

Upon graduating from university, I realised that my three major passions in life included storytelling, documentary film making and social impact. I decided to combine these passions to forge my own career and do what I love.

First, I dipped my toe into the realm of feature documentary film making. But I questioned whether it was a financially viable career and whether feature films could make a substantial impact on the world.

Eventually, I decided that my films would make a greater impact if they were produced in collaboration with charities. The types of short documentaries that I wanted to produce could help charities do what they do best. After testing my idea as a freelancer for a year, Momentary was born.

What is Momentary?

Momentary is a video production company that uses storytelling for social impact. We produce authentic, documentary-style videos for not-for-profits and social enterprises to help them raise awareness, engage communities and attract funds.

We have worked with some incredible organisations including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, RMIT University, YMCA Victoria and Guide Dogs Victoria.

What does a standard day look like for you?

When Momentary first started, I was doing everything. Now, I am fortunate to work with an incredibly talented team who produce the videos with me. If I’m not directing a shoot, my standard day involves meeting up for coffee with an awesome charity, tapping away at the computer and playing ping pong at the studio.

Do you still have time for your own personal projects?

This is a great question – the short answer is ‘no’. However, this is going to change.

Now that we have a talented team and cinematic equipment at our disposal, we will be looking to produce impactful short films outside of our usual work.

What drives you to create social impact through the arts and storytelling?

I am driven by the idea that there are many incredible people out there who deserve to be heard – we have the opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless. To put it simply, storytelling is where my skills and passions lie. If I was passionate about creating social impact in a different way, then I would do that.

Did you choose entrepreneurship or did entrepreneurship choose you?

Entrepreneurship definitely chose me. If you ask my parents or close friends, they would tell you that they never expected me to start a business. I was never that type of person. However, entrepreneurship became a necessity to fulfill my purpose and enable me to pursue my dream.


Let’s be real, there is lots of equipment available for film makers. What is in your camera bag?

We have a Sony FS7, four Samyang prime lenses, shoulder rig, follow focus, matte box, Miller tripod, H6 Zoom sound recorder, RODE shotgun microphone and Sennheiser wireless lapel microphones.

However, it all started with a Panasonic GH4 and we still use this camera from time to time.

You’ve had the opportunity to travel around the country and meet diverse communities with your work. Is there an experience that you cannot imagine having otherwise?

Last year, I traveled to a remote Aboriginal community called Yarralin – approximately 12 hours south of Darwin. I had the opportunity to chat to the locals, hear their stories, learn about their needs for a better future and contribute to a project which is raising funds for their community. This was an incredible experience that would have been possible otherwise.

There is a lot happening in the world. When it seems hard to stay positive, how do you choose hope?

I believe in the power of positive storytelling. At a time when our news media is saturated with stories of sadness, hatred, fear and despondency – we must choose hope.
We should never ignore the harsh reality of different issues, but it is important to counterbalance this with inspiring stories of individuals, communities and organisations who are taking steps to make the world a better place. These are the stories that I love to tell. If we want to promote and inspire positive action, we need to show people that it’s possible.

You can follow Momentary and the stories they share on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
All images courtesy of Michael Johnson.