“We have to figure out how to laugh our way through life,” says Amy Jo Johnson. The actress, best-known for her roles on “Felicity,” “Power Rangers,” and the CBS crime drama “Flashpoint,” hasn’t always had it easy. “My mom died of cancer. I grew up in a religious cult. There have been heavy issues in my personal life. Getting through them, I’ve always tried to find the levity.”
As a newly minted filmmaker, Johnson brings this same approach to her first feature film, “The Space Between,” which she stars in, wrote, directed, and produced. The film, which was partially funded through an Indiegogo campaign, will screen Oct. 19, the opening night of the Carmel Intl. Film Festival.
It’s a full circle moment for Johnson, whose short film “Lines” appeared at the festival in 2014.
A dramatic comedy about a father who discovers that his newborn child is not biologically his own, “The Space Between” tackles heavy issues such as infertility and self-mutilation. But it is also quite funny, assures Sonya Salomaa, who co-stars in the film.
“That girl is a go-getter,” says Salomaa of Johnson. “She gets what she wants. She goes after it. I totally admire her for that. [Amy] was a natural director from day one.”
Salomaa and fellow “Flashpoint” alum Michael Cram, who also appears in “The Space Between,” collaborated on Johnson’s previous three projects, including her 2012 short film “Bent,” which provided the inspiration for “The Space Between.”
Johnson’s somewhat unconventional life has served as an inspiration for her creative projects.
“I moved up to Canada, years ago, to change my life,” she says, disclosing that it was “Felicity” co-creator J.J. Abrams who helped her become a Canadian citizen. “He wrote me a fantastic letter, which I will forever be grateful for.”
After soul searching and giving birth to a daughter, who is now 7, Johnson wrote a comedy called “Crazier Than You,” which takes place over several decades and chronicles the true story about her mother and the cult in which she belonged.
“[She] dragged me and my brother and sister through a religious cult for 12 years,” says Johnson. “Having my child really grounded me. I found my confidence and I know exactly what I want now.”
Johnson had always dreamed of directing but “never had the courage.” Instead, she approached her “What About Brian” fellow cast member Jon Hamm to direct “Crazier Than You.”
“He read it, wrote me back, and said, ‘No! This is yours. You need to direct it,’ ” says Johnson. “Not that Jon Hamm gave me permission, but I needed that, in a way, to dive in and do it myself.”
That’s when she began directing shorts and wrote “The Space Between.” She hopes to one day direct “Crazier Than You,” which involves a significantly larger budget.
“I have a big learning curve to go through to get to the point where I feel like I’m ready to tackle it,” says Johnson, who plans to shoot her second feature, a romantic drama titled “My Heart Is in My Head,” next year in Montreal.
In the meantime, she is focused on promoting and celebrating “The Space Between.”
“It’s hard to have a life if you’re a little indie film,” she says. “Creating the engine behind it with people who are passionate about the film is important. I’m really lucky because my first job as an actor was as a Power Ranger and all these children are now grown up. They’re amazing supporters.” Johnson is also concentrating on directing.
“It’s innately in my DNA to be on set,” she says. “I’d like to make a living at being a director. I feel truly in my element.”