Young Sag Harbor Filmmaker Makes Debut At L.A. Film Festival

Filmmaker Johnny Chisholm. THEO GRAY

Johnny Chisholm, a 23-year-old Sag Harbor filmmaker, rolled the dice with “Dollar Bill,” a short film he wrote, directed and shot, when he entered it in the Golden State Film Festival in Los Angeles.

The bet paid off when his entry was selected for a February 21 screening at the prestigious festival for independently made films. Now, he is hoping to ride that success to a career in the industry.

The film tells the story of a young gambler — played by Lukas Wheeler, 26, also of Sag Harbor — who is on a pitiful losing streak. He has just returned to town after a disastrous trip to Las Vegas. He sets about trying to change his luck with his last $20 and a pair of dice.

Spoiler alert: He fails, and in spectacular fashion. That’s at least during the 10:28 duration of the film, which sees Bill fritter away not only those last 20 bucks but also his car, which he loses to his gambling buddy, Mack, played by Khalil Pryce.

In between those unlucky rolls of the dice, Bill beats himself up, literally and figuratively, tries to psyche himself up for his next bet, and is confronted by his angry landlady, Maria, played by Sarita Kiembock, who wants the rent paid now.

But the audience is left to wonder whether Bill’s luck has finally changed when he stumbles upon a dollar bill lying in the grass in the film’s last scene. Will he use that money to rebuild his stake, pay the back rent, and buy a new car?
Maybe — but probably not.

That’s because “Dollar Bill” is a study of the addiction to gambling.
“He’s a loser, but a lovable loser,” Mr. Chisholm said. “You want to say, ‘Come on, man — nothing is panning out here.’”

Filmmaker Johnny Chisholm. THEO GRAY

Mr. Chisholm, a 2019 graduate of the State University of New York College at Brockport, where he majored in anthropology and media production, said he has always been fascinated by human behavior. He had the script in hand for “Dollar Bill” and decided to film it last fall, when he reconnected with Mr. Wheeler, an aspiring rapper and hip-hop artist, who was back in town after living in Florida for several years.

Mr. Wheeler, who had no acting experience prior to this, said he was impressed with another short film about gambling, “Aces and Nines,” that Mr. Chisholm posted on his website. “He shot, edited, directed, did everything himself,” he said. “I thought this is super cool.”

Filming took place in and around Sag Harbor. “There are definitely some moments when you know exactly where we are,” Mr. Chisholm said.

The film is also liberally laced with expletives. “That’s a combination of the script and us being free to use F-bombs,” Mr. Wheeler said. “We definitely abused it. I didn’t know how much until I watched the film.”

Mr. Chisholm said he has wanted to become a filmmaker since he was a freshman in college.
“That winter break,” he recalled, “I made my first little film with Theo Gray. It was a creative expression. There was no story, just images in my head, let’s see what happens.”

Mr. Chisholm has since done another half dozen short films but has released only three of them, which can be found on his website,

He recently moved to West Hollywood, where he is staying with a friend and working as a production assistant with Vertical Networks, putting the media production side of his degree to use. He is also making connections and enjoying the moment, as well as preparing to start production on his latest film, “Teddy,” in March.

“It’s beautiful. I love it here,” he said. “It’s very laid back, and I have access to pretty much everything I need on foot.”

Besides being chosen for the Golden State Film Festival, “Dollar Bill” was also a semifinalist in the Los Angeles Cinefest and a finalist for editing in the short film division of the Los Angeles International Film Festival.

“This is the big one I’m most excited about,” Mr. Chisholm said of the upcoming Golden State festival, which will screen films at the former Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, now known as the TCL Chinese Theatre, on Hollywood Boulevard right in the middle of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “It’s the definition of mainstream Hollywood,” he said.

He said he already feels like a winner because the goal was to get his film shown. It’s an added bonus that he will get to see one of his works on a full-size screen for the first time.

“I’ve never watched a film of mine on anything other than a monitor or a laptop,” he said.