Programmer and Actress Melissa Dawn Johnson Dishes on Yale in Hollywood Fest 2023

On the week of the 4th annual Yale in Hollywood Fest streaming all its programs free and worldwide, I sat down with programmer Melissa Dawn Johnson to chat about the festival in its 4th running and her webseries Good Grief Hotline that will be screening as part of the all virtual festival. Watch Yale in Hollywood Fest now!

How did Yale in Hollywood Fest started?

MDJ: YiH Fest was actually born of our built thirst for creativity during the pandemic in 2020. Quentin Lee, Hannah Ruth Earl, and I desired a space where we could connect Yalie filmmakers and celebrate each other’s creativity in a safe and fun way!

As a programmer, how did you choose the selections? I’ve noticed that since its inception Yale in Hollywood Fest’s programming is very diverse. Is Yale as diverse as the festival?

MDJ: We have two broad categories of films: feature and short, under which the array of films fall. I am in charge of vetting the feature film selections. We intentionally left the requirements for submitting to our festival broad because we wanted to able to showcase the work of as many filmmakers as possible. We also set out from the very beginning to make sure that we could represent as many diverse creators as possible as well as have them reviewed by a diverse jury panel. As a group, the festival committee is both male and female, black, white, asian, cis- and queer and we definitely wanted the festival to reflect that as well. Like our peer groups as Yale, we come from all walks of life and firmly believe in amplifying as many voices as we may.

Tell us about how you came to become an actress and come out to LA?

MDJ: I arrived in LA 10 years ago, fresh from Yale with a burning desire to act and not much experience to speak of. During the year that I spent saving up money at home after graduation I was cast in my first on-screen role in a feature film called 77 Chances. Since then I have spent the better part of the decade taking classes, curating an amazing team of representatives and doing what I can to give back by joining the Yale in Hollywood board and working to engage the alumni network here in the industry.

Melissa Dawn Johnson stars in Good Grief Hotline

How did you get involved with “Good Grief Hotline” that’s showing at Yale in Hollywood Fest?

MDJ: Good Grief Hotline  is an amazing project produced and directed by a friend of mine, Angie Pollema. It was born of the grief she experienced after the passing of her father. I am so amazed at how she was able to channel that grief from such a traumatic life event into such a funny and clever story. GGH follows the character Candace, a grief hotline operator as she navigates through the 5 stages of grief after a breakup. I was very honored to have been chosen to lead the series as Candace. 

What is your personal and career aspirations as an actress in Hollywood?

MDJ: I just love storytelling and the many different ways you can go about presenting it to the world. I would love to be acting every day on my own superhero show or sitcom. I also hope to produce my own sci-fi procedural series and direct a bit. 

What is one dream project you’d like to be involved in or create?

MDJ: I am a big comic girl so Id love to a superhero in the DCEU or MCU. I also would love to play a role in a period piece like Bridgerton or Queen Charlotte. Mostly I want to be able to pilot the kind of character where just saying the name is enough. Two words. Olivia. Pope.

What do you want audience to get out of Yale in Hollywood Fest?

MDJ: That creativity is alive and well! Amazing people are creating some amazing and original things and they deserve to be seen and talked about. 

As you’ve been in LA for a while, what is one advice you’d give you an aspiring actress or creative like you coming out to LA?

MDJ: Dont. Give. Up. Keep going.  The only way to lose is to quit.

Watch Yale in Hollywood Fest this week from Wed Dec 7 until Saturday Dec 9!

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Author: Gillian Sand

Gillian Sand is a veteran entertainment and film writer. She is also currently a publicist at

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