Icon (Close Menu)


Filmmaker Gary Jones Goes Back to Basics

4 min read

Gary W. Jones was a teenage farm boy sweating on his grandparents’ 80 acres north of Jonesboro when he saw his future rising a few miles away on Crowley’s Ridge.

The sight was a tower being built for KAIT-TV, and Jones figured that the little building at its base just might be air-conditioned.

“I wondered if a new TV station might need a photographer, and if I might have a cooler place to work,” he said. “That’s how it all began.”

Jones, who was collecting lifetime achievement awards and plaudits as Arkansas’ dean of commercial filmmaking more than 15 years ago, has come full circle.

As a 17-year-old making commercials for KAIT, where he hired on before the station itself signed on in 1963, Jones charged $25 to shoot a spot on 16-millimeter film, and he cleared $5. “On a percentage basis, that was probably the greatest profit margin I ever had,” said Jones, noting that he never cleared 20 percent on a $100,000 spot.

Jones, who says his detractors always accused him of only “shooting pretty pictures,” is still pleading guilty to that after almost 53 years as a professional. And he is back on his own, re-establishing his own business now that CJRW has sold M-3 Productions, which he founded, to Waymack & Crew. He’s also back to basics, focusing on lower-budget projects and stock footage of Arkansas places.

“I introduced big iron to Arkansas,” Jones said, describing the bigger, expensive film equipment he used in major projects decades ago, including ads for the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department and Worthen Bank. “Now it’s smaller cameras, doing budget-conscious stuff, and back to doing things myself.”

Jones has reactivated two of his old companies, Jones Film Video and SERAfilms, to supply web and social-media content along with footage for TV commercials, working out of a space at 822 W. Seventh St. in Little Rock. He founded Jones Film & Video in 1981 after decades of film production and cinematography in Dallas, Canada and Arkansas. CJRW, the Little Rock advertising agency, bought the company in 2006.

The sale of M-3 in February to Waymack & Crew, led by Dan Waymack, has given Jones a late-career impetus. “I won’t say it’s a necessarily welcome or expected opportunity, but it is a good one to get back to what I used to do.”

The change also gave Jones a chance to reflect on five decades of doing a job he loves. Technology like the iPhone has made everyone a filmmaker, he said, and technical values can seem less important. “It’s content. If you take a few seconds of footage of Jennifer Lawrence walking across the street and she breaks a heel on her shoe, shaky as it may be, that footage is going to go viral, because people want to watch Jennifer Lawrence.”

Jones said it’s easy to get something on the web, but it’s harder to create something that people want to see. “There is more of a market now for lower-budget videos than higher-budget,” he said. “That’s why I’m eminently qualified. I made my mistakes 30, 40, 50 years ago. Now I just get the damn thing done.”

At 69, with a birthday coming in June, Jones says he’d like to work another 10 or 15 years, depending on his health. Appearing for an interview in a Segway helmet with a label reading “Grandpa Gary,” Jones said he has few hobbies, though his four children may have seen themselves as his pastime, rather than main focus, when they were young. (One son, Alex, is an electrician for the NBC drama “Chicago Fire.”)

Still, he takes his role as a grandfather of three seriously, adding that his Grandpa Jones became the greatest influence in his life after his father, a pilot, was killed during the Korean War.

“Grandfather is an appellation that I am proud of.”

Among other names, Jones has been called the godfather of Arkansas filmmaking, and at one time he created competition for himself by being a mentor, but he noted that many of his protégés have prospered enough to either retire or leave active filmmaking. He attributes his business longevity to “genetics, street smarts and a hellacious work ethic that I got from my mom and my grandparents.”

“Once I left the farm I never worked a day in my life,” Jones said. “Getting up at dawn to shoot time-lapse photography, or shooting IMAX film of a Nascar race, that’s physically involving, but can you really call it work?”

Send this to a friend