I spoke with Martinsburg resident Adam Jones to discuss his inspiration and the film industry in the Eastern Panhandle. Adam is a director, actor, and producer. You may also know him as a bartender at the Station Bar & Grill. He has many projects under his belt, but his recent acting job finds him as Agent Daniel Askew in The American West on AMC.
How important was your family in the continued support for your creativity?
My family is supportive of my career. My parents taught me to believe in my dreams. They allowed [their children] to discover who they were.
Navigating the entertainment industry is not easy. There are times when there are big gaps [between jobs]. I have been able to do odd jobs, like work construction on sets. I have worked in almost every film department. I can pick up jobs here and there, but in those gaps my parents have been kind enough to provide support. They understand that it is not easy to navigate.
What opportunities were available for you?
There were many opportunities, but you have to create your own. I have had many opportunities pass me by because I was not cooperative. Everything else lined up, but I would hold out.
Everyone is their own worst enemy. You can complain about not having an opportunity over and over. I have done it, but your complaints may cause a lack of opportunity. When you talk to someone and say, “I don’t have these opportunities,” you promote yourself that way. It’s the story you tell about yourself.
What were your major influences growing up in Martinsburg and the Eastern Panhandle?
Educators. Wonderful and loving teachers who cared about their students. For me it was writing. All the teachers who were big literary people gave me assignments and suggestions. When they see someone who is hungry [for knowledge], they will feed you.
How can aspiring actors get into the field?
The Apollo was huge for me. Anyone who dreamed of performance started there.
Every school allows opportunities from the regional to the state level. It helps students improve their skill sets. You get to meet performers and makeup designers from all over the state, which is exciting. They can also work with the Race Street Co-op. I would love to see that level of community expansion and art.
Out of all your work, what was the most challenging and rewarding?
Stuft is a mystery with furry creatures. We have developed it over a long time. It’s a cast of thirty plus creatures. The prototypes are all built. Matt Lesser, who is my co-creator, is the creature designer. He’s a “punk rock Jim Henson.” He speaks with his hands; I speak with my words.
How does film and TV effect a person’s perspective?
Film is a vicarious experience. You would never be friends with Walter White from Breaking Bad. In real life you don’t get to be by his side during his journey. We are MUCH more forgiving of him. He’s our buddy because we know him. In real life we will throw a Walter White under the bus immediately. We don’t have compassion. We don’t ask how he got there. Television gives us enough of an experience to accept or be forgiving of someone’s circumstances or who they are.
Art precedes social change. I believe that. You look at people watching TV; they will quote it. They will imitate reality TV. I would rather see something that celebrates something. I believe that people are self correcting. But it’s hard to see from within.
I miss Mr. Rogers. I miss the man looking straight into the television, into a child’s eyes and saying “You are special. No matter what happens today, no matter what goes on, just know that I think you are special.” Some kids don’t hear that at home. He was saying you are of worth, of value; you have something to say, use your voice, be artistic. I love that man’s spirit.
The internet turned the world into a village. Ten years ago when I was doing my first feature, I had to shop around at film festivals. I was hoping a production company or studio would pick it up.
Now with the internet, its a broker’s fee of $5,000 and they license it to Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, ITunes. All you need to do is build good content. You can produce an affordable piece and distribute it so that your return is almost instantaneous. If you produce something that is solid and inexpensive, the only question is getting the little bit of overhead to kick it off. You do not need one big investor for $100,000.
What are the benefits of building a film industry in this area?
There are so many. The beautiful thing about the film industry is that everything in real life happens in film. There are jobs available for everybody like plumbing and carpentry. It engages almost every single industry. Raw materials, manufacturing, service, and tech.
Everyone is waiting for the next Stephen David, Warner Bros, or Disney to come in with bring jobs. You can’t wait for that. They are going to come in and pay you for your work and then leave. To create sustainable jobs in the industry, you have to create from within so that you can showcase [the community].
Our projects in development are low budget, meaning under one hundred thousand. When you put it out there and it brings money back in, you just funded your next project. It is creating sustainable work through itself. We have been trying to develop more projects that are affordable. The only question is financing. You have to find people interested in putting in money and understand it [the film industry].
What kind of building space is important for a film industry to grow?
I would love to see the Mall or the Interwoven factory turned into studio space for shooting. Build the infrastructure, and companies will shoot. We do not have the infrastructure for film here.
Some companies like Stephen David Entertainment have been here, and they have done good work. I think that got people interested in the idea of film as an industry. I would love to see things grow.
Wouldn’t it be cool to take this little tour where some of the studios are within the mall where they used to be major anchor stores and now it’s a big studio space?
You can shoot stuff and build sets. You could walk down the Interwoven Mill factory and some of those can be editing bays. You can make use of the buildings that are already here. I love the Interwoven Mill. It is such an amazing building.
What changes have you seen in Martinsburg over your lifetime?
Before the 70’s, everyone worked at the Interwoven Mill. It was the major source of industry in this area. It shut down and all the jobs disappeared. That has laid the bedrock for the drug problem everyone talks about. They should talk about the drug solution in my opinion. If there is not strong industry, people get jobs selling drugs because high-paying jobs are not available in this area.
Creating a drug solution means creating something that is satisfying to do. The film industry is fun and exciting. You are looking for the most efficient solution and working with people. You don’t feel like you’re in a job that’s the same. Each day presents something new. We are at a new location, you are there and you are present. That’s the kind of stuff that people need in a job – creatively fulfilling and intellectually challenging.
Learn more about Adam Jones and his work at his website.
(Photo Credits: Nicholas Trietsch)