People ask Orlando Jones from time to time for advice on how to break into the entertainment industry.
What they really want to know, he believes, is “How do I get famous?”
While luck certainly plays a major role in stardom, Jones knows making it big—or just making a really good living–comes down to understanding the business behind showbiz.
The prolific actor, writer and producer, who now calls Wilmington home, will share what he has learned from decades in front of and behind the camera—and everything he wishes he’d known starting out—during an “Inside the Actors Studio” style event this Saturday. The question-and-answer program, emceed by local film advocate Sheila Brothers, is set for 7 p.m. at Red Barn Studio Theatre, 1122 S. Third St. Tickets are $65.
“People want to know from people in the entertainment business how to get into the entertainment business,” Jones said. “But people misunderstand the business, that this is a business…So, rather than sitting on stage and telling people some fun stories about my life I wanted to try to talk about the business itself.”
The cliché sudden rise to stardom makes for interesting interview fodder, Jones said, but it doesn’t actually impart any wisdom on would-be actors, screenwriters and directors.
“This is about having this conversation about empowerment for real. Yes, that is an incredible story, and it has been told a thousand times. But there is no insight there of how you can move yourself forward,” he said.
These days, Jones said, film industry hopefuls have much more opportunity to cut out the middle men and the “permission granters”—agents and studio executives, among others–and find their audiences directly through social media and digital viewing sites.
“If you can find 10,000 hardcore fans who like what you do–and I submit that there are more than 10,000 people living here in Wilmington–to pay $10 to subscribe to see what it is you do, that’s direct to your pocket $100,000. The power to tell your story is now in your hands,” he said.
But first you have to find your audience. For example, Jones noted, a performer–whose job is, fundamentally, to entertain–will fall short, however talented, if he tries telling NASCAR jokes to a non-NASCAR crowd.
“The thing that’s relevant is to get myself in front of NASCAR fans if I’m going to tell a story about NASCAR,” he said. “If all you have is an idea and you have no clue who the audience is or where to find them, you don’t have anything. To have no business plan, to have spent no time in researching, that’s a silly idea. People who truly want to get their stuff on the ground need to factor these elements into thinking and the conversation.”
Jones can point to his own most recent project as proof of that. He recently partnered his own Drive-By Entertainment with Hollywood writer Robert Orci of “Transformers” fame to form the digital-centered entertainment company, Legion of Creatives. The company’s first web series, “High School 51,” a sci-fi show about a human teenager who is forced to head to class with aliens stationed in Area 51, is set to eventually launch on the wildly popular gaming and media-streaming website Machinima.
“That’s a site that gets 3 billion uniques (visitors) a month. And Machinima content is user-generated. People are putting their animation up there. They’re not down at Screen Gems; they’re sitting in their rooms posting stuff,” he said. “I humbly submit that if Bob Orci is in that business, if I’m in that business, if Warner Bros. is in that business–and we all are–then why isn’t it valid? $1.5 billion left television’s pocket this year and went to online portals…This isn’t a pipe dream anymore. The stars of the future are going to come from that base.”
Jones doesn’t know what the audience at “In the Actors Studio” will ask him, specifically, but he hopes the dialogue will provide a “little more clarity on how to make dreams come true.”
And he hopes it will help push forward his in-the-works nonprofit human rights organization, Foolish Desperado, which will aim to address social issues like racial and gender inequality through storytelling devices. A portion of the proceeds from Saturday’s event will benefit the fledgling group.
“The stories that we leave behind are often stories of our history…And we exist in a world that’s fairly complex so, from which person’s perspective does the truth come from?” Jones said. “I’m kind of calling myself out here—one, for being foolish and, if I say I’m desperate for change, then I’ve got to do something about it. I’m holding myself accountable, pointing the finger at myself, because I’m the only person whose actions I can control.”
It’s one effort among many that Jones is undertaking to build community—on a grand scale and in the area he now calls home.
While he couldn’t yet elaborate on the specifics, Jones said he has his hand in several “North Carolina-themed” projects and is busy scheduling some live events at Odell Williamson Auditorium on the campus of Brunswick Community College in Supply.
“The arts are about communication, about telling the human condition,” Jones said. “When you communicate, you build community. And I’m a part of this community. I believe it’s really important to have the arts in your own backyard.”
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.