Continuing with our series of interviews with interesting people doing interesting things, I’m very pleased to bring you this conversation with Hollywood veteran Ski-ter Jones. Ski-ter is a professional actor, filmmaker, and now author. His new book “You Booked It!” is a treasure-trove of wisdom for aspiring commercial actors, based on Ski-ter’s personal experience in over 100 TV commercials.
I really enjoyed this interview, because Ski-ter is a guy who puts a lot of passion into anything he does, and succeeds because of it. Anyone considering a career (of any kind) in La-La Land will find this particularly interesting.
I’ve enjoyed a successful career in the entertainment industry as an actor since ’95, that’s when I got my SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) card. Ever since then, I’ve worked full time as an actor. When I first starting out in “the business,” I did some stand-in work and I did some background work. Lucky for me, the people I worked with gave me a shot at being “the guy.” So with that, I started getting roles on TV shows and movies. At that same point I started to audition for TV commercials. After several years of doing 15 to 20 commercials a year, I knew I had found my niche in the industry. The moniker, “The Commercial King,” came from many of my fellow thespians against whom I would audition.
What interested you in working behind the camera, instead of in front of it?
I had a good acting career going on and wanted to learn to become more of a technical actor, so I started taking an “On Camera” class at Los Angeles Valley College. The class utilized the 3-camera setup technique. Several of the students could also run camera, edit and produce. The biggest reason I started directing was Mr. Bob Ballew, he was the instructor/fearless leader there. After taking that class for a semester, Mr. Ballew came up to me and asked me to start directing the other actors. He also wanted me to get in the booth and edit their scenes. At first, I was like, “No thank you, my focus is acting.” But every week he would say, “Ski-ter, today is the day you become an Actor/Director.” One day, he was late to class and instead of just waiting for him, we started working on our own. All the actors started coming to me and asking if I could direct them in the scenes. After directing about 4 scenes, Mr. Ballew, who slipped in the back of the class, started clapping and said, “You can now add Director to your resume.” After that day, I dove into learning how to become a writer/director.
Even though you have worked on many big budget, big-crew productions, you found yourself working as a “crew of one” on your early projects. How did that experience go?
Ha-ha … it went well, thanks to good people that put up with me. This is one of those questions that I can talk about for days, but I will try to keep it short. I would go off and do a big-budget production and just ask the DP and other people a lot of questions. I’ve always been a visual person, I guess that’s why directing was a good transition for me. I purchased the Panasonic DVX, a couple of KINO FLO’s, some sound equipment and asked anyone and everyone if they wanted to film anything. With the feeling I got after each and every production I did, I knew this was the career path for me. Wanting to do better quality productions forced me to learn different aspects of filming. You can read books and look at whole bunch of tutorials, but without that HANDS ON experience, you’re not going to know how to put out fires that you are going to encounter. It gave me a new perspective on the director’s job. When I first started directing, I thought, I need coverage from everywhere. But, to be honest with you, I was overshooting. I made A LOT of mistakes, but I learned from them and came out on the other side. Doing my own editing forced me to break down how I wanted the scene to look. I also started doing my own storyboarding and shot list, so now I PRE-VIS all my shoots. It’s safe to say I don’t overshoot anymore. I am now able to show the MU, gaffer and whoever else a cut even before we shoot a frame of tape.
I always tell people, directing has made me a better actor, editing has made me a better director, and writing has made me better in every way. To me, the director needs to know everyone’s job. Now, that doesn’t mean he needs to be a pro in all areas, but he should know at little about a lot. The director is the storyteller, storyboard artist, coach, shrink, time manager, producer, etc. You have to embrace a lot of hats and like it. Today, not only am I an actor, writer and director; I’m also an editor, cameraman, gaffer and producer. I would not call myself a sound guy, but I’m learning. Starting out, the more versatile you are, the more important you become to a set.
What filmmaking projects are you developing now?
I just finished directing a television pilot presentation entitled Inca Stone. It stars Corbin Bleu from Dancing With The Stars and High School Musical, Charles David Carpenter from shows like Bones, NCIS: Los Angeles and The Mentalist, and introducing Mindy Kelly – World Champion Martial Artist who is kicking butt in this pilot. Remember this name, Wayne Dalglish. He was the second unit director on the project and he is only 23. He will be huge in this industry. My writing partner Charles and I also wrote the script. So it was a 2fer, which is always good if you can get it.
The action packed drama THE CASE is my next directing gig. Again, Charles and I were fortunate enough to get to write the pilot.
I am so thankful that things have continued to rise upward for me. I feel like I am on a creative high and hopefully it won’t stop.
You seem to have a terrific attitude, but Los Angeles has a reputation of fostering a hard-partying, shallow lifestyle. How do you stay so grounded and positive?
You have to surround yourself with like-minded people. From the beginning, I’ve had wonderful people around me. I was fortunate that Charles, Cory, Anthony, Orestas, Jorge, Herb and the lone female in our band of misfits, Cindy, were willing to hang out with me and learn, grow and hopefully come up with some cool stuff. I am thankful for my friendships with the people I started with, as well as the new friends that I have pick up on my journey. I’m definitely better off for having had great experiences with people who are going to help me grow and hold my feet to the fire when I get a little cocky. Ha-ha!
I learned very early on that the word NO is a powerful word. As much as I like to help other people and want everyone to be as successful as they can be, everyone doesn’t have your best interest at heart. There is a reason why people in this business like to work with the same crew. When you find others that have the same ideology as you, you should nurture those relationships because they are few and far between. You always need a team. One of my beliefs is: “TO GET TO YOUR DREAM, YOU HAVE TO WORK AS A TEAM.”
Last but not least … people must ask you this all the time, but can you tell us the origin of your unusual name, “Ski-ter?”
I have been telling the same story for years. Everyone always asks me if Ski-ter is my real name. Then I come back with, “I’m from Oklahoma, that’s where we’ve got Ski-ters, Skooters and Skippys!” I get a laugh, the ice is broken and I become memorable to the casting director.
Then if time permits, I will go into how that name came about. It goes something like this…
I got my name in my last year of high school. I was new to the school, and on the first day this fine girl came up to me and said, “Isn’t your name Ski-ter?” I took one look at her and said, “You damn right it is! How you doin’? What’s your name again?” That’s how I became Ski-ter.