This is CENTER STAGE, where I interview individuals working in arts and entertainment. From actors to production assistants, from writers to camera operators, from makeup artists to assistant directors, this is where we tap into the mindsets of artists.
TYLER PATRICK JONES
Originally from Northridge, California, Tyler Patrick Jones had already been working in Hollywood for years when we first met on the set of the CBS series Life in Pieces. What I then discovered was he had actually gotten his start as a child actor, with credits including Minority Report, Red Dragon, Yours, Mine & Ours, Bad News Bears, and G-Force. Currently, Tyler is a production assistant and is working towards becoming a film producer.
PZ: How did you get your start into acting?
TPJ: I was five years old, and I kind of had a weird entry into the acting world. At that time, I was at a birthday party where my father met a man who was starting a new talent management company and offered to sign me. My dad said no, because I was young and he didn’t know much about the industry. However, all what mattered was that if acting was something I enjoyed, I would do it. So one of my first auditions was a commercial for Sprint, I believe. I had to memorize all these questions, which I did. And then I got cast. From there, I was able to go out for other projects, like Minority Report, which is now one of my favorite movies.
PZ: Did you take acting classes or get any kind of training for a role?
TPJ: I definitely took acting classes, because it is a skill. There was a lot of improv, script building, and cold reading in these classes, and it does take a lot of practice. For maybe three nights a week, I would go to these different studios and work on my craft. Besides that, I didn’t have too much special training. I guess for Bad News Bears, we did baseball training, but because our characters were supposed to be bad, they didn’t want us to be, you know, too good. They just wanted to make sure we at least had the basic baseball skills. There’s a scene in the film where my character hits a ball with his eyes closed, and it was gonna be a CGI ball coming in, but the baseball trainers/techs wanted me to try to be able to hit it from where they’d throw it super close off-camera. They said “Swing!” and I would try to swing at the perfect time, but we still wanted to be able to do it just in case.
PZ: So tell me about working on Minority Report with my idol Mr. Steven Spielberg.
TPJ: (Laughs) I was eight or nine. What was so interesting was that my character is seen through different stages in his life. Steven shot so many different scenes with the actors of different ages for that character. It was also cool because I got to go to Virginia with my mom and shoot all these scenes with Tom Cruise. We shot home video material with a lower-quality camera for the flashback/memory clip scenes. Steven allowed a lot of improv for that. The coolest story I have from set is that Tom shot all these prank videos where we would hide fake rubber snakes in someone’s room in a scene on the sets and we would film them. The biggest scene I got to do was when my character gets kidnapped. It was shot at a pool at UCLA, and I had to get scuba training in case I was underwater for too long. They sent trainers to help me train in the pool at my house at the time and they had to have a guy on set to make sure it was safe. Even thought it was just in a pool, they still taught me how to put on a mask and gear, all for safety. That was my most definitive memory of working on the film.
TPJ: Red Dragon was really fun. I got to travel to the Florida Keys and we also shot at Universal Studios. It was amazing to shoot that one scene. Rehearsing it was kinda strange because of the curse words that Edward yells at Ralph and how he takes it. Brett Ratner (the director) and the crew took it very slow and were careful about when I’d have to be on camera for that scene. Also, Ralph is a hardcore actor. I remember he had weights he would lift off camera. When he was holding me in the scene, it was really tight, and the big thing was when he threw me to the side; he threw me hard, so they had stunt guys off camera to catch me. The other crazy scene is my character peed his pants, so they had a tube ran up my leg and it was a special effects thing; it was the first time I ever had anything like that as an actor. I remember having to cry over and over again and I couldn’t imagine how it was intense it was for Edward and Ralph because I was just a little kid at the time.
PZ: It sounds like you’ve performed many physical feats as an actor. Were there ever any scenes where it was physically or emotionally challenging or put the most focus on?
TPJ: During Red Dragon, I set Brett’s record at the time for the most takes. It was a scene towards the end of the movie where I walk in to the kitchen, open a cupboard, grab a marshmallow, and there are shards of glass revealing Ralph in the house. We did that over and over and over again, and we had to get bags and bags of marshmallows, and they had me spit out the marshmallows in a bucket on the side every time. We did around sixty-something takes, because we also kept changing the shards of glass each time. I was also on the TV show Ghost Whisperer, which was the coolest show I ever did. I had to focus a lot with these emotional one-on-one scenes with Jennifer Love Hewitt. It gets more emotional every time you do it. But Jennifer was such a good actress and was able to look you in the eye every time you do it. And she’s the nicest person I’ve ever worked with in the film industry. I totally had a crush on her.
PZ: Is that on the record, by the way?
TPJ: (Laughs) Yes, a hundred percent! I remember one time, it was my birthday, and she brought to set the biggest set of balloons I had ever seen. It was crazy. She made me feel so special and wanted on that show. And in those scenes we did, I wanted to make sure I gave her that same level of respect and focus she was giving me.
PZ: How was working with fellow child actors compared to the adults you worked with on set? Anybody you’ve stayed in touch with?
TPJ: Yeah obviously, like on Facebook. I was best buds with Ridge Canipe, who played the character Toby in Bad News Bears. In fact, I’m probably gonna have to hit him up after this interview (laughs). We used to make these stupid YouTube videos, like young teen Jackass videos. I remember the first time [with] all the Bears, it was like the first day at school. I believe it was our director Richard Linklater who came up with this idea, where they brought us into the production office, and the people there put down a notepad in front of us and said “We’re gonna get you a game trailer and we can only have twenty games. You all have to decide which games you’re getting.” We got the trailer, and it had an X-Box, a Playstation, a foosball table, and beanbag chairs. And we were all figuring out which games we would play and that’s how we all became friends.
PZ: What about Yours, Mine & Ours?
TPJ: Yours, Mine & Ours was a little different. Unlike Bears, where it was a bunch of rambunctious 13 to 14-year olds, we were all different ages. It was cool though because I got to work with Drake Bell and Miranda Cosgrove, who was the closest in age to me, so she and I became good friends. This was before iCarly, and she had always talked about wanting to be on a show, so seeing her on it years later was awesome. I even got to go to California Adventure with her and Ridge. So even though we were different ages, we were all friends and it wasn’t clique-y at all.
PZ: What people often assume about young actors is that they don’t get to have proper childhoods. And a lot of these actors have also gone down dark paths. Doing these big-name movies, how were you able to maintain a stable childhood?
TPJ: I put it all to my parents, one hundred percent. They always made sure it was just a part of my life and it wasn’t all my identity, and that school was always number one and took precedent over that. My parents put me in check. Maybe part of it was also being surrounded by awesome people I worked with, and my parents made sure no one would ever take advantage of me. They protected me from a lot of dangers in the industry. You have to always remember it’s for fun. As a kid, I never saw it as a job, I never understood that I was getting paid for it (laughs). It was something enjoyable to do. And I’ve always been blessed to have amazing people taking care of me.
PZ: What initially brought you out of acting?
TPJ: There were two things: One, I was getting hit with something a lot of young actors go through when they reach the 15-17 age range, which was losing a lot of roles to 18-year-olds who looked and could play younger, and that way you won’t have to deal with child labor laws. Maybe that wasn’t the reason, but that was something I was experiencing a lot of. The last big movie I did was G-Force, and I was sixteen back then. Two, I was really getting into producing my own stuff. I went Chaminade High School in West Hills, California. They had a four-year curriculum where you start in Film 1 where you can elevate your film skills and it was all about being able to create. I was experiencing that for the first time as a producer and assistant director, and I was really falling in love with being a filmmaker. What finished it off was going to Chapman University in Orange County. I didn’t wanna have drive back to LA for auditions or worry about acting anymore. All of that happened to coincide with each other. I’m definitely not writing off acting though.
PZ: How was your experience at Chapman University?
TPJ: I studied Creative Producing and Sociology at Chapman. The producing program was unreal, and it was why I wanted to go there. I instantly fell in love with it, had the best time there. Something I was told really early in the film program was to learn about stuff that’s not film. Because let’s say you’re at a wrap party or bar, everybody can talk about film, but nobody wants to. Talk about film or culture and experience different things so you could bring that into a conversation. It also helps as a writer to take in experiences so you know when you’re in those situations. When I heard that as a freshman, I was like, “Okay, film school is cool, but how do I go about learning all of that?” And that’s how I found Sociology. It teaches you a lot about a film set. It’s like a society; everybody’s there for a common goal, to make a check or make a show. As a producer, you need to figure out how to unite all those people and you have to figure out how to direct everybody’s objectives. As a sociologist, you don’t wanna just be an armchair enthusiast, you have to put yourself in people’s shoes. As a set production assistant, you also have to consider what other crew members, like grips and camera guys, would complain about. I learned a lot there. So thank you, Chapman!
PZ: Now becoming a production assistant (PA) is one of the most common ways to get your foot in the door. Would you mind explaining for those who don’t know what a PA is?
TPJ: A PA is responsible for the communication and distribution of information on set. It involves managing the walkie-talkies, dealing with locking up the set while rolling at any time, and any small but important jobs. I’ve helped with checking in background actors, making sure they all go through hair, makeup and wardrobe, making sure they’re fed, and managing their flow in the scene. My favorite thing to do as a PA is running first team, which means being responsible for the actors on set; getting their microphones on, making sure the hair and makeup artists check on them before stepping onto set, and even getting coffee for them. It’s important to have a friendly relationship with the actors, that way you can get them to set faster. It’s the lowest job on the totem pole, but being the underdog and staying on top of those small things is important. You need to be able to build a repertoire with the cast and crew, that way they know they can trust you. And remember that you were hired by an assistant director (AD), not the actors.
PZ: And how did you get your foot in the PA door?
TPJ: I went through this weird period after I graduated where I was like “Okay, no more school. What do I do? What career do I wanna take?” So towards the end of my senior year, I went on my IMDb and emailed so many people. Nobody responded, but one: Alex Winter from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He actually directed a movie I was in called Ben 10: Race Again Time for Cartoon Network. We met up, got coffee, and I now consider him a mentor. We talk every once in a while to check in. He gives me the best advice and he’s so talented. He told me, “Go get a job somewhere and don’t be afraid of any decisions.” Another one of my mentors is Nelson McCormick, an amazing director and producer whom I’ve known for a while. He was always willing to sit down and talk stuff out, and he suggested I get into PAing. I interviewed for a job on the show Chance at Hulu. Even though I had been on sets before and wasn’t afraid of the set life at all, I just had to figure out PAing. I interviewed with the first assistant director Jesse Sternbaum, got hired, and I’ve loved it since then, because of how different each day is and how to tackle the different problems you encounter.
PZ: What other shows have you worked on as a PA?
TPJ: Loosely Exactly Nicole on Facebook Watch, Champions on NBC, Life in Pieces on CBS, and Alone Together on Freeform. Currently I’m on Dirty John on Bravo, which is based on a podcast.
PZ: While working as a PA, have you ever had weird reactions from crew members who find out you were an actor? Do you ever get treated differently?
TPJ: I really only talk about it if it comes up, it’s not a conversation topic I would instigate. But I have no problem talking about it. Most people are surprised. The funniest responses I get are, “Why are you here working as a PA?” or, “How did I not know you were an actor?” It doesn’t put me on a pedestal and I don’t have any sort of entitlement because I was an actor. I just love being on set. I don’t get special treatment and I don’t even want it. And I’d try to establish a relationship with someone on set first just in case I would get special treatment.
PZ: What personal projects are you currently working on?
TPJ: I’m working on a documentary which I can’t talk too much about it, but I found this musician in this mysterious, unknown area. He’s a really talented gem and we’ve been
filming with him, but it’s all low-key. I’m also producing a short film now. I’ve produced shorts and have had stuff in development with a filmmaking partner of mine as well as my best friend Trevor Campbell. We did a lot of projects together in high school. I’m also working on a horror short film with another talented director Riley Geis. We’ve rushed to get it done and we’re working on it now. I also have this book I recently read [and]I’m checking to see what the rights are for that, because I’d love to turn that into a film.
PZ: What would you say is something you’re the most proud of in your career by far? Something you’d consider to be the most rewarding?
TPJ: One of my favorites was wrapping Chance as a set PA, because you’re doing 90 days with the crew in the trenches and we’d develop this cool mentality. Then we finished, and we were all onto something else. But being able to wrap a show after being on it for so long was really rewarding. I had never been a part of anything like that. Another great achievement was going to Taiwan during my senior year of college. We linked up with a school called the Taiwanese National University of the Arts. Our schools had a program together where we would get a crew and I was the producer and 1st AD. We had a crew of nine to ten people, flew to Taiwan, met with students who were able to speak English, and these guys became some of my best friends. We shot a short film at this one apartment on a sky rise, and it was unreal. We did overnights; it was rough but so much fun. The intensity and feeling this unique element of being able to figure each other out, it’s magical. And being able to make a short film was so rewarding.
PZ: How about as an actor?
TPJ: What I’m really thankful for is getting over the feeling of rejection. It’s tough when it dries up and [you’re] not getting callbacks. I’m the type of person where I feel…I gave it my all, and if I really prep for that acting scene and I thought I nailed that audition, what else can I do? As a kid, I figured out facing rejection early on. Only control what you can control, keep striving for it, keep on improving, make stuff for ourselves and for audiences to see. If they’re not receiving it, figure out why.
PZ: What are some influences on your own work?
TPJ: I’m influenced by the films of John Cassavettes. I love his ability to tell intimate human stories on a raw level. The tight dialogue, no big action set pieces, and small, quiet scenes with actors. My friend Trevor and I have developed this Coen Brothers mentality of filmmaking, and they’re also one of my favorites. I also love sci-fi. I grew up watching a lot of those old black-and-white films from the 1940s with my grandpa, even stuff like Godzilla. I would write a lot of sci-fi features; I love exploring, looking into the future, seeing how these stories would work in a future environment. Like when I watch Minority Report, I now think of the crazy context and about the world the film takes place in.
PZ: What are some of your favorite movies or television shows?
TPJ: I’m a big Stanley Kubrick fan, so I’d say Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange. Faces is my favorite from Cassavettes. Also Cloverfield, The Big Lebowski, and Hoop Dreams, which is my favorite documentary. Working on television has definitely made me more of a TV person. I love Westworld, Breaking Bad, How To Make It In America, and any of the 30 For 30 docs on ESPN, particularly Reggie Miller vs. The Knicks.
PZ: Do you have any specific goals you’d like to achieve most in your career?
TPJ: I really want to shoot internationally, take a crew to a different country. My biggest goal is to back to Taiwan to shoot a feature. I love the city and culture, the aesthetics of the place, and I would definitely like to direct something there, or produce or even act in it. My other big goals involve Trevor and I making our stories come to life. We have multiple stories, and I want to be able to produce those and get them made. The scripts are there.
PZ: Who would you like to work with again?
TPJ: I would love to run into Billy Bob Thornton again. He was just a really good guy, so personable. I remember during the making of Bad News Bears, he had all of the Bears and our parents over to his mansion in Beverly Hills one day, where he had a pool and an arcade room. He was just a great guy. As a PA, probably my favorite actor I got to work with and would love to do it again is Ethan Suplee of Chance. He has such an interesting intellectual mind and we had a lot of awesome discussions. He’s one of my favorite people.
PZ: If you had to give any advice to anybody who wants to get into the industry, no matter what path they choose, what would it be?
TPJ: So everybody says I wanna be this or that, like be a writer or work in post-production, specific positions they admire. But I’ve spoken to people in the industry who work in positions that weren’t their original intentions, but still enjoy it. So it’s really cool to see the different directions people go. And it’s not like structured like at a company; it’s very liquid, and it’s cool to be a part of something I’m not worried about. So if you’re an actor, write something and cast yourself in it. If you’re a director, try lighting. Develop as many different projects as possible. And don’t stress about it. Werner Herzog once said to read, read, read all the time. That’s where you’ll get your stories from. I’ll also recommend this book called Ready When You Are, Mr. Coppola, Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Crowe written by Jerry Ziesmer, who worked on Apocalypse Now and is considered to be one of the greatest assistant directors of all time.
PZ: Let’s end here with a little self-promotion. Anything else to plug in?
TPJ: I’d say keep an eye out for this documentary I’m working on. It’s the biggest thing I’m putting my efforts in. I’m also developing two podcasts. The first one is about basketball, where I’d take user-created content online and give the spotlight about different players. And the second is with one of my best friends James Neil, where we’d do a sit-down with random people have them tell us stories while recording the podcast about them in that setting. Those are my passion projects.
Link to Last Saturday Night, produced by Tyler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agFGVcr2Z24