Jim O’Rear is living proof that you can work in the film industry within that vast expanse between New York and Los Angeles.
He enjoys a show biz career while living in Nashville, Tennessee. The key to his employability appears to be his ability to wear multiple hats and bond with his crewmates.
When someone hires him to work on a film project, they gain his 30+ years of experience, which includes writing, acting, performing stunts, directing, producing, makeup effects, music, distribution, and more.
“I learned to do a lot in the business in order to work,” he said. “I’ve done acting, stunts, makeup effects, writing, directing, cinematography, you name it. I just wanted to work whenever someone called. I never wanted to be a superstar or famous; I just wanted to work in the industry. Whenever I got a call asking me if I could do a particular thing, I wanted to be able to say ‘yes’ every time. You definitely work much more with an expanded knowledge of the industry.”
Tnalga.com sat down with him to talk about the realities of being a southerner in the movie-making business.
Tnalga: Hello, Jim. What can you tell us about film production in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia?
O’Rear: Actually, a lot of production is in Atlanta because Georgia offers some great incentives and tax breaks to film companies in order to bring the industry into the state. It doesn’t have anything to do with the size of the city or number of rental houses or even the amount of talent in the area. It’s purely based on the incentives the state is offering. Tennessee just put into place some similar incentives, and that’s how they scored the ABC television series Nashville, the new Harrison Ford movie, 42, and the upcoming Robin Williams film. Tennessee is going to start becoming a draw for large Hollywood productions, as well.
Tnalga: Georgia, I believe, provides tax credits of up to 30 percent of money spent there on production and post-production. Alabama’s and Tennessee’s incentives are 25 percent tax rebates. That has to be pretty enticing, combined with finding so many scenic places to shoot. You’ve worked with enough movies to know: How is shooting a movie in Hollywood, Alabama different than in Hollywood, California?
O’Rear: I’ve shot in various locations in all of those states. The major thing that makes this area unique for production is that the people haven’t become jaded by the Hollywood system, yet. It’s all still new and people are much more willing to help filmmakers and production companies out. In L.A., it’s all about the money. In this area, though, there’s still a lot of people that just want to be involved with a film in some way. So, locations and talent are much more accessible.
Tnalga: You were born in Cordova, Alabama. Right? How does someone from the Deep South become a part of the Hollywood scene? You have to move away, right?
O’Rear: I’m from a very small town in Alabama that isn’t on the map. I am living proof that you do not have to move to Los Angeles or New York to work in film, especially since there is so much production moving outside of those areas. It does make it more convenient to live near all of the agents and production companies, but with the technology we have today — internet, smart phones, Skype, etc. — the world is a much smaller place than it used to be. Now, Hollywood is just the press of a button away.
Tnalga: That is exciting. What would be your advice to someone who thinks you have a cool job and wants to do what you do for a living?
O’Rear: I’d say that the job really isn’t all that “cool.” It’s a fun job, but it’s also a lot of work. Usually more work than a regular nine to five job. It is very long hours in uncomfortable surroundings expending vast amounts of physical and mental energy repeatedly. Sixteen to 18-hour days are very common, and you’re either trapped under hot lights with your makeup melting or trapped inside a small trailer with nothing to do. Plus, there’s tons of rejection, back-stabbing, and dirty deals.
Tnalga: Sounds like the job can be as dramatic as the stories you film…
O’Rear: You must be mentally prepared to be repeatedly rejected, degraded, treated like a piece of “property” instead of a human being, and have a lot of people hate you for no reason. Doesn’t sound so glamorous and fun now, does it? But, that’s the reality of the business. It’s definitely not for everyone. It can be wonderful, but you must be mentally and physically prepared to go through a lot of grief and hard work.
Tnalga: That reality is probably jarring to anyone who fantasizes about working in the movie biz, but it is best to have realistic expectations.
O’Rear: The main piece of advice I have is if you want to pursue this as a career, make sure you feel like there is absolutely nothing else you want to do. You must believe that you absolutely can not live without performing and that you will have a miserable existence unless you’re doing this job.
Tnalga: Tell us about one or two cool moments that made it worth it the long hours.
O’Rear: I’ve had waaaaaay too many excellent experiences to narrow them down for a small article like this, but I can tell you about some of the best people I’ve worked with and have become friends with through the years. Some of my favorites have been Robert Englund, Martin Sheen, Henry Winkler, Connie Britton, Tony Todd, Tom Savini, George Romero, Daniel Roebuck, Gunnar Hansen, John Dugan, Debbie Rochon, Ken Foree, Sid Haig, Andrew Divoff, Robert Kurtzman, Mark Hamill, Matthew Broderick, Ernie Hudson, William Forsythe, George Takei, and the list could go on and on. So many great people, friends, and colleagues. I think the only two people I’ve ever really been disappointed by have been Linda Lavin and Jonathan Frakes. They both had tremendous egos.
Tnalga: We imagine that relationship-building is important on a movie set because we wouldn’t want to hire someone if they were lazy or a jerk the first go-round, right?
O’Rear: I work with a lot of people repeatedly, as an actor and as a director/producer. As a director, you always want to have a few actors on set that you know you can count on to make the process go more smoothly. So, I try to hire people I’ve worked with before in some of the roles. As an actor, I know several directors who have repeatedly hired me and have stated that they won’t make a film unless I’m in it. You don’t want to have the same cast in every film, because that gets boring to the audience. You need to mix up the dynamics between actors, but a few familiar faces in a few of the roles is a nice balance. The key to being someone who gets hired repeatedly is simple really: show up on time, be prepared, and follow direction.
Tnalga: So, basically, it sounds like exceling at any other job… How important is the business end of filmmaking? How much salesmanship is involved in making deals happen?
O’Rear: The business end IS filmmaking, unfortunately. If you don’t deal with the business end of it, what’s the point of making a film? No one will see it. You’re just a guy with some equipment and an expensive hobby if you don’t learn how the business end works and how to sell it. You must be a salesman from beginning to end.
O’Rear: You’ve got to convince people to invest in the film, convince people to work on it with you, convince someone to buy it and distribute it, and then convince people to go see it. That’s a lot of marketing and salesmanship. The business end sucks, but it’s a necessary evil. Otherwise you’ve just got a movie for your private home collection.
To learn more about O’Rear, visit his website at http://www.jimorear.com and Like his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jim-ORear/109703659049394