Written By: Nicki Legge
Most of us have grand dreams when we’re kids about what we want to be when we grow up, but as we get older and learn the ways of the real world, a lot of us lose that childlike belief that we can do anything so we settle for something more practical. There are many things that I like about filmmakers, but the one quality that I absolutely love the most is our ability to hold onto that childlike love for filmmaking and our drive to never stop until our dreams come true. Jump Ship Productions recently participated in both the IFP Breakout Challenge and the Almost Famous Film Festival’s (A3F) 48 hour film challenge, and during both there was one group that caught our eye. LJR Productions put out two delightfully whimsical films that were very obviously made with a lot of love. We had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Ray, the writer/director and owner of LJR Productions about his experiences.
Jon Ray is a perfect example of a filmmaker who will never give up on his dream; he wanted to be an actor as a kid, and even skipped school to go to an audition for a feature film, but unfortunately there weren’t too many productions in his hometown of Tyler, Texas. He got his start as a filmmaker in 2001, “when (he) shot 3 episodes of a Claymation series called ‘Toby Bear.’” From there, Jon received his first paying gig as “a PA on a Wonder Woman music video,” and he became a working filmmaker (which is a major accomplishment in itself). Jon gained experience as an “actor, A.D., cameraman, boom pole, script supervisor, special FX, prop maker and of course PA.” From 2007 to 2012, Jon’s film career slowed down. He worked on finishing a degree in Digital Video at UAT and got “caught up in the game of making a living,” putting his family’s needs first.
In Dec. 2012, Jon decided it was time “to walk away from a 12 year career in Information Technology and change career fields to TV/Film,” and now he is able to do what he loves full-time as a freelance Videographer and filmmaker. So far, Jon has “directed at least 11 shorts films,” not counting ones that were made for film school. He says, “I’m working my way towards Hollywood. One of my ultimate goals is to write and direct a studio film. Afterwards, I’d be happy going back to being an Indie or taking on more studio projects, but at least I want that one shoot in LA.” He is currently under a six month contract doing video work, but after that’s up he plans to “go back to working for my wife’s production company Sysnia Creative, where she is developing a TV show and has years of experience working on other TV shows.”
Jon has participated in six 48 hour film challenges with the IFP, the National, and most recently the A3F. His film Ring of Time was my favorite of all of the honorable mention films (and would have made it to the top 20 if I had been judging). One of the things that I personally found to be impressive about his film was the sheer size of the production that LJR pulled off in just 48 hours. They had a huge cast and what appeared to be several different locations. Jon says, “I signed up for the challenge a week before it began so I didn’t have a lot of prep work. Also, I only had 2 actors who were committed to the project, no location, no story idea and not much in the way of funds… Within the week leading up to that Saturday… we grew to 26 cast/crew members. We obtained access to a very nice mansion in north Scottsdale, thanks entirely to my producer and wife Samantha Ray… My secret was the mansion though in regards to locations. The place was so huge and the property varied so much I was able to stage all my scenes from photos of the place I got the night of the kickoff.”
Jon only knew five of the people involved in his production when the challenge kicked off Friday night, and one of the things he is most proud of was his ability to “take a group of people who have never worked together and forge them into an awesome cast and crew to make great art.” Jon says “It was amazing to see everyone come together to help bring my written word to life within such a short period of time.” What most people don’t understand about filmmaking is that getting your film shot is only half the battle. Postproduction is where a film really comes together, and Jon worked very closely with his wife, who edited the film while he worked on pulling together other information for the entry. He hoped to save time in post by using royalty free music, but he wasn’t satisfied with anything he found “So, being a keyboardist and composer, (he) wrote every bit of music you hear in the film in the final 2 hours before (they) left to turn the film in.”
It was difficult for Jon to cut down such a grand idea into just 5 minutes. He learned during this challenge that the widely known rule that one page of script equals one minute of screen time does not always work out, and he ended up with about a six and a half minute film. Although he had to cut out one and a half minutes, Jon was able to keep everyone’s scenes, which is something he is very proud of. Jon says, “I feel like we are the underdogs, team wise. No one really knew LJR Productions or me and it was a group of mostly strangers who came together to make a great little film. As this was my most ambitious 48 Hour film project to date, I was hoping it’d at least screen with the top 20, but regardless, the feedback has been great and I’m proud of this film and the work everyone on my team put into it. We had some real professionals on hand that if not for them being there, might have made this a much more difficult interview to answer.”
Jon is currently working on three documentaries, one of which is about his own struggles to make it to Hollywood. Jon says, “Regardless, what ends up happening to me, I plan to eventually release a documentary showing my ups and downs to hopefully inspire others to reach for their dreams and believe in themselves. It starts with letting go to all the things holding you back and then believing that with skill and effort the journey will take care of you… Never give up and never stop believing.” He is also writing two feature films and plans to start production of one of them later this year. One is “a paranormal thriller… the other bigger budget film is a high fantasy about knights and the Fae realm.” Jon has “started acting as an extra for other productions in order to be a better director, by understanding the process in front of the camera,” and offers his skills as an extra and production designer to interested filmmakers. He can be contacted HERE or through the LJR Productions Facebook Page, and you can see his work and look for cast and crew calls on his website.