Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hoarders, Ice Road Truckers, & Extreme Makeover Home Edition-- Jay Hix Jones Interview

You've seen his work countless times and today I'm privileged to interview TV Field Producer Jay Hix Jones of such popular shows as "Hoarders," "Ice Road Truckers," and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Photo on left of Jones being interviewed on the red carpet for the season 9 premier of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Christina Williams: You’ve been involved in a large number of successful television productions, including being a field producer for such shows as “Hoarders,” “Ice Road Truckers,” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”  My understanding is that a field producer works on site with all involved, from the actors/subjects of the show to the filming crew and everyone in between.  Is this correct and what is the most challenging project you’ve worked on so far?

JONES: Yes, the field producer is responsible for both the creative aspects and logistics of a production in the field. Every show I’ve been a part of has had it’s own unique set of challenges. “Ice Road Truckers” definitely posed the biggest physical challenge I’ve faced so far. Trying to direct crew and talent in -50 degrees in white out conditions tends to get a little scary. I got caught off guard without my balaclava once and my face felt like cardboard for two days. Luckily I didn’t get frostbite as I hear it’s extremely painful and can be dangerous. 
Williams: What’s the most rewarding show you’ve worked on thus far?

JONES: That’s a tough one. I’d say it’s a tie between “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Hoarders.” Both were very rewarding to be a part of, and both had the similar theme in helping people live better lives. “Extreme” was on a much larger scale. Building a home in 7 days is no joke. Our crew would literally take over an entire city. We’re talking dozens of wheelers of supplies and thousands of employees and volunteers. It was like living and working in an ant farm. Everyone had very specific jobs in order to make it happen.  I have very fond memories of my time with “Extreme” and met some really great friends on that show. Shows like that don’t come around very often.. I’ll never forget what the Executive Producer (George Verschoor) told us on one of the last shows: Don’t ever forget the feeling you get from working on this show, because you will be chasing it for the rest of your careers. And he was right!

Photo above of Jones (middle in stocking cap saying a prayer of thanks before the reveal on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.")

My “Hoarders” experience was very similar but on a much smaller scale. We had a field crew of about 6 or 7, which allowed us all to become very close, both with the crew and the families we were helping. “Hoarders” definitely had its own challenges- mostly mental and emotional. How do you keep your composure when you’re trying to help a lady who hoards dead cats in her house? There were a few times throughout the season where I had to step away, wipe the tears and regroup. Part of me believes most reality TV shows exploit, but I quickly remind myself the majority of the shows that I have worked on actually help and make a difference in people’s lives. That’s how I justify my career choice anywayJ  

Photo above of Jay Hix Jones interviewing a family member of a hoarder.
Williams: How did you become interested in television production?

JONES: I have vivid memories of me sitting on the couch watching TV with my grandmother. She loved television. It was ALWAYS on at her house. I didn’t pursue it as a career until I went back to school at the age of 27 to study Film and Video Production. Unfortunately, she passed several months before I made the decision to pursue it as a career. I think remembering how much TV made her happy definitely played a part in my decision to make a career out of it.
Williams: You’ve mentioned your “Hungry Fish” project, which is an intensive three-day camp for teens that teaches them not only about television production but how they can use media to share their Christian faith.  It’s a really cool idea.  How did you come up with it?

JONES: It’s definitely been a passion project of mine for a very long time. The idea first came to me in 1999. It of course has developed into Hungry Fish over the years, but I first called it FaithQuest. I was young and didn’t have a lot of experience, but I knew I wanted to make a difference.  I wrote up my idea/plans and discussed it with my grandfather, who also happens to be one of my heroes. I respect his opinion so I wanted to know what he thought about it. His reaction/advice changed my life. He looked me right in the eyes and told me I was nowhere near (professionally, spiritually, emotionally) ready to embark on this journey. At the time I resented his opinion, but I ultimately agreed, postponed my plans to create FaithQuest and started gaining experience. And now here we are, 13-14 years later and it’s actually happening.
Over the years I’ve prayed for an answer on when I should revisit FaithQuest. It wasn’t until just recently that my prayers were answered and I was called to go for it. “There is no better time than now.” If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is when God calls you to do something, you drop everything and do what it is he has called you to do. That is what I’ve done. I did recently ask my grandfather if he remembered giving me the advice back in 1999 and he did not but approves of it now. He is now 93 and still one of my heroes.

Williams: What’s been the most interesting aspect of working with “Hungry Fish?”
JONES: It’s all interesting to me... but I gotta say that some of the visions I have for it are pretty interesting/revolutionary. Imagine a group of Christian students on stage accepting an Oscar for a Gospel-centered project they shot during one of our camps. Never been done. Imagine the students giving the glory to God. Imagine the reach. Imagine the impact. Imagine the possibilities. Imagine the souls saved. If you can dream it you can achieve it and with it all being to help spread the Gospel of Christ that scenario is a high probability in book. I’m not setting out to create a camp where kids come to just have fun... I believe I’ve been called to change the world,  and that mindset effects everything I do now.

Williams: When you first started the “Hungry Fish” camps, were there any unexpected reactions from teens?
JONES: Just one. I didn’t think the students would open up as much as they did as quick as they did during the camps. But I’m discovering that this young generation wants to be heard, recognized and a part of something much larger than themselves. When you give them that opportunity they grab onto it and won’t let go. We are getting request from all over the country, and I think it’s partially due to pastors/youth leaders recognizing that our children are the church and the future of the church and want to help them take the focus off of self and put it on Jesus. That is what we do.

Photo above of Jones working with teens at "Hungry Fish."

Williams: What’s been the most rewarding part of working on “Hungry Fish?”
JONES: Simple. Accepting what God has called me to do with my life. Also, knowing I’m doing my part to help mentor students, who live in a culture where they are bombarded with things that can easily harm and distract the soul.

Williams: What’s it like as a Christian to work in television production, which my understanding is a field where you don’t typically find a lot of Christians?
JONES: You are absolutely right! Most of the time I feel like a lone wolf on set. I had an executive producer once warn me about one particular actor and how much of a Bible banger she was.. said and I quote, “You better watch it or she will have you in a prayer circle everyday.” That saddens me terribly. I wanted to say, oh that would be fantastic! But at the time I wasn’t strong enough.

Unfortunately, I think certain people don’t get hired as much in Hollywood because of their Christian beliefs. And I believe it’s going to get a lot worse and branch out into other areas of the workplace in America soon. So, I’ve made a commitment to be conscious about what projects I work on and who I work with. I plan on doing my part to help raise up the next generation to be God-fearing and Christ-loving individuals.  
Williams: You filmed, at least partially, an unaired documentary of the notorious pirate, Jean Lafitte.  I know that there’s some evidence that your family, as well as my husband’s, may be descended from him.  It must be fascinating to be in a position to be able to unearth such a cool family history and put it on film.  What’s the status of the project right now? 

JONES: So cool! To learn about how my family has saved and passed down all of these old documents from one generation to the next for the last 200 years in hopes one of us will solve the mystery someday is amazing. The history of Jean Laffite and our country has been misrepresented to the public and I believe it will be corrected some day soon. Without Jean Laffite the US would have lost the Battle of New Orleans and who knows what else. But yet he is only given one or two sentences in our history books. I could go on and on and on but I will spare you all of the conspiracy theories for perhaps another interview. J
The project is currently not able to move on right now. I am not legally able to say much about it.  I will say this, there are tons of concepts/ideas that production companies/networks steal from producers and when that happens attorneys take over. Hopefully, I will be able to give you more information soon.

Williams: What’s the most interesting thing you discovered while working on the Jean Lafitte documentary?
JONES: The most interesting thing we’ve discovered is that there isn’t any real hard evidence that a man by the name Jean Laffite lived at all. No birth certificate, no death records, no business records. It’s as if he was a ghost. And our research is discovering that in every location there is a Laffite legend we find records of our ancestors but none of Laffite. At some point it will stop being a coincidence and the dots will be connected. We still have a very long way to go before irrefutable proof can be presented.

Williams: What’s been your biggest obstacle to the Jean Lafitte documentary filming?
JONES: Our biggest obstacle has been money and schedules. I now live in Seattle, my producing partner Tyler Townsend lives in Los Angeles, and the Hix brothers (hosts) are in Texas. We are spread out all over and have busy lives, so it can be difficult getting us together to film. And well, budget difficulties always pose obstacles. We do have plans to move forward with our research and filming soon. Hopefully in 2014.
Williams: How exactly do you go about getting a project like the Jean Lafitte project off the ground, and was this your idea initially, or did you pursue it at the behest of other family members?

JONES: We are still in the process of getting it off the ground. It has been a very very long road. My family has been working on proving our theory the name Laffite was just an alias our ancestor created to protect his true identity, family and business for a long time. Turning it into a documentary/TV show was my wife’s idea. Some colleagues and I were brainstorming on TV concepts and my wife chimed in and said why don’t you produce a show about your pirate ancestor. From there the Laffite project was born. However, we are now pursing it on behest of all the family members who have kept the secret and passed the story down for the last two hundred years. We feel we owe it to them to finish what they started. And we will.

Williams: To see the project video for Jean Lafitte, which is narrated by John Schneider (my first television crush as I never missed an episode of Dukes of Hazzard,) click here. Thanks so much Jay for taking time to do this interview. I really appreciate it. God bless.

About the blogger:

Christina Williams is the author of the War Gods series, a series of clean, young adult, paranormal romance novels. She also writes rhyming picture books which teach life lessons to younger children.