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Homegrown Action Flick Hits Gateway Film Center

Hope Madden Hope Madden Homegrown Action Flick Hits Gateway Film CenterEscape from Death Block 13 - Photo via IMDb
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What you need is a throw-back action movie and I know a guy from Michigan who wants to give it to you.

Don’t hold that State Up North thing against him. Gary Jones is an Ohioan now, although between there and here the filmmaker did a lengthy stint in Hollywood.

“I always wanted to get to Hollywood and make movies,” says the director, who got his start in 1994 with the drive-in style horror Mosquito before taking on directing duties for shows including Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show.

“We moved out there and stayed ten years or so, and then it was time to leave,” he remembers. “Family wanted to move back. You come from a small town and go to LA and it’s different. It’s such a rat race, everybody’s climbing to make it to the next level. Different way of life.”

By 2005, Jones and his family had relocated to Crestline, Ohio, just a few miles from the spot that would inspire his latest film, Escape from Death Block 13.

“The prison is just right up the road,” he says of the old Mansfield Reformatory. “I always really liked the place and I always remembered it from Shawshank and Tango and Cash. I thought, I gotta make a movie here. I gotta make a prison escape movie.”

The details worked out and Jones was able to film at the prison.

“The biggest challenge I had was, the prison’s under renovation,” Jones says. “It looks creepy, it’s great for a horror movie, but this is a prison movie.”

Here’s where the writer/director’s lengthy experience in independent filmmaking helped. When faced with an obstacle, Jones likes to find a way to turn that problem into a narrative device.  

“I couldn’t have built the set – our budget was very small. So that prison just gave us million-dollar production value right off the bat and everybody kind of got jazzed up working in there because it’s real,” he explains. “So, I just made a story point out of it: The state hires a contractor, they make the inmates do the work of renovating the prison.

“In independent filmmaking, you don’t usually have the budget, but you have a story. You never know what’s coming and so you have to think on your feet and go, ‘How do I take this disadvantage and turn it into an advantage?’”

He says that, while he writes films with a structure, he tries to remain open to inspiration. He’s also always trying to find new ways to surprise audiences who’ve grown used to the specifics of whichever genre he’s working in.

“How can I do something I haven’t seen before? How do I change it up? I always approach things that way because I’ve seen so many movies,” he says. “I always watch and think I know what’s coming. But if they trick you and you don’t know what’s coming, you get excited. My challenge is, how do I throw them a hook? How do I make it different?”

You’ll get the chance to see some of those surprises when Escape from Death Block 13 screens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 15 at Gateway Film Center, followed by a Q&A with Jones.

For more information, visit gatewayfilmcenter.org.

Follow Hope on Facebook @maddwolfcolumbus and on Twitter @maddwolf and listen to her horror movie podcast, FRIGHT CLUB.

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