Jeff Caperton is an actor, producer and stuntman, who likes to be a part of great storytelling. He’s made a career of following the action, having spent a lot of years working in the news business before crossing over into film and television.
Early on, the native Texan has had some incredibly TEXAS experiences that became part of his life story. For instance, he was an extra in the classic film Urban Cowboy, and even had an onset conversation with actor Barry Corbin, while they filmed the funeral scene for Corbin’s character Uncle Bob.
Later on, it was a chance encounter with Texas news legend Marvin Zindler which lead to the start of his career in the news business.
From there, he’s worked as an EMT before eventually making his back to the movies. Whether he’s part of the action or creating it, Caperton continues to live his life and career by staying in motion.
Most recently, he joined up with Stunt Coordinator Mark Anthony and his team from Extreme Force Hollywood Stunts to assist with his show in Oklahoma. This was part of actor John Schneider’s Bo’s Extravaganza, a traveling festival.
Once again, Caperton was following and a part of the action.
What are your earliest memories of being in show business?
The first time I went out with a news crew at the local station where I got a job at age 17, watching them set up for the live shot, then watching as they came to us, and saw the feed go out live! Loved being a part of so many of the important events of that time.
How did go you go from working in the film business to working in the news business?
Reverse that! Went from News to Film. I got a job at the local ABC Affiliate working in the newsroom through a relationship with legendary consumer advocate, Marvin Zindler, which led to a job at ABC Network News in the Los Angeles Bureau, which had an 11 state coverage area, including Alaska, Hawaii, plus the Philippines and other South Pacific Island nations. After many years, lots of world-changing news events such as the Challenger disaster, the Fall of the Marcos government in the Philippines, the Mexico City Earthquake, and many others, I got cut loose during a restructure and moved back to Houston.
I got out of the business for many years, worked as a Paramedic, and later in the Houston Energy industry. In 2007 a stand-up comic/radio host friend of mine and I decided to make a feature film, coming from news, I thought I knew all about production so we took on this project, raised all the money from friends and family, and embarked into the film industry. This led to a “real world” education in filmmaking and the realization that I knew NOTHING about it! However, it did lead to new relationships with other filmmakers, studios, and other industry professionals and eventually to the production of the film “Dog eat Dog” Staring Nick Cage and Willum Defoe.
While working on this and other films I managed to get some small acting roles, including some background and featured background roles in major feature films and network television shows which introduced me to the big-budget world of filmmaking. I took this as an opportunity to watch and I learned, and I applied what I picked up on these sets to the smaller projects that I was working on with some success. This convinced me that this was where I was meant to be.
While my primary interest remains in producing, the allure of acting has caught my attention and I have taken some classes and gotten some work acting, including the recent feature film “His Stretch of Texas Ground” in which I’m 3rd billed as Deputy Nelson, as well as doing voice-over work, and even work as an internationally published model for brands such as Academy Sports and Outdoors, Tag Hauer, Under Armor, and others.
Are there things about the news business that made you better in the film business?
I think because I got to the Network level so early in my career, and even my work after I left the industry, in health care and the energy industry, established a level of professionalism and work ethic which has stayed with me throughout my life and my career evolution. I LOVE this business and if it wasn’t fun, I would be doing something else! But there is a time for work and a time for play, and as a producer, I want my sets, and the work environment that I create, to be professional, organized, respectful to every level of cast and crew, but most of all FUN! If we can’t have fun doing this, we need to be doing something else!! But with that in mind, while working together, we need to be respectful of each other, know the difference between work time and play time and maintain a professional, ethical, and inclusive environment on set.
I want every cast and crew member to leave the set at the end of the day proud of what we’ve done, feeling good about themselves, and anxious to come back to work tomorrow!! With that being said, fun is fun, but I won’t tolerate disrespect of anyone on our team, bullying of co-workers, harassment of any kind, undermining of the agreed-upon track forward, or any behavior that will jeopardize the tone, productivity, progress, and professionalism of the project, set, crew, cast, and/or overall work environment.
I also understand that this is the entertainment “Business”. The ultimate goal is to make money, so we can pay our cast, crews, and yes, ourselves! Provide a return on investment for those who gave us the funds to do what we wanted to do! If we can’t do that, then we won’t get them to do it a second time! There is a difference between making a project for “Art” or making it for “Return”. If we want to continue to do this, and move forward and make a career out of this, we have to create a commercially successful product. Sometimes that means sacrificing some of the “art” to make the product commercially consumable. But if we do this successfully, this gives us the opportunity to make the “art” we want at another time. I’m not talking about selling out to “the man”, but creating content that is entertaining and enjoyed by the consumer. It means breaking down your project and deciding in advance if it’s “commercial content” or an “artistic effort” and writing a realistic business plan based on that to present to the studios and/or investors, so they know if they’re investing in a commercial product or donating to an artistic expression. here is nothing wrong with either side; you just need to understand the difference.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from working with TV news legends Marvin Zindler?
I was fortunate in that in my short career in news I was able to work with many legends and icons of the news business such as Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Sam Donaldson, David Brinkley and many more, but the most influential was Marvin Zindler. Pretty much anyone living in SE Texas at that time knew who Marvin Zindler was!
He was the consumer reporter for KTRK, Eyewitness News! I grew up watching him on TV. We would occasionally see him at big Houston events, such as the rodeo, and specifically, I remember he and Dave Ward (KTRK News Anchor) driving in the annual destruction derby and thrill show at the Astrodome every February. Marvin was a larger-than-life, tough as nails, man, with iron principles and a passion to use his strength, audience, influence, and celebrity to help others. Whether through in his consumer advocate reporting on Eyewitness News, or his charitable work, both in Houston and all over the world, he used his influence and relationships to bring people together to accomplish impossible results, such as bringing renowned heart surgeon Dr. Michale DeBakey to do surgery’s on children from underdeveloped nations with heart defects, to the famous plastic surgeon, Dr. Joe Agris, who, with Marvin, put teams together to travel to remote and sometimes hostile regions of the world to repair kids with cleft pallets, and on and on and on! Despite his passing in 2007, many of the efforts that Marvin started continue today!
Sorry, had to make sure you, and anyone from other parts of the county, who did not know who this man was, understand who he was and the impact and reach he had on the world, so far beyond Houston! He was so much more than the “Chicken Ranch” story that made him famous!
Anyway, Marvin got me my first job in TV, something that at the time, although my long-time dream was so far out of my reach, it was a miracle it ever happened. (Another story for another time) He got me access to the industry but so much more than that; he was a lasting influence on my career, not just in television, but even when I worked in other areas, such as health care and energy. He taught me, without specifically teaching me, that when we are blessed with any power and/or influence, we use that for good beyond ourselves! That there should always a greater good behind everything we do! They say that “Character is what we do when no one is watching”, Marvin taught me what to do when EVERYONE IS WATCHING!!!!!!
You’re working hard to bring more film work to Texas. What are some advantages in filming here?
There are so many advantages of shooting in Texas, unfortunately, we do not have all of the tax incentives that would allow us to compete on the same level as other states, but we do have some things that can’t be denied! We have reasonably predictable weather, good for shooting almost year-round, access to experienced crews, including gaffers, DP’s, Camera Operators, Directors, Art, and set design, etc., Studio and Post facilities like Spider wood and others. In addition, many established service companies, including FX, stunt, facilities providers, and others are actually moving to Texas due to our business-friendly environment, providing additional high-level resources to the filmmaker in Texas. In addition, there are several areas of the state that are very aggressive about creating a “film-friendly” environment for filmmakers to operate. Bastrop County was voted the most “Film Friendly” in the state!
This provides a HUGE advantage for the filmmaker at every level. Access to facilities, locations, local resources, permits, etc.… are streamlined by these “film-friendly” communities and makes the job of the filmmaker easier and allows them to get a higher level of production value out of every budget dollar! This is huge, especially for the Indi-filmmaker and low-budget films, especially when competing with states that offer tax incentives to the level that lenders will actually loan them money based on the anticipated sales tax rebates and other incentives to help them fund their project.
In addition, there is also access to a HUGE pool of very talented actors and even SAG-Aftra Union talent that work locally. SAG and other unions are looking to bring more work to Texas for the benefit of their members and are anxious to work with filmmakers to make that happen. I’ve personally produced 3 SAG-Aftra projects in Texas in the last two years and the cooperation and support of the Unions through their local leadership, especially through COVID-19, has been invaluable!
The Texas Film Commission, a division of the Governor’s office, is working with industry professionals to promote legislation and other programs to make Texas a more “film-friendly” state, and we continue to make great strides in that area thanks to the very hard work of many individuals and organizations.
What are you currently doing to bring more film work to the state?
Certainly, on any project that I am in a position of influence, I am pitching Texas when I can, but I’m also hoping to get more involved with groups like TXMPA (Texas Motion Picture Association), the TFC (Texas Film Commission), a branch of the Governor’s Office, local associations like the Houston, Dallas, Austin and other film commissions as they lobby for legislative support from the state and local governments, and work to provide ideas and incentives at a local level to attract productions and encourage local industry leaders to produce projects in Texas.
What do most people not understand about being a producer?
I think some people believe that being a producer is about red carpets and award shows! That is from a time long gone by!
Being a working producer is about a broad overview and the ability to manage the entire project, from pre-production, getting the script ready and broken down so you have a solid foundation to build your story, to bringing in the team to build the right cast, building a team for production from the director to cinema photographer to production managers who will work to make the project the best it can be, overseeing cast and crew contracts and compliance issues, managing union compliance, timelines, the budget, and even creating the overall tone and feel of the project on set!
A producer must be creative enough to get the highest level of production value out of the budget you have to work with, then seeing the entire process through production, post, and promotion! You’re the guy that makes the trains run on time, makes sure the street lights are on, the potholes are filled, and that everyone gets paid on time! It’s a much more difficult task than you would think it should be!
And I love every second of it!!!! =)
What’s your favorite thing about acting?
I know this will sound hokey, but I like the idea of bringing a writer’s idea of a character to life. I know the character I portray is not going to be the exact manifestation of what the writer had in his/her mind when they wrote it, but the idea that I can bring my personality, experiences, and twist to the character and make him all /or more than what the writer had in mind is awesome! I’ve taken a lot of classes and worked hard to be a good actor, however, I’m not a “theatrically trained” actor, I’m somewhat limited by who I am and how I come across, but I can bring an element of myself and merge that with the writer’s image of that character and hopefully do that character justice, while at the same time, creating a lasting collaboration of a character that will entertain people and last beyond my lifetime.
Tell us about His Stretch of Texas Ground.
“Texas Ground” was a creative and important piece for me, as it was the largest role I’ve ever had in a film, but also, something close to home. Additionally, I was brought in late in the process as a Producer on the project. This Character, Deputy Nelson, was very close to me, as he was a good-hearted guy, who loves his friends, family, and community and would do anything to protect them, but at the same time, conflicted about how tough he has to be to accomplish this! The story of the Sherriff, Joe Hallidan, is based loosely on the screenwriter’s father, a New York cop in the 60’s who had to go out and serve during the contentious and hostile protests of the period, but was committed to his family and promised his wife, “I will always come home to you!” which became the title song for the film.
I loved that I was a part of something that came from such roots and I hope that I did the character justice and made the people watching feel what he was feeling and the bond he had with the Sheriff and his family.
This film has already won 5 “Best Feature Film” Awards at film festivals across the country and Western Europe and continues to do well! We hope it will find a good home on a platform that will allow a large number of people to see and enjoy this film, and appreciate the roots from which the story came!
What’s next for you?
Since “Texas Ground” we’ve worked to complete a 4-episode Pilot for a show called “Be Someone” starring Tisha Campbell Martin and Kalil Kane, we’ve managed to complete the last few scenes that were interrupted by COVID-19 and get to the final stages of Post. We are also working hard to resume filming on a project called “Ambush” staring Arron Eckhart, which had just commenced filming in March of 2020, then had to be suspended due to COVID. We’re working hard to get the band back together and get that done. We’re currently looking at a late-June re-start date.
I’m also producing a children’s action/fantasy film called “Wonder London” starring Vivica A. Fox and London Boyce, which is currently shooting in Houston and Austin. This is a first effort for me in the “children’s film” genre but it’s looking terrific and I’m hoping it leads to more opportunities in this genre!
Beyond that, I’m working on a number of projects that we hope comes to fruition and creates opportunity and sustainability for the Texas film industry!
For more information about Jeff visit his website for his production company: www.bitterendmedia.com