Pandemic Production, One Year Later: Martin Jones, Studio Director, Austin Studios
Then: “Everything keeps sliding. End of June, Fourth of July.”
Now: “Walker season 1 finished, hallelujah! And season 2 confirmed.”
Pandemic or no, time rolls on. In June 2021 Senator Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, died, and it was a passing with a personal connection for Martin Jones. During the industry lull, the director of the Austin Film Society-run Austin Studios had become involved with American Gadfly, a documentary about the late rabble rouser and his 2020 presidential bid. He's part of the sales team as it wraps up a successful festival run, and with a positive reception and awards on the shelf, "it's got this nice little start," Jones said.
But it's not like Jones has had a lot of spare time to work on non-studio projects. The last 16 months have been a baptism by fire, since he'd only been at the studio for three months when everything shut down and AFS started layoffs and cost-cutting. "I was having PTSD from 2008 when I was in Dallas and everything went away." Queer Eye closed its office in the Red Building, Amazon's Panic went on hiatus, "and I was at term sheets with CBS for Walker, and that all got pushed."
However, there was still plenty of work to be done with existing tenants like Rooster Teeth (who, luckily, had just upgraded their infrastructure and so were able to keep working remotely). Plus, he added, "I went to this old Sunday school lesson. If you can't go out to the fish, stay home and mend the nets." The shutdown was an opportunity to complete a lot of deferred maintenance that had been put off because it would normally be "super disruptive to tenants." HVAC repairs and replacement, grading the parking lot – and, at the same time, the neighboring Mueller development was wrapping up construction along their shared south wall. "The cacophony of sound was so overwhelming that I was glad no one was filming right then."
But this wasn't about making empty buildings look nice. "We sharpened our pencils on the safety of our staff and our tenants, first and foremost," said Jones, and that meant developing protocols to get people back to work. While the soundstages were closed, the studio managed to keep the production offices in the Red Building open by implementing contact tracing and mail drop-offs. In a bout of good fortune, health and safety experts Code 4 took over the Queer Eye office, "and that was strategically super important ... to have a COVID lab and safety protocols on the lot."
Finally, productions have started coming back, and the studio is full again. Panic finished shooting. "Walker season 1 finished, hallelujah! And season 2 confirmed," said Jones, who was in four production bubbles simultaneously. "I've lost count of the number of the COVID tests that I had." But it was worth it to stay open and safe, and he gave particular credit to the studio team, who he called "superheroes." Because of them, he said, "We didn't skip a beat."
Read our original 2020 interview with Martin Jones here.