Want to get into Knoxville-area showbiz? Here’s how

Friday, July 10, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 28
By Bonny C. Millard

“Chasing the fun” keeps Jaime Hemsley, founder and owner of Gage Models and Talent Agency, in high gear to find her clients opportunities in the entertainment business.

“There’s lots of different ways to get involved in the industry,” she says, adding that her clients work both locally and nationally. Her agency recently booked a client with a TV reality dating show. Gage is headquartered in Knoxville but has clients throughout the southeast and works with agencies in New York and Los Angeles.

LA and New York may be the destinations of choice, but Knoxville offers a wide range of work in television, film and theater, including for those getting started in the business.

Knoxville has an excellent production community, Hemsley says. Companies like Jupiter Entertainment produce a number of re-enactment shows such as “Snapped,” “Homicide Hunters,” and “Killer Couples.” Many of the roles don’t have speaking parts, but the experience helps her clients develop their skills with the bonus of a national television credit, she says.

“Jupiter affords our talent so much opportunity to get on a national TV show without having a huge resume,” she says.

Visit Knoxville Film Office Director Curt Willis agrees, saying the Knoxville area has a solid presence of production companies and independent filmmakers that benefits not only those in the business, but the community as a whole, from an economic standpoint.

“Scripts [Scripts Howard Broadcasting Co.] is here, so there’s a lot of production because of that. Jupiter provides a lot of opportunities with all the TV shows they do, and RIVR (Media) as well. We’re in a unique situation to have companies like that that have very successful TV shows, and that, for the most part, are being filmed here,” Willis says. “We’ve got a really strong film community here in town. Lot of talented folks. For a city this size, we’ve got four film festivals.”

RIVR Media produces reality TV shows such as “Fat Guys in the Woods,” and “Friday Nights Impossible with Jerry Rice” and the upcoming documentary series “Escaping Polygamy,” which premieres on LMN later this month.

In addition to television programming, Knoxville has been the location for a number of films. Willis says some are lower budget movies, but they are all quality. A list of those films is available on the Visit Knoxville Film Office website.

Willis, who was hired in January 2014 when the office was established, provides support for both local productions as well as filmmakers who might be considering Knoxville for a location shoot.

“We support production companies that are already here, if they looking for certain locations or crew members for a shoot, and with permitting. We kind of streamline the permitting process here in the city to try to make Knoxville more film friendly,” Willis explains. “I’m recruiting projects to come and shoot here. We’re working on a couple of big projects now – out of town projects.”

Knoxville actress Tyra Haag, who has appeared in locally produced television shows that have a national audience, believes this is a good place for filmmakers to consider for their projects.

“Our region truly is a premier filming location, and we’re fortunate to have the Visit Knoxville Film Office working on our behalf,” says Haag, who is represented by Talent Trek Agency. “There’ve been some great films shot here. Our area really has everything filmmakers could need or want. You’ve got talented actors, crew and an incredible variety of locations to shoot.”

Hemsley says that’s what makes this area such a great place to work is because there are so many opportunities for both children and adults to break into television and film.

“Tons of things are filming all around us and within a day’s drive, which is really good for our actors because I can get them on a real movie set within a day’s drive versus ten years ago, when I started, you had to go to LA or other places where the movies are made,” Hemsley says. “I think a lot of communities are catching on to the tax break and what it does for the economy when you bring in the whole production.”

Georgia offers tax incentives that draw filmmakers, and the result is that Atlanta continues to be a destination location for feature films. Many people would like to see Tennessee offer more incentives to expand the filmmaking industry in the state, Hemsley points out.

Willis, who is also an actor and has a production company (Will-Rock Entertainment) with a creative partner, says that cash rebate incentives do play a big role in landing new movie projects. Knoxville and Knox County are currently working on an incentive plan to use as a recruiting tool, he adds.

Brian McNew, vice president, creative team of JAOPRO, says that Knoxville benefits from its proximity to Atlanta and even Cincinnati.

“We’re in a very good geographic location for industries around, and we can get to people pretty quick,” McNew says. “I think a lot of production companies here see success because of how accessible Knoxville is to so many different areas. The scenery doesn’t hurt either.”

Hemsley, who now runs her company with her husband, Brent, expanded the level of services as the demand and need began to increase. She bought a friend’s franchise modeling school in 2003, but she realized that she wanted her clients to have better opportunities after they graduated from the program.

“We started on the education side, and then we built the agency because we were having a hard time getting the students representation, and then it just took off,” Hemsley notes. “There’s so much opportunity around here that I didn’t realize so now we’re much more than an agency. Our primary focus is on booking the models and actors, singers, and dancers. They have all kinds of different things for talent.”

Hemsley created Knoxville Fashion Week, Chattanooga Fashion Week and Asheville Fashion Week to give more opportunities to Gage’s models.

The full-service agency works with clients ages 4 through adulthood and has a toddler division for modeling. To help clients develop skills for future roles, Gage offers classes for acting on camera, which is different than preparing for a stage role, as well as developing timing skills and reading a teleprompter.

“The dance of acting is really hard. It’s a craft, especially if you want to get a paycheck for it. So we have a program where they can take classes in advanced film and television.” she says. “We have a really excellent team of people who are willing to come in and help develop our young talent.”

Joy Morris, who heads the agency’s advanced film and television acting program, had her own studio at one time, has written books and has taught around the world.

“We’re very fortunate that she retired in East Tennessee and works with our kids because she’s got a lot of experience.”

In addition, Gage brings in other professionals on a contract basis for special programs. Clients pay to participate in the classes and other developmental services.

“We fly in a LA producer and director to work with our talent. Tom Logan – he’s amazing. So it’s people who have actual film experience.”

Those new to the industry should learn the craft and develop their skills, she says.

“You have to work at it. You’re competing with people who’ve been doing it forever. It should be something you’re constantly studying.”

Television shows need people of all types to fill many different character roles, and actors need to be ready.

“The person that lands the job, I have found consistently, isn’t the prettiest, and oftentimes, is not the most talented. It’s the one with the best attitude that walks on the set, and people think ‘wow, they’re easy to work with.’ In this industry, everything is last minute. You don’t know when the production will end. You’ve got really long work days. Your schedule might change a lot so it really takes an excellent attitude.”

Actors should always have a current headshot, one that depicts them as they look, because those in casting are looking for a particular type. Hemsley laughs and says that some people will try to lie about their age or their weight, but they should present themselves as they are.

“There’s something out there for everybody. You’re going to get the best opportunity when you’re your authentic self on that photo.”

Hemsley is true to her own authentic self in running her company.

She graduated from college with a degree in finance but was bored by the corporate world.

She jumped at the chance when her friend was selling her business.

“That’s how I got into it – chasing the fun,” Hemsley says. The fun has only improved with time. “It’s a 24-hour business. It’s good energy though. I’m never bored.”