A Duke Boy And a Dream
Known for his iconic role as Bo Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard, John Schneider takes on a new title as owner of John Schneider Studios in Holden, La.
Although most will remember John Schneider for the six years he spent on the television screen as “just a good ole’ boy, never meaning no harm,” the 54-year-old actor is full of surprises.
For instance, he’s a singer with 13 albums to his name. In fact, four of his singles and one of his albums hit No. 1 on the U.S. country charts.
He’s also a philanthropist. Along with Marie Osmond, he co-founded Children’s Miracle Network in 1983. The international non-profit has since raised over $4 billion for children’s hospitals and medical research.
And then there’s the acting. After Dukes, Schneider has gone on to play everything from Billy Flynn in Chicago on Broadway, to the father of Superman in the hit show Smallville, to stints on other hit shows including CSI Miami, Desperate Housewives, Nip/Tuck and Glee. Currently he co-starts on Tyler Perry’s The Haves and The Have Nots on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The show is filmed at Perry’s studios in Atlanta.
According to Schneider, it was seeing this fellow celebrity’s studio that inspired him to follow his own childhood dream. In January of 2014, after a lot of searching, Schneider purchased a 58-acre parcel of land in Holden, La. He has since shot his first feature film on the property – a horror movie called Smothered, which is expected to be out this fall.
According to Schneider, his production company, Fairlight Films, will focus on “real, gritty, compelling stories that will be the topic of discussion long after the end credits roll.”
On a warm summer day, I met up with Schneider on his property to talk a bit about his plans for John Schneider Studios.
Schneider in the role that made him a TV icon – Bo Duke in CBS’ The Dukes of Hazzard. The show ran from Jan. 1979 to Feb. 1985.
LEFT: A prop leftover from filming for Smothered. RIGHT: Schneider at his home away from home – one of two houses on the studios’ 58-acres. Photos by Cheryl Gerber.
BIZ: How did you get into the production business? I know you did some things on that end with The Dukes of Hazzard.
JS: Writing and directing, yeah. Before Dukes, when I was a kid we used to shoot movies with super 8 cameras and splice them together on the carpet. But then on Dukes that’s when I actually got my DGA (Directors Guild of America) card and actually wrote and directed the last episode – (laughing) hopefully that’s not the reason why it was the last episode.
BIZ: What interests you about production?
JS: It’s telling a story, and more specifically telling your story. As an actor you’re helping tell someone else’s story, which is great, but there’s nothing better than writing something from a blank book or screen and following it all the way through to a movie. I think, for an actor, it’s just a natural progression. I want to have the studio to tell my stories, but also others’ as well. It’s designed for the independent filmmaker to park their catering truck over there and park their grip truck over there and be able to shoot 50 locations and never move.
BIZ: What made you choose this location for your studio?
JS: Well, when I first saw it everything was about three feet deep in leaves. There are two homes on the property (built around 1910 and 1950), but nobody had lived here for years. Over the years the property had been a church camp, a YMCA camp and a Navy Seal training ground, but it was completely grown over when I saw it. It was a very haunted house looking place – holes in the floors, grass growing on the roof.
BIZ: It’s got a pretty convenient location – about an hour from the airport and less than 45 minutes from Baton Rouge, but it doesn’t sound like it was exactly ideal. What attracted you to the property.
JS: Well, for one, there’s a river, lake, swamp and baseball field all within 100 yards of each other. We’ve got everything here – a pool, a 5,000 square-foot soundproof building and even a five-acre bamboo forest. For instance, you can be up in Canada in the woods over there, and in Vietnam over there. And of course we can do Louisiana or Florida with the swamp area. That kind of convenience boils down to money savings for a filmmaker. Oh, and I have a hill! When I was scouting for Smothered that was the single hardest thing to find.
BIZ: Who is your target audience for the studio?
JS: It’s really independent filmmakers like myself. When I went looking for places to shoot, I really wasn’t finding what I wanted. There just wasn’t a place where you could do film and post-production in the same place, and also a place where you could have so many shooting options in one location.
BIZ: Why is it so important to offer a “one stop shop” as you’ve called it?
JS: Most filmmakers waste a lot of money by moving their crew. I write for things to be shot wisely because it saves money. Smothered was shot in 14 days – three days in Baton Rouge and 11 days right here. The average independent film is shot in around 15 to 20 days. So first and foremost it’s an economical choice. Here you can shoot and have your editor right here assembling dailies on site. This house here has three bedrooms, so your director, assistant director and producer can stay right on site. We’re also going to be adding a double-wide trailer with two offices and two more bedrooms.
BIZ: You’re looking at bringing revenue to the area.
JS: Oh yeah. We spent $1 million in those 14 days on Smothered and probably $750,000 of that was right here in Livingston Parish, buying things like food, supplies and hotel rooms. We also had a lot of bulldozer and backhoe work. There’s a lot of “I need this now,” and the people here were ready to work.
BIZ: Who is your competition?
JS: There really isn’t any. Celtic is here. But that studio is big and beautiful and more for $100 million productions.
BIZ: Obviously you were attracted to Louisiana by the film credits, but is there anything else that you appreciate about filming here?
JS: The work force is great, the talent force is great, and they’re passionate about it. They like being in the movie business. The fact that the people have the talent and passion here is wonderful. Passionate people move faster, and it’s all about moving faster. You can’t be waiting around or you don’t make your day, and if you don’t make your day, you start out behind tomorrow.
BIZ: How do you envision the schedule working out? How much of the time will be your productions and how much will be others renting the studios?
JS: I’m planning on making two movies a year, so the ideal would be for me to use the studio six months of the year, leaving the other half for rentals. The whole season for The Haves and The Have Nots takes a month. We shoot fast, so that gives me time.
BIZ: You’ve played some really wholesome characters (Bo Duke, Pa Kent on Smallville). I think a lot of people may find it surprising that your first completed film is a horror movie. Where did that come from?
JS: Well it’s horror, but there’s a real humanity to it. Somebody told me once that all of my characters are disenfranchised. It’s true. I’ve been disenfranchised and I’ve been franchised. I’ve been on both sides of it, and it’s tough. Yes there is horror, but it’s also hysterical.
BIZ: There’s a real Louisiana connection in many of your upcoming films.
JS: Yes, the next one in fact was inspired by a conversation I had with a man at Crazy Dave’s Daiquiri here in Livingston. And then there’s Backwater – about a nurse who is a suspect in some suspicious hospice deaths in Denham Springs.
BIZ: What’s your goal for the studio?
JS: As the studio gets rented out, my desire is to take that money and put it back into the infrastructure here. Right now it’s not a big moneymaker. For instance, I recently charged someone $2,000 to shoot here and somebody came the next day to trim some trees and the bill was $2,000. That’s the current reality. Right now though I have a group working on putting together a business plan to have investors come in as a real estate deal. If that happens we’ll look at really expanding and building some sound stages – create a French Quarter down the middle here and add two plantations. It’s going to be great.
An aerial view of John Schneider Studios, which includes a lake, swamp, river, baseball field, pool, two houses, a bamboo forest and a 5,000-square-foot soundproof building. Photo by Ron Hale of Cyberlink.
Schneider poses with the Smothered cast, which includes the lead actors from horror classics Friday the 13th, Halloween and Leatherface. The film has met with rave reviews and is due out late this year. Photo by Talon Tarter.
Smothered filming on the lake at John Schneider Studios. Photo by Talon Tarter.
As a writer and director, Schneider says he’s all about the details. “I’m not a guy that likes to hand things off to other people,” he says.” Photo by Talon Tarter
When he’s not filming for Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots, Schneider spends most of his free time on the property. Photo by Cheryl Gerber.
Schneider is in good company: Below is just a sampling of celebrities with their own production companies.
Brad Pitt – Drew Barrymore – Ice Cube – Reese Witherspoon – Tom Cruise – Will Smith Sandra Bullock – Tyler Perry – Queen Latifah – Natalie Portman – Demi Moore – Mel Gibson – Bette Midler – George Clooney – Charlize Theron – Hillary Swank – Alicia Silverstone – Barbara Streisand – Will Ferrell – Sofia Vergara – Leonardo DiCaprio – Adam Sandler