A Journey to John Schneider Studios
By Barry Rogers
Photography by Andrea Brown
Moss draped trees seem to be cradling the long dirt road that we’re driving down on this stormy evening. It’s really dark; except when lightning gives us an occasional glimpse of the land, which includes a swamp, lake, bamboo forest, pool, sound stage, and two houses. Andrea, one of the photographers for this story, has traveled with me from Texas. Now we’re trying to navigate the property at John Schneider Studios, here in Holden, Louisiana.
We’re supposed to be staying in one of the guest houses, and tomorrow I’ll be interviewing Mr. Schneider about his studios. However, he’s not answering his phone at the moment. Up until about 15 minute ago, we’d been corresponding on our whereabouts. I’m not too worried, just yet.
But, it’s a little after 9:30, and we’re running late due to the weather. Finally, we make an educated guess that the large, lit up house we’re approaching is where our guest rooms are for the evening. Of course, the spooky sign in the driveway saying, “Camp at your Own Risk” all but confirms it. This was the prop John had told us to look for, a leave behind from his movie Smothered, a film he wrote and directed.
I knock at the door and John Schneider soon greets us. He’s enthusiastic, and immediately apologizes for the sudden loss in communication, as his phone had just died. So all is well and we decide to watch Smothered. Sitting through the film was intensified, knowing it had been shot in and near the house we’d be staying in for the evening. Afterwards, Schneider asks for our feedback, and is genuinely interested about our take on various plot twists. We offer positive evaluations of the movie, and it all makes for the perfect ending to a memorable day.
Cut to the next morning! Somewhere near my second cup of coffee, it’s starting to dawn on me that we’re about to meet up and have breakfast with Bo Duke a.k.a. Jonathan Kent a.k.a. Jim Cryer. Pick a decade in pop culture since the 70’s, and John Schneider’s helped define it. His latest turn as the menacing Judge Cryer in Tyler Perry’s The Haves and The Have Nots has won him critical praise and a whole new fan base. The show’s also been a break out hit for the OWN network.
Andrea and I are now roaming the property, while she takes various pictures. We notice the RV and other things that we’d seen in Smothered the night before. Schneider, who’s already finished a work out, completed some studio chores, and a Skype interview comes speeding down the driveway. I can’t help but notice that the man known for driving the General Lee just pulled up in an electric hybrid. He stops and says, “Are you two hungry? Let’s go into town and get something to eat.”
As we start down the highway, I ask him if he likes to scare people in his work. “I like to shock people. I don’t like to scare people,” he explains. “Sudden dramatic occurrences that catch people off guard…it’s nice to get people to move in to see something, and then do something that gets them to jump back. They have this physical reaction to your movie.”
“Do you have fears? I’d have to think starting up a new studio would be pretty scary.”
“No. I don’t believe in fears. I don’t know how you could do anything wholeheartedly if you’re afraid. Maybe you’re afraid of the outcome. If you’re afraid you won’t achieve it, it means you believe there’s a time you stop trying.”
Schneider came up with the idea for the studios while filming Smothered on the property over a year ago. He says, “I realized it was the perfect place, because of the natural settings, the houses, and all the room to build more sound stages.”
He’s counting on the state’s tax break to help bring filmmakers in. “Louisiana is offering 35% tax incentives for filmmakers. This is money that you get back immediately, and can apply to finishing your movie,” Schneider says.
Arriving at a quiet little place called The Whistle Stop Café, John is treated like an old friend by the staff. He tells us as we near our seats that he ate here the first day they opened, and he continues to come back often.
The local community seems to have adopted Schneider and it seems obvious that he’s expecting to make a significant contribution to the area. “When we’ve got movie crews coming in, that’s good for local revenue. These crews are spending money somewhere.”
I’m curious about his writing: “You’re writing a lot of scripts these days? What’s your process like?”
“Well, I’m a structure freak,” he says. “I structure everything out. I have a theory on how stories should be told, and I adhere to that. There are a couple of storyboards in the house that have little stickies all over them.”
While he’s been on break from The Haves and The Have Nots this summer, Schneider’s spent a lot of time doing work around the studios and writing. When asked what a perfect day is like, he’s quick to answer: “I wake up with Act III, clearly in my head. I sit down with a cup of coffee and write it down. Right now I’ve got four scripts I’m working on at one time.”
We take the time to finish our meal, and then the three of us are headed to the studios again to finish up with some pictures. On the return drive, I ask him about the ongoing appeal of the Dukes, a show that’s never been off the air. He says, “It’s about family, and honor, even if it’s honor among thieves. Dukes was also shot right. It’s beautiful. Nobody really talks about that. You watch the cars going down the road, and the horses are grazing, and then the car jumps over the creek. The geese fly off. It’s lush and green. It’s gorgeous.”
As we drive back through Holden, he continues, “Every small town looks like it could be Hazzard County. That building over there looks like it could be The Boars Nest.”
“Tell us about your work on The Haves and The Have Nots.”
“We’ve been picked up for a third season. I love working with Tyler. He’s a real creative force. My character Jim Cryer is not a nice person. But he’s color blind, and loves his kids. He’s got his redeeming qualities. The fans are very devoted to what we’re doing.”
Arriving back at the studios, John walks us around, pointing to various locations. You can tell his vision for the studios is crystal clear. It’s easy to see that Schneider is a man who’s lived out many of his dreams, and he’s not done. However now he’s creating a world where he’s helping people make their dreams a reality. As he puts it, “I want to make this a place where the independent filmmaker’s dreams are realized.”
At the end of that dirt road we didn’t find Bo Duke. Instead, we met a Renaissance man who’s spent his career making people believe. He likes fine art and a story well crafted. Now he has John Schneider Studios, a place where people will have a chance to tell those stories.
John Schneider Studios has a Facebook fan page under the same name.
On Twitter, it’s @StudioSchneider His website is: thejohnschneider.com