Someday in the future, when Zane Jones makes his Oscar acceptance speech, you can bet that — before he gushes the obligatory thank-you’s to Hollywood A-listers — he will enthusiastically express love and gratitude for his parents and even a special elementary school teacher in Columbia.
Some may call those folks the “little people,” but to Zane, there are no little people. He always will cherish the relationships he had as far back as when he filled buckets in a playground sandbox.
Zane spent his formative years in Columbia, where his mother, Okynease Jones, still lives. His father, James Jones, now resides in Florida. Zane returns to the East Coast at least once a year to visit both parents.
Zane and Alani, his wife, made the move to the Los Angeles area five years ago to pursue his dream of performing stand-up comedy and acting. Success rarely happens overnight, and Zane patiently rolled with the twists and turns of show business. Always one who values education, he wasted no time enrolling in the New York Film Academy, where he earned his associate degree of fine arts in acting.
“The whole time I have been in LA, I have been in school,” Zane says. “I have been performing stand-up and sketch comedy, too.”
While performing at area comedy clubs and participating in a sketch comedy improv group called Blackverse, Zane went on to attend the Los Angeles Film School, graduating magna cum laude with an associate degree in film this past year. Just two months out of film school, Zane and six other African American producers won a 2021 Daytime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Daytime Fiction Program” for their short film titled The Girl in Apartment 15. It’s a 17-minute movie touching on the poignant topic of domestic abuse and whether one should intervene if abuse is suspected.
This particular Emmy win was truly historic because it was a Hollywood first. “This was the first year this category was even a thing, and we were the first people to win it,” Zane says. “That’s another accomplishment on top of even just having the Emmy itself.”
Too Cool for School?
It’s been a circuitous journey for Zane, but he got his first inklings of desire for creative ventures during his earlier days in Columbia. His mom especially nurtured his artistic side.
“I definitely was a momma’s boy,” Zane says. “Mom was a soft touch. She was creative as a stay-at-home mom. She was always saying, ‘Let’s build something together,’ or, ‘Let’s draw something together.’”
A retired military veteran, his father was a straight-shooting, practical sort who eschewed corporal punishment in favor of using education as a constructive teaching tool. “My dad would make us do educational things as discipline, like rewrite an entire book. He is a businessman now and works in car sales. He’s been the No. 1 salesman at his dealership for more than a decade. I think he gave me the ability to have an idea and carry it out — to execute a plan. I definitely got that from my dad.”
Zane excelled in school academically but also showed great promise in visual art. Many of his paintings and illustrations were publicly exhibited and won awards. Soon he was bitten by the acting bug but was reluctant to explore it fully at the time.
“I was in drama in the eighth grade,” he says. “It was then that I realized I really liked acting, but it’s just not a cool thing to do when you are in middle school!”
One childhood figure in particular, former fifth-grade teacher Dr. Timothy J. Blackwell, holds a permanent place in Zane’s heart. Tim taught 10-year-old Zane at Carver-Lyon Elementary School.
“Dr. Blackwell was the most hands-on teacher that I ever had,” Zane says. “I could tell he really believed in me. When it was time to take a test, he would tell the class that he would take whoever made the highest scores to McDonald’s. I was always getting the highest grades, so I was spending a lot of time with him. His class is where we had this art project to draw a kaleidoscope using a protractor. That was the first piece of artwork I ever sold as a kid. I think it went for $150!”
Fresh off his Emmy win, Zane visited Columbia over the 2021 holidays, and his teacher was one of the first people Zane looked up. When he discovered that Tim was still working in the education profession and was currently the principal at Arden Elementary School, he decided to pay a surprise visit to the school.
“At the time, no visitors were allowed to come into the school,” Tim says, “but I refused to say no. I allowed Zane to come in, and we met — socially distanced — in my conference room.” The two had been connected periodically over the years via social media, but this was their first in-person visit since Carver-Lyon. “When I saw him, the first thing I said was, ‘Wow. You are taller than me!’ We sat down and started talking. Zane said he wanted to thank me … It was hard to talk after that. Who would have imagined that a child from the inner-city limits of Columbia would move to California and win an Emmy!”
Tim remembers Zane as quiet and reserved but also a leader among his peers at school. “Zane was a studious individual. He was a very knowledgeable student in all subjects,” Tim says. “In math, he was very sharp with the numbers. He had a sound foundation for fifth grade. I just built on what he already had.”
The McDonald’s test incentive actually came from the students in Tim’s class. He was only a couple of years into his teaching career and asked what the students would like to have as a reward for doing well. They overwhelmingly said McDonald’s.
“A Happy Meal was not too expensive for a young teacher, so I could afford that,” he says. “I used that incentive to keep the kids engaged and excited about learning. Zane won quite a few meals, too.”
The Few. The Proud.
When Zane was 14, he moved from Columbia to Jacksonville, Florida, to live with his father. He graduated from Englewood High School and soon after enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served for five years as a Marine avionics technician working on CH-53E helicopters at Marine Corps air stations at Miramar near San Diego, California, and New River, North Carolina.
While in basic training, Zane began to recognize how humor can be a useful coping mechanism and a healing force. It was something he tapped into often.
“When I was in boot camp, I remember I was never stressed — not even one day. I was happy-go-lucky the whole time and laughing,” he says. “During an intense exercise, people would look at me and say, ‘Hey, this dude is still smiling even while we have to do pushups for three hours!’ One guy told me he would never have made it out of boot camp without me.”
While in the Marines, Zane met Alani, his wife of now nine years, while both were in the same training school for similar job duties. After leaving the military in 2016, the couple moved to Los Angeles.
“Alani is a very supportive figure in my life. She is very involved in my career,” he says. “She helps me creatively with my talk show and ideas. I just started my production company, Holoflow. She is a very creative person. I go to her to bounce ideas back and forth.”
As the pandemic raged, Zane used any downtime he found to create. In August 2020, he and an actor friend launched a late-night talk show on YouTube called “Zane at Dusk.” While it started out as a duo, it became a solo venture for Zane after a few shows. “Zane At Dusk” will begin its third season this year.
“We had a monologue in the beginning but dropped it because it took up too much time,” Zane says. “When we started, we wanted to keep the show to about 10 minutes, but that felt like forcing the conversation, so we expanded to 15 and then to 20 minutes.”
Zane sensed it was important to try to keep the show to a shorter format because his younger audiences tend to have shorter attention spans. “We recorded all six episodes of the first season in a friend’s garage,” he says. “In the second season, we moved to a studio in Burbank. At the end of the day, I am not making the show to get followers on YouTube but to add to my body of work.”
It’s Who You Know
In addition to specializing in three distinct areas in entertainment — acting, producing, and editing — Zane seems to have a keen mind for marketing and has handled his own publicity from day one. He understands the imperative of establishing and nurturing relationships, especially in the entertainment industry. In fact, the connections he has made led directly to his involvement in the Emmy-winning project.
“I had been in another film, The Good Teacher. I only had one line, but I met the head producer, Dr. Louis Deon Jones [no relation],” Zane says. “We followed each other on Instagram, and he knew I know my way around a film set. After he acquired The Girl in Apartment 15, he invited me on as a producer and script supervisor.”
And the rest, as they say, is Emmy history.
“It’s not like we are ‘Hollywood’ people,” Zane says. “These are independent films. These connections only come from living here.”
While Zane does not have a formal publicist, he recently secured commercial and theatrical representation with an agency, MZA. His production company, Holoflow, is accepting new clients at a steady pace, most recently shooting a music video in December 2021.
“That is not the grand vision,” he says. “I like making movies, but at the end of the day, I love it all.”
Catching up with Zane Jones:
Q. What is your favorite Columbia restaurant?
A. A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen
Q. What part of the city do you miss most?
A. I miss having access to nature, being able to go fishing at a pond, or walking through the woods.
Q. What is your favorite spot in Columbia?
A. Five Points
Q. What is your favorite thing to do with your family?
A. Have a get-together at the house and play games.
Q. What was your favorite thing about living in Columbia?
A. Growing up in a neighborhood that had activities within walking distance and spending lots of time walking through the woods.
Q. What one thing really makes your day?
A. Learning a new skill.
Q. What is your pet peeve?
A. People leaving trash in movie theaters when they know the first thing they’ll see when leaving is trash cans.
Q. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Q. What is your favorite movie?
A. Of recent: Joker 2019. Comedy: Don’t Be a Menace. Drama: Paid in Full. Sci-Fi: The Matrix
Q. Is your desk messy or neat?
A. Halfway between
Q. What was your first job?
A. Arby’s in Jacksonville, Florida
Q. What was your first car?
A. 2004 BMW 325i
Q. What is your favorite comfort food?
A. Pork and beans, weenies, and rice
Q. What is your idea of a dream vacation?
A. Going to Mexico to swim in the underwater caves and experience nature, see historical sites, and party.
Q. What is the “coolest” experience you’ve ever had?
A. Fixing helicopters and watching them fly.
Q. What is your favorite thing to cook?
A. Grilled chicken wings
Q. What are two things people would never guess about you?
A. I run 20 mph, and I don’t play basketball.
Q. What advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
A. Cultivate relationships, try everything, and be honest.
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. Watching Japanese anime, going to the movies, eating at restaurants, doing home improvement projects, and traveling.