Five Arkansas companies making waves in the entertainment and production industries.
Changing Landscapes Inspires Production CompanyZak Heald said running a production company in Northwest Arkansas is sort of like driving across Interstate 40 West.
“The landscape is always changing — stretches of beautiful green pastures, towering mountain views and vast snow peaks,” he said.
“Just as the landscape on I-40 changes, we are always adapting to the needs of our clients. We have a unique market here, a thriving economy supported by some of the largest companies in the country, and new startups are opening every month. Some weeks, we are working on a reality show and the next week, we may be flying a drone over beautiful estates, shooting a series of sales videos for a Fortune 500 company or shooting a custom commercial spot for a local business.”
Heald, who is from Gravette, started Intercut Productions in high school. He got his first paid commercial shoot at 16, and by the time he graduated, he had enough work to keep him busy consistently. Heald attended John Brown University for one year in the digital cinema program, but he decided to leave school and invest his time into IP Film and Video, based in Rogers.
“Starting and running a small business is hard work yet very rewarding,” Heald said. “The part that seems to take up valuable time is keeping up with all the regulations and laws, including tax laws, but the most enjoyable aspect of my business is the fact that no two days are the same.”
Heald said that if expanded tax incentives were ever passed in Arkansas, film studios will follow the money.
“If we get those incentives, I could see Arkansas take on a massive influx of film production like we saw in Louisiana and Georgia when they passed their incentives,” he said.
Movie Theater Turned Guitar-Restoration GalleryWhat do you get when you take a boy from Arkansas, train him in engineering, architecture and computer management, and then he switches gears to restoring classic cars, motorcycles and “cool stuff for museums and private collectors?” The Meteor Guitar Gallery in Bentonville.
“About six years ago, my two younger sons wanted to start playing guitars,” said Les Key, founder and owner of Meteor Guitar Gallery. “My wife talked me into taking lessons, and when I started taking lessons, I played till my fingers bled.”
Key, who grew up in Northwest Arkansas and returned after living in Ohio, always loved the movie theater in downtown Bentonville. “Basically, I watched it for 15 or 16 years trying to think of something to do with it,” he said.
About a year after learning to play guitar, Key started to repair, restore and rebuild guitars. That led him to meet the right dealers and guitar collectors around the country, and it’s what helped him develop the idea for Meteor Guitar Gallery.
“At first, it was going to be more of an art gallery and vintage guitar store, but as we started building it, we already had Mel Tillis’ old stage, all of our speakers, everything we needed to start it,” Key said. “We started playing back there and realized how good the room sounded and the next thing you know, we had a stage set up and started doing some local bands. We added a radio station to the mix so now we’re going to be an FM station in just a few months. KOBV-103.3, a little local broadcast within an eight- or nine-mile radius.”
Comedy Club Making a Mark in North Little RockComedy is not an easy gig, Steve Farrell knows. Since 1976, his family has performed comedy professionally in Houston, New York and Los Angeles. After decades of living in those crowded urban areas, the entire Farrell family was ready for a change.
“Three generations of us traveled together for several years, exploring dozens of smaller, friendlier markets, looking for the right home for a new adventure,” Farrell said. “We didn’t want hard winters so we ruled out northern states. After living in Houston, we didn’t want hurricanes so we only looked inland. Each time we visited Little Rock, we loved it more, so, in 2011, we selected Arkansas as our new home.”
In May 2012, Farrell opened The Joint, a comedy theater and coffee shop in downtown North Little Rock.
“It’s also a clubhouse for the Farrells, our friends and co-workers, and anyone else who wants to become a part of the extended family,” Farrell said. “The residents of Argenta (whom we refer to as ‘Argenitals’) adopted the gang at The Joint as their own, and since we opened, The Joint has been a gathering place for these neighbors plus anyone else who chooses to get in on the action.”
Farrell and his wife, Vicki, own The Joint, which is managed by Adam and Sarah Farrell, the couple’s son and daughter-in-law. Daughter, Erika Farrell Peters, handles The Joint’s promotions with her husband, Ross Peters.
“My parents also moved to Little Rock to help out with the project, and now Erika’s children are regulars at the clubhouse,” Farrell said. “Our shows are loaded with topics and characters drawn from our everyday lives.”
Maxine’s Live Gets a MakeoverCassie Francioni is an artist, organizer, manager and stylist. She’s also a fixer. When she and her husband, Gino, took over the iconic Maxine’s Live in Hot Springs in May 2013, there was a lot to be fixed.
“It was just kind of a dark, smoky, dive bar that was dirty and needed fixing,” Cassie said.
“Some people liked it that way, and it worked for as long as it did, but it needed to kind of grow with the times a little bit. I created a smoking patio; we added tables and another bar at the back. The second week I was here, there were all these trash cans set out all throughout the bar. I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, someone said, ‘It looks like rain,’ and the trash cans were there to catch the leaks. Our patrons were just walking around them like it was no big deal.”
A native of Benton, Francioni isn’t sure how long Maxine’s was in existence before she took over.
“We’ve really thrown some people off,” she said. “We literally had people blowing smoke in each other’s faces. It was almost depressing to me, but now it’s not. We’re happy, and it’s not about anything but the positive attitude.”
Francioni’s husband books the bands.
“All of the bands that come through are booked by Gino at night when he gets home from work in Little Rock,” Francioni said. “He gets on the computer and goes
through thousands of emails and searches and finds performers. He comes up with some recipes, too, and is a really good cook.”
ARCA Creates Sound for Agencies, Bands, Candidates
The Audio Recording Company of Arkansas has a storied history of sound. Founded in 1975 by Clyde Snider and Dick Marendt, ARCA went from taping local bands in southwest Little Rock to recording political ads for candidates throughout the nation.
“In 1975, I bought a state-of-the-art, 16-track analog studio in southwest Little Rock,” said Snider, ARCA co-owner and chair of the board. “I did mostly bands and choirs for five years. Music production is mostly night work because that’s when bands can come in. I was raising a family at the time, and most of my work kept me up all night because the band members all had day jobs.”
In 1979, Snider and Marendt merged with On The Air Productions, a studio at Markham Street and Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. That studio started out as a jingle company and doing voiceovers and full-service audio. “We merged because they had terrible equipment and pretty good business, and we had wonderful equipment, and our business was pretty bad,” Snider said.
ARCA works with advertising agencies all over the country, as well as politicians of every ilk.
“I remember in the late ’80s and 1990, when Bill Clinton was running for governor,” Snider said. “He’d come in and we’d do spots, and I’d make 135 reel-to-reel dubs he would take on a plane and fly all over Arkansas, giving them to radio stations. The next day, they’d be on the air.”
Snider stresses that ARCA is nonpolitical, however.
“I just got through doing a spot for the guy running for governor of North Dakota,” he said. “He’s the attorney general right now. We also did spots for the South Carolina primaries for Jeb Bush. We do both sides of the aisle.”