With high knee-high boots, puffy pants, and a lampshade megaphone, Jonathan Pekar is as much a character as he is the director of the new film department at Ardent Studios.
At a launch party last week, the recording company unveiled its expansion into music video and film production, a long time goal of Ardent's founder, John Fry.
"Ardent had not necessarily a department, but they were making some videos back in the '80s," Pekar says. "They did the ZZ Top 'TV Dinners' video and stuff like that just to spoil the clients. But in the back of John's mind was 'Well, this is something I always knew we needed, but how do you develop [a film department]?'"
Pekar, a native Memphian, worked as an actor and producer in Los Angeles for 23 years before returning to his hometown, citing a simple reason: "Memphis is way cooler."
"I want to make this a new Los Angeles," Pekar says. "Everyone goes to Los Angeles and takes this style and tries to go do it somewhere else. This is really where it's from, and I think a wonderful trend could start."
The film department has been in the works since January, and they've already completed 14 projects. The first, an animated 30-second commercial for the Memphis Music Foundation, is set to air on local TV channels and before the previews for movies at Malco Theatres.
"We decided to put our money where our mouth was and make something for a charity or a good cause," Pekar says. "We sat down with Dean [Deyo] and said we would like to do something to showcase Memphis, and we'd like to do it for the Memphis Music Foundation. Dean was all for it."
Ardent offers the complete package of recording music and documenting musicians as they record, but its film department will produce more than commercials and music videos. Pekar says they will cater to clients while still shopping around their own productions in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
"Right now, the one that's on the plate that I'm so very proud of is called Playhouse on the Television, where we want to show the actuality of what goes on at Playhouse on the Square," Pekar says. "It's really a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on a play and the interesting characters of Memphis."
The film department currently consists of four editors and associate producers, but Pekar says the goal over the next two years is to grow into a full-fledged department working on more than two or three projects at a time. He also hopes to further galvanize the film community, making it possible for all aspects of film production to be locally sourced.
"This isn't about new competition. This is about trying to bring the attention to Memphis to where we aren't going to hire out," Pekar says. "We're going to make big enough productions so that all the companies here will work together. Why fly in union guys from Los Angeles when everyone here can already do the job? It will be more of a united scenario. Everyone from catering to executive producers can be Memphians."