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April 16, 2018

Fame, Framed

Sam Jones gets down to basics on his Audience Network talk show.

Anne Easton
  • Sam Jones

    Matt Davidson
  • Jones with Elisabeth Moss

    Matt Davidson

While it's not his usual style, Sam Jones managed to get Will Ferrell to appear on his show naked.

The host of Off Camera with Sam Jones recalls, "Will told me, 'I love your show.' I was so happy. Then he quickly said, 'I'd never do it, but I love watching it.' I was like, 'Okay….' With that, he laughed and said, 'No, I'm kidding. I'd love to come on.'" Just before Ferrell's appearance, he and Jones cooked up an opening bit that had Ferrell in the altogether. Nudity was a first on a series known for long-form interviews shot in black and white on a stark set.

"That was fun," Jones says, "but this show isn't to showcase people performing. It's for them to reveal how they do what they do."

The show is not Jones's day job. His photographic portraits of George Clooney, Bono, Viola Davis and former President Barack Obama have appeared on the covers of such publications as Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. He has also directed many national commercials and music videos.

Stepping in front of the camera for his quizzically named series, now in its 10th season on DirecTV's Audience Network, allows Jones to "pick the brains of people I admire."

He explains the title: "It's reminiscent of when you're on set and you take a break and end up having these real, off- camera conversations."

Jones, who's done more than a hundred sit-downs with a diverse roster of creatives, says his love of radio inspired this endeavor. "When I was a kid, I was allowed to keep my radio on after bedtime. I listened to a lot of Vin Scully and [longtime L.A. radio personality] Ira Fistell. They painted a picture through their storytelling."

To put his guests at ease, he says, "I tell them, 'I'm making this show with you. I'm not out to get you to cry or reveal something that you don't want to.'"

Jones himself is most nervous just as taping begins. "When that slate claps, I get a little twist in my stomach." But Jones knows he's connecting with his subject, he says, when "I see that this person can express their experience in a way that makes you feel like you're in their shoes."

The series' plain aesthetic serves a specific purpose, Jones says. "There's nothing in the frame but myself and the guest, so there's a naked quality to it. Not Will Ferrell-type nudity," he adds, laughing, "but it's a conversation devoid of any distractions. In my mind, that's perfect."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2018

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