Starting out at Channel AKA when it was known as Channel U Duane Jones is a pioneer when it comes to celebrating British Black culture.
Going from on screen, to on the radio at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, to back on our screens with his cult popular YouTube series ‘Not For the Radio‘ to changing things up to make strides behind the camera as an executive producer of original docs and soon coming scripted content.
TBB Talks caught up with this multi-faceted creative about his achievements so far…
Introduce yourself …
Duane Jones – co-founder of Renowned Films, Renowned Publishing and Not For The Radio [NFTR] from South West London
What was your plan when you were younger was it always to be in the industry – can you believe where you are and the strides you’ve made?
Playing academy football and even going abroad to play when I was younger, I always assumed I would go on to be a professional footballer, as it had been one of my dreams since I can remember. I wasn’t really inspired or motivated by school, so football became my main passion. One day I heard about BRIT school, and its incredible music and creative programmes. Music was a huge part of my life growing up and my love for it ran just as deep as for football, but it wasn’t until that moment when I realised there was a place where I could learn, and train in the whole process of making music, as well as TV and radio that my eyes suddenly opened to other career possibilities. So I decided to apply, and when I got in I think that was the turning point for me because it made me realise that I could turn my other passions into a career – I had options. As a young black boy growing up in a single parent home, you don’t always realise there are options and choices out there for you. I often think back to that time now, and I can’t quite believe how important that decision was, and how far following my dreams has brought me.
You cut your teeth at Channel U/AKA what was the biggest lesson you learned being there and what’s it like knowing that at the time you were instrumental in the development of grime … with the Illout Show being a place for new talent to shine…
We approached Channel U with the idea for Illout a month or so after it had been on air. Seeing a platform where unsigned UK artists were able to submit their videos and actually get them aired, was really an exciting moment for UK music and was something we wanted to be a part of. It was the first time I got to experience producing a show from the ground up which was a steep learning curve, we had to be pretty creative on a very small budget and I realised quickly that problem-solving is an essential skill in production. We got to give a lot of UK artists like Skepta and Kano their first TV performances and interviews, and it will always be a proud period of my career.
Alongside Channel U, you were honing your career as an award-winning radio presenter at 1Xtra why and how did you transition into production?
After getting a taste for production at Channel U, and through other TV presenting jobs I had whilst on radio, I always knew it was something I’d like to move into as there was nothing quite as fulfilling as creating an idea with my team and bringing it to fruition on screen. I could also see how fast the landscape of TV and radio was evolving, with the Internet completely changing the way content was being consumed. I wanted to be part of that change. Disrupting traditional media is now very much central to Renowned’s ethos. So after 11 years at Radio 1 and 1Xtra, I knew it was the right time to start a new chapter in my career, and Renowned was born.
Tell us about Renowned? How was it started, what’s the meaning behind the name and tell us about your first Renowned production what that was like seeing it on a mainstream platform knowing you were behind it?
I started Renowned with Wretch 32 and Zeon. I’d known Wretch since the beginning of his career and was the first DJ to play him on day time radio. We decided to set up a Renowned 360 creative space, managing and publishing some incredible UK talent and artists including Wizzy Wow, Funny Tummy, KZ, Jacob Banks, Knox Brown and of course Wretch. We chose the name Renowned because it was the legacy we wanted to leave within UK music.
During that time I met Max and Tim who were great up and coming producer/directors and we decided to set up a production arm of Renowned together. Our first commission was a football series for Trace Sports called Winner’s Circle which featured premiere league stars like Rio Ferdinand, Kieran Trippier and César Azpilicueta. Of course, as a huge football fan, it was a dream first commission which I also got to present. I always enjoy working on the football commissions, we recently did a programme for new sports platform, Otro, featuring stars like David Beckham, Neymar, and Ronaldo.
Being an independent production company comes with highs and lows tell us the pros and cons?
The pros are definitely being able to make content around subject matter that is important to you, we’ve had some really exciting music and culture-based commissions including Rated Awards, Peng Life, Generation Grime and Spotify’s Who We Be as well as shows documenting important issues such as our new 10 part series for BET Copwatch America, which will follow groups who monitor police activity in volatile areas. Those kinds of commissions are important to me and I will always strive to make diverse programmes that matter.
I also enjoy the opportunity to work with and develop talent, building those relationships is very important to us as a company. We managed to bring Elijah Quashie aka Chicken Connoisseur from YouTube to Channel 4, and we worked with the F2 football freestylers early in their career, developing a series for them which was commissioned by London Live F2 Kicks Off.
The cons are, obviously, when you’re starting out there are periods of times you go without any commissions which of course impact the business, and there were definitely times when we had to pump our own money in to keep afloat.
What is it about your character/personality that makes you a good producer? Which part of the process do you enjoy the most? Which is the most stressful?
I’m very calm which works well when you’re working on a production. Stress levels can be high and things inevitably can and will go wrong. You have to be able to deal with an array of issues as they arrive and quickly find solutions. I enjoy the creative process of brainstorming and fleshing out the initial ideas, seeing it in your mind then bringing it to life is a very good feeling.
Is there a conscious decision behind Renowned being a factual production company how does it differ from working with scripted content? Do you have plans to move into scripted production?
When we started out the initial ideas we worked on were factual, telling stories with a fresh perspective was our focus and with my background in music and entertainment, we organically shifted to making factual entertainment programmes. We have a few scripted projects currently in development, it’s an area we would definitely like to move into in the future.
Three things you’d tell your younger self?
Say no to opportunities that don’t inspire you.
Surround yourself with like-minded people, who share your ambition and drive.
Don’t chase money, chase your passion. If you do that, the money will come.
What’s next for Renowned?
To scale the business very quickly globally. With three US series already slated for this year, we are the fifth fastest growing indie in the UK at the moment. We plan to continue winning international commissions, creating a wider spectrum of programming and building the business globally until we become the fastest growing indie in the UK.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
I’m off to LA for a month to shoot the US part of a new music talent series we currently have in production, we have an office there now so it’s always good to spend some time with the team there and connect with the US side of the business.
Keep up to date with Renowned Films here.