Jonathan Fackler has been making a positive contribution to the media arts business in Orange County for what seems forever.

He grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and attended the University of Nebraska where he received a BFA degree in graphic design, with a minor in Theatre & Advertising.  Anyone who knows Jonathan knows he has a wicked sense of humor that he may have picked up, in part, in the halls of the University of Nebraska from a former student, Johnny Carson.

Right out of college, he interviewed with a myriad of ad agencies and, he proudly relates, was soundly rejected by all.  On reflection, it was probably the best result for his career development.  He decided to strike out on his own and start Our Gang Studios, a graphic design firm, in 1981.  He partnered with an art major from college he had met (John Kalisch) and eventually assumed the role of doing the studio's public relations and marketing.

In an effort to secure an awareness of Our Gang Studios in town, he ran an ad in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper offering Absolutely Nothing for just $1.00.  The ad generated a follow-up story on the front page of the World-Herald, which brought about radio talk show interviews.  The AP wires pick up on the story and envelopes containing one dollar bills filled his PO box daily.

As a result of the Absolutely Nothing campaign, the design studio grew to 16 employees in a matter of  2 years.  Because of this concept idea, he became well known in the regional advertising environment for his off-the-wall marketing ideas as a creative director.


Belly Button PuttyIn 1987, he decided to market his own product Belly Button Putty.  This is a story in itself as Omaha at the time was not known as a manufacturing city.  It was one thing to design this unusual tongue-in-cheek novelty item, but packaging it was a giant undertaking in itself.  To make a long story short, he marketed the putty locally and in Chicago at a major gift trade show.  Over 5 thousand units were sold across the country and the product is considered a collector's item today.

He then decided to take the studio beyond just design and introduced full-agency advertising as a service in 1985.  They produced campaigns in all media and in 1987 he won best creative direction / best of show that year for one of his restaurant campaigns at the Omaha Federation of Advertisers Awards Gala.  With this feather in his cap, he sold the Studio and moved to California to chase down another passion of his - acting.  (1988)

Although his acting career was short lived, he secured a job producing TV spots for Weight Loss Clinics International in Los Angeles (Century City) for several years.

In 1993, he moved to Orange County and decided he would freelance his own skill sets under the company name, Narnia Productions. A friend of his in the Hotel Industry asked if he would help write, produce and direct his company’s first international hotel conference at the Kodak Theatre.  It was this project that launched a 12 year career in corporate theater & original productions for national and international conferences.

Jonathan Fackler and I sat down at a Starbucks, America’s office of choice for entertainment industry independents, and talked about what he has been doing in Orange County since the turn of the century.

Many of us first became aware of you from your participation with the Encore Directory.  How did that come about?
Jonathan: Liz Ervin, who does Orange County location scouting owned and produced the Encore Directory publication for 17 years.  One day we met for lunch at El Matador Restaurant in Costa Mesa.  After several margaritas, she mentioned she wanted to sell the publication as it was a lot of work. She wanted me to buy it from her.  We compromised, and I bought into a partnership agreement with Liz.   She had the data base and connections and I had the skill sets to upgrade the printed Directory and market it better.

SOCAL: As both a media professional and your exposure to the many companies listed in Encore Directory, how would you describe the state of the industry today?
Jonathan: I feel the current economic situation in Orange County, within our professional media industry anyway, is actually in step at some level with what is happening to our state, our country and now the world due to social networking and the World Wide Web approach to doing business.  The printed Encore Directory saw a substantial drop in advertising revenue in 1909. Commerce has changed here in Orange County and everywhere for that matter.  How everyone plays the game has shifted too, and I don't think social networking is a fad, it's headed in a specific direction and here to stay.

SOCAL: What are your predictions of opportunities for media professionals in the next 5-10 years?
Jonathan: I'd be crazy to answer that one Art, I honestly don't know, because I'm not sure I see a light at the end of this economic tunnel.

SOCAL: Tell us about your company Narnia Group You seem to have six operating entities.
Jonathan: As I built the company, I saw specific pockets of specialization springing from the Corporate Theater presentation work I was producing and those specific services eventually became divisions of the umbrella production company itself.  I give the client an option to use  all of the six divisions or just one of the services depending on their needs.

SOCAL: With all your years in live events, please describe your biggest potential disaster and how you handled it.
Jonathan: At a Kodak Theater event I wrote, produced and directed a show included a standup segment with Joan Rivers.  Her performance was scheduled for a specific appearance at a specific time on stage.  We had several thousand people in the audience when my stage manager indicated to me that Mrs. Rivers was not in the house yet.  And they couldn't reach her or her agent by phone.  Since we where live, I had the announcer do a stall read, saying she was still in makeup and to please standby.  It got the laugh I needed.  We dropped the certain, changed lighting on stage and played show biz tunes in the background.  I had no idea what to do from that point on.  I kept the holding pattern going for five minutes.  Finally she showed up back stage, and knowing she was late, grabbed a hot mike walked right onto the stage talking as she approached the center of the now opening certain.  The crowd never knew the difference . . . like it was all pre-planned.

SOCAL: Please tell us about the projects that were the most challenging or that you are most proud of and the reasons why.
Jonathan: I was producing a show for a client and we were four months into production when the Twin Towers were destroyed.  The event was for the Hotel Investment Industry and only three months from showtime.  I had to really push the client to continue to move forward on the show as he wanted to pull the plug.  I told him, "Now more than ever, the show must go on!"  It did, and was a huge success for both of us.

I also remember a three day international conference I produced in Berlin, Germany.  I designed the set here in the states, shipped a DVD off to a set construction crew in Berlin who built the stage set from my artwork and would communicate with me daily on their progress via email photos.  In Berlin the day of the conference, I was informed that my assigned Assistant Director could not speak a stitch of English and of course my German sucks.  We actually called the show together following a printed storyboard, pointing, shaking our heads yes or no and making caveman noises.  Very challenging to say the least.  But it worked.

SOCAL: Are there new areas you are looking to work in or special upcoming projects that you want to share with us?
Jonathan: I just finished my first screenplay called, Host and I'd love to get that produced next year for film festival entry.  I'm always doing something new... I can't sit still for long.

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Thursday, July 18, 2024