On Thursday, the 31-year-old unemployed father finally got his chance. Jones was named the winner of an online screenplay-writing contest set up by film stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in an undertaking known as Project Greenlight.
Jones will get $1 million to produce his movie, which will be distributed by Miramax. At the same time, HBO will film the behind-the-scenes making of the movie and turn it into a 13-episode reality show expected to air beginning in January 2002.
"It's amazing when reality exceeds your dreams," Jones said Thursday.
The idea behind the project was to harness the Web for talent that normally wouldn't be able to break through Hollywood's iron gates. But whether the Internet is a viable venue for scouting talent remains to be seen.
Getting a break online "depends on how traditional venues accept the offerings," said Idil Cakim, director of media strategies at Cyber Dialogue. "Project Greenlight works because of the offline connections these two people (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) have with HBO and Miramax."
There have been a few other successes, such as the discovery of Alysha Antonino, a 12-year-old California girl picked to sing on the "Pokemon the Movie 2000" soundtrack. Atlantic Records Vice President Darren Higman just happened to be surfing the Web when he came upon her song on Tonos.com.
Filmmakers David Garret and Jason Ward, who put their nine-minute film "Sunday's Game" on Ifilm, also got lucky, ending up with a development deal at 20th Century Fox.
But for the most part, the Internet hasn't delivered big breaks for amateur actors, musicians or novelists. Xlibris.com, a Net publishing site that offered free services to writers, on Thursday started charging $200 to publish books, citing competition and costs.
"People were throwing all this money into online publishing and talking about the revolution, and the revolution didn't come," Karen Jenkins Holt, managing editor of the industry newsletter Book Publishing Report, said when Xlibris announced the fee.
Still, Affleck, who along with Damon won an Oscar for "Good Will Hunting," steadfastly believes the Internet is a useful medium to tap into fresh talent and shake up the movie industry.
"Project Greenlight proved there are fantastic writers out there who aren't getting through the gates," Affleck said. Putting the contest online "throws out a bigger net."
Affleck said he was taken by Jones' script entry, titled "Stolen Summer," about a young Catholic boy who tries to get the keys to heaven for his Jewish friend dying of cancer.
Damon said the entries to the contest were as good as if not better than the 500 or so screenplays he reads a year.
Project Greenlight is part of a Web site called LivePlanet, aimed at pushing Hollywood into the digital age.