This past weekend Jameson First Shot announced their three winners. The competition, in its forth year, is a passion project from Kevin Spacey and his production company Trigger Street Productions. Each year, Spacey and co. recruit an actor (this year – Adrien Brody; past years have included Willem Dafoe, Uma Thurman & Spacey himself) to star in three selected shorts from rising/unproduced filmmakers. The shorts are selected from across the globe – previous winners have hailed from Russia, South Africa, Canada & the US.
The winning shorts tend to be character-driven pieces, allowing the star (in this case Adrien Brody) the opportunity to play three distinctive characters – whilst also promoting three unknown writer/directors into the proverbial spotlight. This year’s winners Stephan Tempier, Mark Middlewick & Travis Calvert’s shorts run the gamut from farce to tragic-comedy to metaphysical-leaning romance.
Tempier’s farcical Boredom stars Adrien Brody as a forty-year-old man-child who refuses to grow up or move out of his parent’s house. Mark Middlewick’s darkly tragic comedy The Mascot stars Brody as the titular character, aging out of the job, on the verge of being replaced by someone younger and newer. Travis Calvert’s The Library Book stars (yet again) Brody as a mysterious stranger returning a two-year-late book to a library on the verge of shutting down. All three shorts are currently available at the competition’s site (http://www.jamesonfirstshot.com) and can be viewed at the bottom of this article as well.
At the press day for the Jameson First Shot winners, Kevin Spacey, Adrien Brody & the three finalists spoke about the process behind winning the competition, deadlines, impressions and the ideal actor-director relationship. For the full interview, read below…
As I sit down at the round-table interview, Kevin Spacey is in the midst of doing his “Christopher Walken” impression to the delight of the Jameson First Shot winners & Adrien Brody
KEVIN SPACEY (explaining to me): I just did a film with [Christopher Walken]. He actually wanted me to do [the impression] for him.
Collider: Does anybody else do impressions?
SPACEY: Can anybody do Adrien Brody?
ADRIEN BRODY: It’s probably harder to do than a “Christopher Walken”…
SPACEY (to me): Where are you from?
SPACEY: No. No. Where are you from?
Oh – Jersey originally…
SPACEY: South Orange…
Fort Lee. Closer to the GW Bridge
SPACEY: There you go. West New York.
I actually used to say I’m from New York — and then people would ask where in New York. And I’d have to say New Jersey…
SPACEY: Don’t make Adrien Brody beat you up…
Do you not like people from Jersey?
SPACEY: Oh come on — Sinatra’s from Jersey.
BRODY: I’m from Queens. Queens is just like Jersey basically.
(Turning to the competition winners) Well – why did you decide to enter the Jameson First Shot Competition? What stood out about it for you?
STEPHAN TEMPIER (the finalist from Canada): I learned about the competition a few days before the deadline. I’ve always admired Adrien and Kevin. I took this as an exercise really. I thought ‘You’re never going to win but might as well do it.’ You never know what’s going to come out.
SPACEY: So you wrote your script within a couple days.
TEMPIER: Yeah pretty much…
SPACEY: And you wrote yours in what — four days?
TRAVIS CALVERT (the finalist from the US): Four days.
SPACEY: Were you guys always late with your tests?
MARK MIDDLEWICK (the finalist from South Africa): You need that adrenaline rush to get it in.
TEMPIER: I used to stay up at night and finish just two hours before I had to go to school.
To be fair most good things are finished at the last possible second…
SPACEY: Now imagine what he’s going to do with this story…
So do you attempt to cater your short scripts for the festival? Do you watch previous winners?
CALVERT: Yes — I very much had Adrien’s voice in my head when I wrote the script. There’s a film called Detachment that I drew a lot from.
MIDDLEWICK: I looked at what Jameson had done before so I had a concept which I knew might appeal to their sensibilities. It was how do I make something totally left of center from that – in terms of the way I present it.
SPACEY: You’re very avant-garde.
MIDDDLEWICK: So avant-garde. I might as well have a cigarette in my mouth right now. And a beret… I’m going to be so fucking cool.
What would you define as the Jameson sensibility?
MIDDDLEWICK: I think it’s more of a shooting style. I think there is a certain tone that has come through in the films. I don’t know if you agree with that?
SPACEY: I think there is. In many cases we use the same cinematographers. That’s partly just a practical reason in terms of how you prep and how you keep the thing moving. But yeah — there is a certain sensibility.
MIDDDLEWICK: Just a small example: there had been a lot of steadicam on tripods in a lot of these shorts. And I thought ‘Let’s go handheld.’ Just as a style to see where that could go.
SPACEY: You troublemaker.
MIDDDLEWICK: And he’s out…
What type of scripts are you looking for?
SPACEY: First we’re looking for people who know how to write. There are a lot of people that enter and you can basically cut down half because clearly people don’t know what they’re doing. When we actually weed it down to a manageable number. That’s anywhere from thirty-to-fifty, then we actually go through and start.
There are three basic criteria that I’m looking for. And I’m also doing it with Adrien and a couple other people at Trigger Street [Spacey’s Production Company]. Essentially you’re looking from a production value perspective: can we make this movie in two days? Will this present us with too many challenges? Then you’re looking at: Do these three roles offer the talent – in this case Adrien — an opportunity to play three very distinctive roles? Do they give him something to chew his teeth on, something that’s interesting? And then for me it’s about the filmmaker: If these three gentleman [are] supported and nurtured, where are they going to be in a number of years? I’m always thinking about those building blocks to a career. Those are the criteria for me.
What drew you onboard the project, Adrien?
BRODY: I look for opportunities like this in life. It’s mutually beneficial. I love Kevin’s work as [an actor] but I really admire his producer work. He’s spending a lot of energy nurturing people and I think that’s really admirable. It’s wonderful that Jameson has supported something like this – where they’re encouraging talent. This isn’t brand content. This fully enables young artistic people to have their voice heard. If I can be a positive force in someone’s life, just like Kevin, I feel like that emboldens their work and gives them a confidence to really grow as an artist. I know how to be very supportive. I’ve spent a lifetime doing what I love and I’ve worked with the best. If I can impart a little hint of insight to someone, that’s a pleasure for me to do. Also I’m beginning to produce with my company and have aspirations to direct – so I’m also learning. I’m helping but I’m learning and I think that’s what filmmaking really is. It’s a collaboration.
What makes for a good actor-director relationship?
BRODY: Mutual trust and communication.
SPACEY: And leaving the ego at the door. I love having even the most intense – when you don’t agree on something with a director – just the most intense genuine argument. I love a great argument. I don’t love ‘Because that’s the way I like it’. That’s not a good argument to me. Defend why you’re asking me to do it this way even if it’s a single take. Because the one thing I’ve learned — and I love to be brave — but I’ve also learned sometimes you’re at the mercy of a director’s sensibility particularly in how they’re going to cut the movie together. Sometimes you watch a movie and you [know] ‘We shot a better movie than they cut’. There’s just no doubt we shot a better movie but the sensibility of a director is very sentimental and so all of the takes are weepy.
BRODY: Yeah – ‘One for me and one for you’ means ‘Fuck you – I got the one for me.’
SPACEY: Or as Sinatra said ‘Use that one twice!’
BRODY: So you want to get justification on even “Let’s try this one?”
SPACEY: Well only because if they put it on film, they put it on film.
It seems you have to track a performance – so if they’re using takes that don’t register with other later takes, the performance won’t make sense…
SPACEY: Right. Particularly — you get this sometimes late in the day — you’re on take nine and you’re about to move and do another setup and they’re like ‘Just do one like this and put on a funny hat’. No! My point is even in a heated conversation when the ego is out of the room and what you’re actually fighting about is the quality and you’re not storming off and slamming doors and that kind of bullshit, I love that collaboration. I just think it’s incredibly important to stay alive to it.
Is there a particular example – a particular collaboration that stands out?
SPACEY: I have it constantly on House of Cards. I have a great relationship with Beau Willimon. We challenge each other and it’s fucking great. It’s so much fun.
What about you Adrien?
BRODY: I’m not as collaborative as Kevin…
SPACEY: It’s his way or the fucking highway…
Here are the 2015-winning Jameson First Shot films: