Not so long ago, Jameson Irish Whiskey held its third annual ‘First Shot’ film competition – a partnership between Jameson and Kevin Spacey’s ‘Trigger Street’ production house. The comp sees three winners selected from around the world to have their short films produced by Trigger Street, starring some of Hollywood’s finest talent. Last year the films starred Willem Dafoe (*scared voice* “I had a Willem Dafoe under my bed once…”), while this year the star was Uma Thurman. The caliber of films that result from this competition are a testament to all parties involved. With the premiere held at LA’s YouTube space last month, we jetted over to Hollywood to speak to this year’s three winners.
First up is the US winner, Jessica Valentine. Be sure to check out her film above and stay tuned for our interviews with First Shot’s winning Russian and South African filmmakers in the coming days.
SlamXHype: What was the inspiration for JUMP!?
Jessica Valentine: JUMP! was a culmination of a ideas, interests and experiences. I have always been interested in mental health. I had an uncle, who sadly passed before I was born who had some sort of mental disability. But because of the era he grew up in, he was never properly diagnosed. From the stories I had heard about him, he sounded absolutely fascinating. Apparently what he lacked in certain capabilities, he made up for in strides in other areas – such as physics and astronomy. He was completely obsessed with space and space travel, and was full of incredible facts and theories. For the theme, I chose “a very tall tale”. I wanted to write something inspirational and touching — whimsical but also real. As a viewer, I’ve always appreciated good storytelling. The films I’ve loved most are the ones that always had something new to offer, even after watching them multiple times. I spent a lot of time not just with the story but also with the visuals, adding little details and references that may or may not get noticed. Regardless, it feels good personally to know that they are there. I looked to films like The Green Mile and Big Fish for inspiration. I really feel I was able to accomplish what I set out to on this piece.
SXH: You mentioned your desire to write a female part for Uma that didn’t revolve around romance. How did you wind up with the character of Wendy?
Valentine: When I found out it was Uma who I would be writing for, I went and researched the roles she had played and tried to find interviews she had done. In one interview she mentioned that it is difficult to find meaty female roles. Even most good roles required some sort of romance to validate the character’s existence in the story. Now, I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression; I love a good romance. But she is right.
So after reading that, I took it upon myself as a personal challenge to write her a role that was different and had nothing to do with romance at all. I say “romance” because I wouldn’t want to confuse that with “love”. JUMP! is about love among many other things. In my personal opinion, love is life, and that’s what this story is about.
Alongside Uma, the actor who played Jack was equally awesome. Where did you find that guy?
Barak Hardley is his name, and he is an absolute gem. The character of Jack was originally supposed to be played by an older man. So when I received the taped auditions, I was super surprised to see Barak since he was so young. But as soon as I pressed play it was a fairly obvious and unanimous decision to cast him. He’s very different from how I originally saw the character, but he is beyond brilliant and such a pleasure to work with.
What were the biggest challenges throughout this project?
Time and budget. Shooting in LA is not cheap, and there are certain expenses you just can’t get around or negotiate. Time is always a factor, but with this project you have to take into consideration that there are three films being made basically at the same time, using the same people and the same resources. It’s a challenge for certain, but oh-so worth it.
What would you like audiences to take away from the film?
I think that my hopes are the same as any filmmaker, in that I would hope people are generally entertained. Anything beyond that is bonus. I think it’s a great start, but of course I still have to prove myself on a feature-length scale. I still have a lot of work ahead of me.
You mentioned you’ve got a feature lined up. Can you tell us more about that?
I have been working on two feature scripts since I started writing last summer. Both are very different. One is a dramatic comedy, about a unique family and the challenges of growing-up. And the other is on the completely opposite end of the scale — a sexy, violent epic with an element of horror/sci-fi. I enjoy all genres so I’ll never stick to just one as a storyteller. I want to tell great, captivating, entertaining stories and that is the only criteria that truly matters. In addition, I am working with my writing partner/husband on a TV series we are developing. I can’t say much other than it is set in Chicago in the ’70s, and it’s going to be scary.