A shot at movie stardom with Jameson


[Image] The Jameson First Shot competition is spearheaded by award-winning actor Kevin Spacey.
(Images: Jameson First Shot)

[Image] Johannesburg writer/director Hanneke Schutte won the Jameson First Shot South Africa category in 2013 along with Russia’s Anton Lanshakov and Shirlyn Wong from the United States.

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A chance to work with Hollywood A-list actor Uma Thurman is on the cards for one lucky up-and-coming South African filmmaker with the Jameson First Shot competition.

Thurman is set to bring a fresh spin to the competition, both as a skilled actor and as the first woman to take on the lead role for the winning film.

The unique opportunity gives three filmmakers – one each from the United States, South Africa and Russia – their “first shot” in the movie industry by producing their short film under the guidance of award-winning actor/director and scriptwriter Kevin Spacey, with long-time business partner Dana Brunetti, and their award-winning production company, Trigger Street Productions.

The competition calls for submissions, by 2 January 2014, on short scripts from filmmaking enthusiasts eager to break into the international arena.

The annual competition, started in 2012, is a joint venture by Trigger Street Productions and Jameson Irish Whiskey, paving the way for aspiring filmmakers to script a short film for a prominent Hollywood actor. They will also try casting, approving a wardrobe, selecting locations during pre-production, on-set directing, working with a composer on the score, and signing off the final edit.

Hollywood heavies

Thurman began her movie career in 1988 when she appeared in four films; she received wide acclaim for her role as Cécile de Volanges in period drama Dangerous Liaisons. However, to date, her most notable role was as Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), for which she received Academy, Bafta and Golden Globe award nominations.

Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Spacey, in his role as creative director, said, “She’s remarkable and I’m thrilled Uma has said yes. Her work has always been unafraid and brave, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s jumped with such commitment and enthusiasm into our short film project. I think it gives our filmmakers a very exciting opportunity to write for an actress of such range and skill. I look forward to seeing what the entrants come up with.”

Thurman added: “What excites me about being involved with Jameson First Shot is that I love the idea of finding and discovering young talent – it’s what makes the film business alive. Even though we’re making short films I don’t think anyone should feel limited in this form; if you look back over my work I’ve been many different characters so people should feel completely open to write whatever they are passionate about. I’m honoured to be a part of this extraordinary project and I can’t wait to read the screenplays that are entered, and ultimately be the vehicle to help three talented filmmakers tell their stories to the world.”

Once all scripts have been submitted and a shortlist made, each candidate will be required to further display their filmmaking skills by submitting a director’s treatment of their script and footage based on a scene provided by Trigger Street Productions.

An expert team, including Spacey, Brunetti and Thurman, will judge the scripts and the finalists’ shortlisted scenes. The judges will be looking for freshness, originality, good structure, good shots, good sound and above all, a great story.

After the winners have been selected, the three lucky filmmakers will be flown out to Hollywood, where they will work directly with Trigger Street Productions.

Trigger Street Productions is an entertainment production company formed by Spacey and Brunetti in 1997. The company’s credits include Captain Phillips, Shakespeare High, Safe, The Social Network, 21, Shrink, Fanboys, the Emmy-nominated Bernard and Doris, Emmy-nominated Recount, Mini’s First Time, Beyond the Sea, The United States of Leland and The Big Kahuna, as well as stage productions of The Iceman Cometh and Cobb.

In 2012 filmmakers got the chance to produce their short film starring Spacey.. The winning films – The Ventriloquist by Benjamin Leavitt, Envelope by Aleksey Nuzhny, and Spirit of a Denture by Alan Shelley (from Cape Town) -were screened online on Jameson’s YouTube channel.

South African movie makers shine

The South African winner at the inaugural competition, 26-year-old Shelley, majored in directing and as a student won several awards for his films. He has worked as a writer, director, editor and visual effects supervisor on a locally produced independent miniseries “Here’s to Good Times”. His winning script, Spirit of a Denture, tells the story of a workaholic dentist who gets a visit from a disruptive pirate.

Shelley and the winners from USA and Russia beat more than 700 budding screenwriters and directors to come out tops.

At the time Spacey said: “We were impressed with the calibre of many of the entries, but the three winners stood out; they listened to the advice we gave and as a result delivered some well-constructed, clever stories that grabbed our interest. It’s great to be able to discover this level of talent and we’re really excited to see what they will each bring to the shoot.”

Once the films were in the can they premiered in each of the winners’ home cities with Spacey and the winner attending as guests of honour.

Seth Pereira, brand manager for Jameson South Africa, said: “A total of 276 scripts were entered by passionate scriptwriters and directors in South Africa [for the 2012 competition]. The expert panel in Trigger Street, including Dana Brunetti, producer of Oscar-winning film The Social Network, had a great task in whittling the scripts down to a strong shortlist. Our South African shortlist then had to submit additional work to demonstrate their creativity and directing skills.

“Alan Shelley from Cape Town was then chosen as the ultimate South African winner from this shortlist by Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti. We have no doubt that this will be Alan’s launchpad to furthering his career in the film industry not only here in South Africa, but hopefully abroad too.”

After his win, Shelley said: “I feel honoured that my script and I were chosen, it is a great privilege. My first reaction was shock and then denial. I couldn’t quite believe it. Competitions are for other people to win; not yourself. I’m still trying to get used to the idea. I’m most excited about meeting new people, people I can learn from. I can’t wait to see America and of course meet Mr Spacey.”

The winning videos, in which Spacey starred, were viewed more than 5.6-million times on YouTube.

After the competition’s first successful year, Jameson opened up submissions for a second competition with Trigger Street, casting Willem Dafoe as the lead actor. Johannesburg writer/director Hanneke Schutte won the Jameson First Shot South Africa category in 2013 along with Russia’s Anton Lanshakov and Shirlyn Wong from the United States.

Her winning script, PING PONG WITH MR YONG, tells the story of a hypochondriac former ping pong player who never got over missing a major tournament final because of a cold. Her other work has aired at the Durban International Film Festival.

“Jameson First Shot is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will cherish forever. I had so many highlights during my time in the competition, but I think playing Ping-Pong with Willem Dafoe between takes and attending my own premiere in Johannesburg are definitely up there! The competition has given me incredible exposure and has been a huge boon to my career, so I’ll definitely be able to take on my next project with more confidence,” she said.

“However, it hasn’t just helped me as a filmmaker; it has also been a life-enriching experience. In terms of what’s next for me, I’ve just finished my first feature film and I have the next one in development, so things are busy! I would advise this year’s entrants to write something that they would want to see, not something they think the judges would want to see. Also watch the budget, but having said that, you’d be surprised at how beneficial restrictions can be to your imagination. Above all have fun with it!”

The 2014 competition again aims to discover three exceptional writers/directors from South Africa, Russia and the USA.

Competition rules are:

  • Entrants must be at least 25 years’ old to enter;
  • Entrants must write their script based on one of three themes: Legendary, Humorous, or A Very Tall Tale;
  • The script must be no longer than seven pages on A4 paper in 12 point Courier font;
  • Do not depict anyone under 25 in the script;
  • Do not show excessive violence or scenes of excessive drinking, use of weapons, drink driving, drug taking or drug references;
  • Include a maximum of seven cast members;
  • Scripts must be submitted in English; and
  • Only one entry per person – no writing teams – multiple submissions will be void.

To enter the 2014 competition visit: www.jamesonfirstshot.com.