When is a Script Not a Script? When It's a Practice Short
It’s well accepted that the bystander effect could leave you high and dry needing help, surrounded by a sea of able people, all unwilling to step forward — but does that mean on the flip side there’s such a thing as ‘sole witness over-exuberance’? If so, the opening moments of Jordan Chesney’s compelling short Jet — in which a man who’s lost all hope finds himself cast as the only lifeline for a snatched girl — may well be the text-book case. Find out how far he’s willing to go to not let her down after the jump:
As a piece of cinema, it’s great to see how confidently Chesney builds the story through action alone. I’ve seen many shots which have decided to go ‘dialogue free’ but end up seeming like pieces where the lines have simply been stripped out. Whereas watching Jet my overriding feeling it that dialogue (or lord forbid, a self-justifying inner monologue) would have only done damage to the narrative. It’s a confidence that can come from working with a solid script as your basis, although on this occasion, reference to a ‘script’ wouldn’t be entirely accurate, as Chesney told us:
Instead of developing Jet by writing a script, I decided to film the whole thing, but in one day and with no money. It was like a very rough practice run. Months later, we did everything all over again, with a few changes and a budget. As a result I ended up making the same film twice. This is essential my script.
I’m sure you noticed some differences, at least on a technical level, between the $200 ‘script’ version and the $10K film which followed, but ultimately we’re looking at the same film here right? Well not quite according to Chesney in his They Roared Vintage interview:
I learned that you can’t make the same film twice, even if you try really hard. That was probably the most important lesson: that it’s the moment that counts. On set, the moment can be anything. It can be great or awful, and it can change from one second to the other. And it’s not necessarily the people that are there, or the text, or the story, or me. Sometimes it’s the weather. Sometimes it’s the location. Sometimes it’s the time of year. After shooting the same film twice—one in a day, and one over the course of four days with a lot of preparation and a little money—I’m more satisfied with the second film because it’s high quality, there’s a lot of decisiveness, there’s a lot of things thought out and cared for, and that’s a reflection of my art.
With copious re-writes, cast rehearsals, test shoots, storyboards, multiple takes, and the plethora of other things filmmakers do to stack the odds in their favor, it’s easy to forget that no matter what, some things will always remain out of your control. That doesn’t mean you throw your hands up in the air and leave it all to chance, but it does mean that the most talented filmmakers have learned how to roll with those unexpected deviations and make them work for the good of the film.
Do you have a favorite between the two versions of Jet? Have you ever shot the same film twice or been tempted to?