I grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The only connection our town had to Hollywood is all the guys from Jackass...and M. Night Shyamalan would sometimes use our rolling hills to shoot a movie scene...but M. Night never let us push him in a grocery cart down a hill.
To say that Jacksass was a formative show and movie for me is to say that the New Testament had some influence on the Pope.
Watching it was an experience in which you felt like truly anything could happen.
Now, the camera operators are telling the story of what happened behind the scenes.
Jackass was taking in 2.4 million worldwide viewers a week on the air and was one of the most talked-about TV shows of all time. But behind the scenes, it was just a bunch of guys with cameras getting paid $100 a day to party with their friends.
Nothing felt professional, lots of stuff was dangerous, but it started a revolution.
The show's original production team was begun by Big Brother skateboarding magazine workers Rick Kosick, Sean Cliver, Dimitry Elyashkevich, and Lance Bangs. They were used to shooting skate videos, but when they crossed paths with a group of guys doing insane stunts, they had no idea what to expect.
"None of us knew what we were doing," Kosick says. "We were getting paid like a hundred bucks a day to just run around with our bros."
There were no contracts, no permits, and no medical staff. They were not even sure the stuff they shot would be allowed to be broadcasted on television. "I don't think I can even convey how not like other productions or shoots it was," adds Bangs, an experienced video director. "Nobody knew that you couldn't work for 18 hours in a row. There were no meal breaks. And I don't think I ever signed a time card or clocked in or clocked out."
This run-and-gun tactic was buttoned up as the shooting got bigger and MTV intervened, but the low-fi techniques did not.
Right up into the first movie, Jackass was largely shot on Sony PD-150s, Handycams, and “mini DV tapes like the ones you could have bought at Silo,” Bangs remembers. “When you're in bright daylight on those cameras the sky looks blown out and there's not much detail. It just didn't look great.”
Elyashkevich broke it down further: “Sometimes for a stunt it would just be like, 'Ride down there, eat shit, that’s it!' And then, 'Oh wait, no, you gotta do it again.'”
"We'd put a camera in place to get a great shot, and it might get destroyed after two takes because a bowling ball hit it," Bangs concludes.
This kind of trial and error shooting was prevalent.
We talk about the fourth wall in narrative, but there were no walls in the Jackass world. "Operating was usually done with one camera in your right hand, and then your left hand down covering your nuts," recalls Bangs. "And if you lost that composure, you would get hit or kicked quickly to remind you not to be so disrespectful."
"You were never safe,” adds Dimitry. “Never."
Bangs continued to say, "I think everyone benefits from being adrenalized. Part of why the show had so much energy and fervor was because everyone was operating in fight or flight mode all the time." Cliver has fond memories: “It was just non-stop fun, getting more and more ridiculous. Like, suddenly we're out shooting with Brad Pitt for the TV show, and just hanging out. It was crazy."
The thing that blows me away is that these guys are still involved, currently shooting Jackass 4. They only got about a week into shooting before the pandemic, but even with everyone pushing 50 they're still going kind of crazy.
"We only shot seven days before we got shut down because of the coronavirus, but I tell you, by the seventh day, all cylinders were firing hard,” adds Kosick. “I think we're coming across some of the funniest stuff we've ever made."
While we at No Film School would never advocate for the insanity behind the scenes, I think it is appropriate to laud these guys as the original influencers. They took prosumer products and created one of the most popular TV shows of all time.
This "no budget" filmmaking spawned a generation of YouTube copycats and social media stars.
So, hats off to the Jackass crew. Keep breaking a leg.
Thanks for the inspiration.