Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti Screen Winning Films of Jameson First Shot Competition

Kevin Spacey, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dana Brunetti - Getty - H 2016
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jameson / Pernod Ricard

Maggie Gyllenhaal appears in all three short films created by up-and-coming young filmmakers.

The winners of this year’s Jameson First Shot, the filmmaking competition overseen by Kevin Spacey and Trigger Street Productions partner Dana Brunetti, premiered their short films Saturday on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. The finalists, who hail from Los Angeles, Australia and England, were chosen from nearly 3,000 applicants to work with Trigger Street and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal in bringing their scripts to the screen in short films that are now available online.

“I look back at my own career and, in all honesty, if it weren’t for the first-time directors and producers and screenwriters who took chances on me, I wouldn’t have a career,” Spacey told The Hollywood Reporter of his reasons for launching Jameson First Shot, now in its fifth year. “It all boils down to this beautiful philosophy that Jack Lemmon passed down to me: If you’ve done well in the business, you’ve got to send the elevator back down.”

The winning films that screened included Cameron Thrower’s Beauty Mark, about a door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman in the 1980s; Kat Wood’s Home, which centers on a homeless woman living on the beach; and Jason Perini’s The New Empress, featuring a couple who feign proposals for free food. All three shorts, all of which featured Gyllenhaal, were filmed on location in Los Angeles over the span of two days, with two days allotted for preproduction and a week for post. “When they land, they hit the ground running. They go from the airport to the production office,” Brunetti said of the production process.

Each applicant submitted a seven-page script, a video bio and a scene they directed based off one of three sample scripts provided to the contest, sponsored by Jameson Irish Whiskey. Of the 20 scripts that made it to the eyes of Spacey, Brunetti and Gyllenhaal, these “were the only three that I could play and that I was excited to play,” the actress said of the final three projects selected. “These ones compelled me in some way. I felt like, ‘Ooh, that would be interesting. I don’t quite know how I would do that, but I’m curious about it.’”

The filmmakers said working with Gyllenhaal, a supporting actress Oscar nominee for 2009's Crazy Heart, and a professional crew provided a major learning experience. 

“The biggest thing has been being surrounded by these talented people and working with Maggie Gyllenhaal, just learning what you can do on your next set better," said Thrower. "I would always collaborate on other films that I did, but I didn’t know I could collaborate this much on the set and people would actually say, ‘What you’re doing — that’s cool.’ It gave me the stamp of approval — 'Keep it up, you’re on the right path.'”

"The best special effect you can have in a film is an actor,” Perini commented during the post-screening Q&A, moderated by Terri White, editor-in-chief of Empire magazine. “It was great to see Maggie’s face [onscreen] taller than my whole body.”

In previous years, the Jameson First Shot films have starred Adrien Brody, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe and Spacey himself. When picking the lead actor for the project, Brunetti said, “It’s definitely got to be people who get the indie spirit but also get the spirit of the competition. This isn’t a payday for them. The whole idea of this is about giving back, supporting up-and-coming talent and having some fun doing it.”

He added that this has been a goal of his and Spacey’s since they launched in 2002 as an online community for aspiring writers and filmmakers. With the increasing shift toward web-first content, as demonstrated by their success with House of Cards on Netflix, they hope Jameson First Shot will help the filmmakers gain good exposure. In fact, Wood has already scored a development deal for her first feature with Creative England.

“We’re at this intersection of a kind of explosion of technology and at the same time creativity.” Spacey added. “And I hope our effort here sends a message to the studios and to those money men and women in charge: Support the trailblazing filmmakers because that’s what’s going to make this business continue to grow and continue to be great.”