Filmmaker Jordan Chesney made the short film Jet twice over. The big budget version was featured in Weekend Watching and I thought it was a highly accomplished effort. But I was also curious about the other version of the film–the films have been labelled Jet (The Film) and Jet (The Screenplay) on Vimeo–so I watched that one as well. I was struck by both the similarities as well as the differences between the two versions of the same story.
So I decided to get in touch with Mr. Chesney and ask him a few questions about the two versions of Jet because I think there is something to learn from the filmmaker’s experiences.
To get the most out of this interview please watch both versions of the film before you read.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I was 16 years old and trying to write a story about dual consciousness—being able to maintain your conscious self while taking upon someone else’s consciousness. I was working on that story, and then Being John Malkovich came out. It was then that I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker.
Is this a full time job? What kind of work do you do normally — what pays the bills?
No. I am the Director of Video at Astonish, which is a digital marketing company. I make films on the side.
Why did you shoot the film twice? Was this always the plan?
I hadn’t intended on releasing Jet (The Screenplay), but in many ways, it came out better than Jet (The Film). I don’t see these two variations of JET as “original”and “remake”. It was an experimental way to develop a story that had unintended results.
What was the biggest difference–for you as the filmmaker–when you made the film the second time around?
When shooting Jet (The Screenplay), I was developing the story; whereas with Jet (The Film), I was trying to recreate what I had already developed. Also, the change of seasons and change in one of the locations made for a completely different shoot the second time round.
There was a pretty big difference in the size of the budget of the two productions, how did you go about raising the financing for Jet (The Film)?
Jet (The Screenplay) cost $200 to make and Jet (The Film) cost $10,000. I put in half the money and then my close friend, Topher Grant, put in the other half. I had been asking him to back my films for a while, and finally he said yes to Jet.
How long did it take to make each version of the film? And what was the gap between the two productions?
It took about three months to finish Jet (The Screenplay) and about one year to finish Jet (The Film). Having a full-time job, I could only work on Jet in my spare time—nights and weekends, pretty much. There was almost no time between productions.
What did you learn from doing it twice?
You can’t make the same film twice. I also learned that more time and more money doesn’t necessarily make for a better film. It will allow you to achieve a higher aesthetic quality, but not necessarily a better story or better performances. Jet (The Screenplay) was very organic, and Jet (The Film) was forced.
Do you think the two versions have their respective strengths? If yes, could you list them out?
Absolutely. Jet (The Screenplay) probably has better performances and pacing, whereas Jet (The Film) has a more refined production quality. Jet (The Screenplay) is a little darker, and Jet (The Film) is a little more tense.
Which version is your personal favorite?
To be honest, I’d rather not say. I think that’s for the audience to decide.
Would you do it all again? On a different project? And do you recommend it as a practice for filmmakers?
I probably won’t use this exact same approach the next time round, but only because I’m still searching for new ways to develop stories. I’ve tried this approach, and now I’ll try something completely different. I’m not a fan of rules within art, and I think that “traditions” can be very detrimental to a good idea. It is up to the filmmaker to discover something new, and approaching films the exact same way that everyone else does is probably not the best way to find something new. Following your instincts is more important than following a format that others believe in. This is art, not science. We can re-invent the means as much as we like until we’ve discovered something new. I would encourage every indie filmmaker to try shooting the screenplay instead of writing it, or something similar, for no other reason than to try something new.
What’s next for you? What are you working on for the foreseeable future?
My next short film is a scripted story about corruption, temporarily entitled Cop Killer. It’s Chinatown (1974) meets Pina (2011). My plan is to shoot in the fall of 2013 and release it online in 2014. There’s a chance I’ll do a Kickstarter for this project…not sure right now. I’m also expanding Stronger into a feature film. However, unless I get funding, this will take years to complete because there are too many interviews to film and too much footage to clear to do it on the cheap.
Jordan Chesney’s website
Jordan Chesney on Vimeo