Cameron Thrower knew he wanted to be a filmmaker before he even knew what a filmmaker was. Growing up, he and his sister would snag his dad’s VHS camcorder to create a slew of short movies. It was love at first record. Eventually attending film school and playing an extra in that little-known blockbuster The Notebook, Cameron continued to stoke the filmmaking fire as he began navigating the industry. But it’s his latest achievement that perhaps marks the most exciting step yet: Cameron recently won the coveted Jameson First Shot competition and just wrapped up his short film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.
It’s no secret that we’re kinda obsessed with Jameson First Shot. It’s one of the best opportunities for up-and-coming filmmakers to break into a notoriously tough industry, work with Kevin Spacey’s crew at Trigger Street Productions, and collaborate with A-list industry talent. So how did Cameron get there? What was the Jameson First Shot experience like? And is Maggie Gyllenhaal as cool as we dream?? We glean his filmmaking philosophy and advice for fellow creators below.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Vimeo: Why did you decide to submit to Jameson First Shot?
One of the biggest things that appealed to me was [that] if I did win, I would be working with some of the most talented people in the film industry; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, and everyone at Trigger Street Productions. Trigger Street is responsible for House of Cards, The Social Network, Captain Phillips, 21, and many more brilliant projects. To think all that talent and a well established production company was going to help me bring my script to life was the biggest draw to Jameson First Shot.
How did you approach your submission?
After watching all the past Jameson First Shot winning films, I wanted to keep the locations simple and the characters interesting, [and find] a story I really believed in. I knew if I wrote a script expressing my voice I would have a really good shot. Once I made [the] top 20 out of about 3,000 submissions I really got to work. I only had a week to produce a one-page scene (which Jameson First Shot provided), a bio video, and a director’s statement.
So I gathered some of the most talented people I’ve worked with in the past for my one-page scene, created a bio video that was me without any filters, and a director’s statement on how I saw the film coming to life — which included wardrobe design, make-up treatments, soundtrack feel, the mood of the story, and the overall character breakdowns. As soon as I had everything together, I was confident in pushing that “SUBMIT” button.
“It’s about making a living telling stories that can inspire others.”
Once you arrived on set, was the process different from what you expected it to be?
It’s exactly what I expected and even more! I’ve worked on numerous sets in Los Angeles as Key PA, 2nd AD, and on up the ladder. I’ve never been on such a professional set as “The Director.” In the past I’ve directed and written numerous short films, but nothing on this scale before. I was always wearing 10 different hats on set. On the “Beauty Mark” [set,] I was wearing the official director’s hat. And it was just wonderful because I got to really focus on the actors and collaborate with Maggie on creating her character, Beauty Valerie.
What was your biggest challenge in the production process and how did you handle it?
The biggest challenge for me was just letting go. As I said before, I’m used to wearing 10 different hats in pre-production and on set. I wasn’t used to working with so many professional key department heads that were so talented and do this for a living. After meeting with the key costumer, key makeup, DOP, production designer, composer … I took a breath and said, “[Thankfully] I love them all!” They were so professional and just so creative with what they came up with for the script. It was wonderful because I got to mainly focus on my storyboards, blocking, and making key decisions. That’s what a professional movie director gets to do, and everyone sure did treat me like one.
What was working with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Trigger Street like? How do you prepare for something like that?
Where do I begin?!? Working with Maggie was a gift. I just love all of her past work. One of my favorite things about working with Maggie was how much she loved to collaborate with me and her brilliant ideas for character traits and improv ideas. When we were on set working together, we were so focused on telling this story, and we wanted it to be the best that it could be. After seeing the final project I couldn’t be more proud of the work she did. When she walked on set the first day, she was Beauty Valerie. She knew everything about the character’s motivation and it just showed how professional she is. From the big blockbusters to the small independent films, she’s a pro and approaches everything with heart, class, and professionalism. When we wrapped the film, I really just wanted to continue filming with her!
What is your filmmaking philosophy?
To collaborate, not dictate. One of my favorite things about filmmaking is getting the chance for other people to take my ideas and make them their own. After that, we come to a final decision of what is best for the story. Teamwork DOES make the dream work, especially when you’re making a movie. Also, never stop learning. I always try to learn something new from each of my cast and crew members before we wrap.
“We all have a movie within us and we all express them differently…”
How would you describe your technical style?
Technically, it just depends on the story, characters, and overall tone of the film. Many of my films are character-driven and it depends on where the characters take us. Also it comes down to the editing. If it’s a fast-paced scene, I like to go handheld, especially if I know we will be cutting the scene up briskly. If it’s an important informational scene, I like to stay on sticks/slow-dolly movements. With my Director of Photography on “Beauty Mark,” Donte” Lee, we were in total sync constantly. He brought so many ideas to the storyboards I had drawn up. At the end of the day, you realize you create a specific technical style together for the individual project.
Why do you think film competitions matters for aspiring creators?
It’s HUGE! I literally checked my email everyday for a month waiting to hear from Jameson First Shot. You go back and forth thinking, “There’s no way I can win this thing” to, “I could actually win this thing” then back to, “They will probably go with someone else…someone with more experience.” This competition really makes you think why you want to be in this industry. I’ve experienced so many failures, but have also experienced things I never thought could be possible. This industry is just so magical to me. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Overall I think film competitions provide confidence, awareness of work, and show what we’re made of.
What advice would you give to other up-and-coming artists?
For me, it’s not about making tons of money. It’s about making a living telling stories that can inspire others. I’ve met so many people out in Los Angeles that are all about making money first, when they should be about the characters, story, and developing their craft. I think that’s why so many people have given up on this industry because you can go broke real quick. I’ve been there ‘¦ so many times, and I plan on being there again. As long as I feel I’ve gotten that movie out of my system and it’s reached an audience and impacted just one person, I can go to bed and wake up wanting to do it all over again.
My biggest advice is to follow your own path and don’t give up halfway through. Some people go to film school, some work on movie sets, and some work in restaurants living off tips making short films. As long as you have that passion for filmmaking for the right reasons, then you are sure to succeed at one point or another. We all have a movie within us and we all express them differently; through dance, painting, filmmaking, writing, and singing. I just happen to have 1,000 movies within me, and if I don’t get some of them out, I will go crazy. My last piece of advice is to enter Jameson First Shot! You have nothing to lose except an opportunity of a lifetime!
To see all the winning films, visit the Jameson First Shot channel.
TASTE RESPONSIBLY — JAMESON® Irish Whiskey. 40% Alc./Vol. (80 Proof). Product of Ireland. 2015 Imported by John Jameson Import Company, Purchase, NY