June 22, 2022

“Jockey”: sunrises and sunsets, horseless horse races and docu-style narration


Clint Bentley’s new movie, Jockey, is an intense character study that contrasts the end of a veteran jockey’s career with the rise of a young jockey. Under the watchful eye of the director of the photographer Adolphe Veloso, the filmmakers use exciting photography and lighting techniques to complement the solid storyline and award-winning acting.

In a world as glitzy as horse racing, the sport of kings, it’s shocking how jockeys who ride award-winning horses live their lives. Several scenes from Jockey are what one might call pseudo-documentary. For example, Clifton Collins Jr. guides a group of real jockeys through a conversation about their injuries. As the jockeys sit down and compare their experiences of being trampled and smashed by racehorses, compare their broken backs, broken legs and punctured lungs, I couldn’t help but think of Quint. , Hooper and Brody aboard the Orca in Jaws. In the case of the Jockey, these are real injuries suffered by real jockeys.

Working closely with Bentley, Veloso uses a variety of techniques to help tell Bentley’s story using image and light. I had the chance to speak with Veloso about how he used photography to help tell Jockey’s story.

Sunset from a quarry

Collins Jr. plays Jackson Silva, a jockey at the end of a long career. As Veloso said, it can be scary to watch your career come to an end: ‘none of us can know what the night has in store for us’. Carrying this metaphor to the screen, most of the Silva-centric scenes are shot on the day of the fade. We are given the fence of Silva’s quarry in the form of a sunset.

If the Fading Light is the metaphor for the end of Silva’s career, it won’t be surprising that one of Silva’s important races is the film’s brightest scene. It’s a shocking moment to see the screen shining and daring after an hour of fading light. This is Silva’s moment in the spotlight, given to us figuratively and literally.

Of all the things you do in life, there is that minute when you feel like the most important thing in the world because everyone is watching you.

On the other hand, the young jockey, Boullait, is shown to us at the start of his career. Unlike Silva, the scenes centered on Boullait are shot primarily at sunrise.

What we end up with throughout the film is a sunrise and sunset duel. Without spoiling the plot, the most intense scenes between Silva and Boullait are shot in a little brighter light. Not the bright light of the great race, but bright enough to hold a promise for the future.

Horse racing without horses

Unlike almost all horse racing movies, most Jockey racing scenes are shot without horses. Veloso explained that he didn’t want to focus on the big racing experience, instead focusing on the experience of the jockeys themselves. Veloso focuses the camera on Collins Jr., keeping the viewer in touch with Silva’s character and emotions rather than the spectacle of the races.

Getting such tight shots without putting the horses at risk required original thinking. According to Veloso, Collins Jr. imitated the movements of a jockey in the back of a pickup truck with one of the producers throwing mud in his face. Even the best and brightest run in Silva’s movie is filmed this way – tight, almost claustrophobic.

A test run of a new horse that promises Silva the winning race he longs for is the only time we get a different view of the track. Instead of a tight shot of Collins Jr., we get a shot from his perspective – wide and quick, giving us a new look helps us understand the promise this new horse might have for Silva. Instead of being dark and intense, this moment is poetic. As Veloso explained to me, he wanted viewers to feel like they were launched on the runway with Silva.

Documentary-style shoot on a major production

Many characters, even speaking roles, in Jockey are played by non-actors; real life jockeys. Veloso explained that filming on location on a runway familiar to jockeys was key to making sure non-actors feel comfortable in front of the camera. Keeping those non-actors comfortable also meant Veloso had to shoot with a small footprint. There’s no point shooting in a location familiar to non-actors just to have them walk around a set with millions of dollars worth of lights and cameras.

Veloso’s goal was twofold. First, put the real jockeys at ease so that the filmmakers can capture these jockeys as they are, without artifice. Veloso wanted to avoid intimidating jockeys with sophisticated cinema equipment. Second, to shoot grainy scenes. After all, you can’t punch holes in the roof or walls of a running track to pass lights or lenses through. It helped the filmmakers use the track as a character, reflecting the up / down feel of a jockey’s life. Likewise, the track’s discolored grandeur also mimicked the nearly stranded and broken Silva.

Up / down through the lens

Because Bentley’s father was a jockey, Bentley grew up seeing the hardships jockeys endured. Bentley has reportedly said jockeys may just be the toughest athletes on the planet. True to the idea that horse racing glamor is reserved for owners and trainers, Jockey’s interior plans reflect the hard life of jockeys.

From my perspective, the scene where the jockeys sit down and talk about all the injuries they’ve suffered is the most powerful in the movie. In this scene, Collins Jr. is surrounded by actual jockeys sharing their stories. The scene itself wasn’t scripted, instead Veloso set up cameras to follow the conversation between Collins Jr. and the jockeys. Collins Jr. guided the jockeys not only by interviewing them, but by engaging them as his character, Silva. Encourage them to open up. Veloso’s contribution to how to film this scene brings the real aspects of it to the screen. It’s a big test to shoot a major production like a documentary, following your subjects instead of directing scenes. In this case, it worked wonderfully for Veloso and Bentley.

You can catch Jockey when it releases wide next week.

Veloso is now looking forward to the wide dissemination of his next projects, The Perfecto David and Become Elisabeth.

All images were provided by Sony and Adolpho Veloso.