When Hollywood makes a biopic about Cory Jones, this is how it will begin: the screen is blinding white. As the camera pulls back, the light begins to flicker and finally resolves into a familiar wedge, streaming from a whirring movi e projector. The noise in the background clarifies into what is obviously the sharply-bitten dialogue of a film; some viewers will recognize it as a scene from “Schindler’s List.” A character is about to be taken outside to be shot. The camera continues pulling back, facing the rear of the theater, and the light from the projector grows wider and wider but the audience is still only a shadowed mass at the bottom of the screen. The frame finally pulls down into a tight focus on a man and a young boy, too young, only seven or eight, to be watching “Schindler’s List.”
“It’s okay,” the boy’s father whispers to him, “You don’t have to watch. Just turn around in your seat.”
A brief shot of the boy turning his head towards the back of the theater, then the camera is seeing through his eyes. It pans across the audience, now fully illuminated in the flickering light from the screen. An old man sits transfixed, clutching the hand of his wife. The eyes of two college-aged men are shining with tears. A woman hides her face, sobbing. And a teenage boy and girl, their mouths set, hold onto one another as tight as they can. The face of the boy suddenly fills the frame, silhouetted against the transfixing glow of the screen that surrounds him like a halo. He is absorbed by the reaction of the audience. Something is dawning inside his eyes.
Jones, a sophomore at Mount Vernon High School, was awarded one of 10 honorable mentions, out of a field of 660 entries, for a 10-minute script he wrote and submitted to Arena Stage’s Student Playwrights Project. On May 4, Jones and his family watched professional actors read his work, a darkly humorous commentary on political engagement and the Iraq War. But the experience of seeing his work performed by professionals did not satisfy Jones’s ambitions, it only confirmed them.
Jones wants to become a director and a producer. He doesn’t simply want it, he believes it’s meant to be. “Some people just don’t get it, but I love films. I love films. I love films. I can’t even explain it …You can’t explain the things you love … You can try. You can come close, but you can never capture it,” Jones said moments before he captured it.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a director ever since I went to see 'Schindler’s List' … I was in second grade. My dad took me to see it because he thought it was such a powerful movie. I was terrified by that movie [and] my Dad said it was okay … if I wanted to turn around in my seat. [From there] I got to see everybody’s faces when they were watching the movie, [and] the people’s reactions were almost greater than what you saw on the screen. You saw people crying. You saw people scared. You saw couples huddled up together. It blew my mind. I’ll never forget that.”
BUT JONES did not have any grand ambitions in mind when he entered the Young Playwrights contest. He just wanted to pass English. “The real reason I started is I needed extra credit for my English class. I was failing,” he explained. “I was so tired of people not using the power, taking the power to vote for granted.” He was also tired of the ways politicians were justifying the war in Iraq. “I got so sick of people speaking for dead veterans … when you put words in dead people’s mouths, I find that incredibly disrespectful.”
This is how Jones describes his script, which begins at a presidential debate. George Bush is explaining, “how if the dead veterans in the war were still alive, they would want us to keep going, they wouldn’t want us to give up … A week later there are a bunch of zombie sightings around D.C.” The zombies surround Capitol Hill. But the security forces can’t bring themselves to shoot the zombies, “because they are their own. So it’s like the zombies are unstoppable … Everyone believes that the zombies are coming to attack. But it’s not that at all. They’re coming to voice their opinion and vote … I don’t want it to sound like its that serious because it’s a farce, satire sort of thing … Its hard to explain, very hard to explain.”
DESPITE THE CONTENT of his script, and his own interest in U.S. affairs, Jones was hesitant about labeling himself political, at least at first. “I’m far from what you would call a political person,” he said, but “I think anyone that doesn’t make up their mind based on the issues and for themselves is an idiot. And I personally don’t think they have the right to vote … If you don’t make an informed decision, don’t make one at all … So yeah, I guess I would say I’m political.”
Jones said that he thinks filmmakers have an obligation to address politics, but it should be through their art, not their personal lives. “I don’t see the relevance of, like, when Ben Affleck was backing [John] Kerry. To me, it’s just ‘Why would I care?’ It’s just like having some regular, other guy come up on stage. It’s like if an engineer said ‘I back Kerry.’ It just doesn’t have any relevance to me.”
He criticized George Clooney for personally taking on political issues, but praised Clooney’s film “Good Night and Good Luck” which many view as a political statement about the need to question the government’s loyalty-reinforcing definition of patriotism during wartime. He said that he wrote his own script out of the same sense of responsibility that he saw in films like “Good Night and Good Luck.”
But, he said, choosing a side for the right reason is more important than what side is chosen. “This is where I get kind of sticky. Even if they’re making a stupid decision [for instance, deciding to vote for a dog,] if they truly believe that that dog would make a better president, then I would fight to the death for them to have that right to vote.”
JONES ENVISIONS HIMSELF using art to fight that battle, and his first experience of having his work brought to life by professionals reinforced that vision. “I was extremely happy with the way it went at the Arena Stage … If I had a laugh track button to make people laugh at it, it couldn’t have gone better.”
“I didn’t think I would be nervous, but I was incredibly nervous … Hearing them laugh each time was like a big rock lifting off my shoulders,” Jones added.
“I feel so much in debt and so grateful for [the actors] doing it so well [and] even the people laughing … It feels like something I should be doing a long time.” Being selected out of 660 people “gives me the sense that there’s some tiny chance that maybe I’ll achieve my dream, but it just feels good making people laugh right now.”