Thursday, October 08, 2015

PG Rated

Before I forget, let me recommend this season of HBO's Project Greenlight.  It's already halfway through, but at only eight hours complete, it'll be easy to catch up.

Project Greenlight is a reality show produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon where a director is picked to direct a low-budget film, funded by HBO.  In past seasons, he also sometimes wrote the screenplay.  PG ran for three seasons and then went on hiatus for a decade.  I'm glad to see it's back.

The show starts with the competition but spends most of its time on the making of the film.  Anyone who's ever worked on a film (especially with a limited budget) knows the process tends to be a series of disasters.  By the end, you're often amazed it got finished.  That's the drama the show tries to catch.

This season is as good as ever, maybe better.  Ben, Matt and the rest have a lot of talented directors to pick from.  (Spoilers)  This year, they pick 13 candidates (ten isn't enough) and let them direct a scene from the script they'll be shooting--a broad comedy.  Also on board are the Farrelly brothers, who know something about broad comedy.

The snippets they show suggest the candidates have talent.  One by one (or two by two when they have teams who direct) they interview them, and the oddest seems to be Jason Mann.  Unlike all the others, he's got serious problems with the script, and almost seems like he'd rather not make it. Needless to say, they pick him.  Perhaps it's because he was the most talented, but also maybe because they knew he'd make for a good show.

Mann proves to be as unmanageable as you'd expect.  He's tall and gaunt--looks like an ascetic who only lives for film.  When it's announced he's the winner, rather than celebrate, he starts making demands.  He wants to shoot on film and he wants the writer fired.  Firing the writing is a time-honored tradition in Hollywood, but Jason Mann is a nobody.  Pete Jones is the writer, by the way--you may not have heard of him, but he was the winner of Season One.  (They don't fire him--they'd probably already paid for his services.)

Jason makes another demand early on--replace the script with a different but similar comedy he wrote.  Following the modern cult of director, they accede to this demand.  Pete Jones goes along with it--he is a writer after all, so he knows his place. Incidentally, Jason learns to love Pete.

The demand for film is even crazier.  Some directors who can afford it still shoot on film, but it's a hassle and an unnecessary expense on a low-budget production.  But Jason digs in his heels (like he does on everything else) and eventually Ben, Matt and HBO agree to put up the extra money.

Aside from Jason, the other major character on the show if Effie, the hardnosed producer of the film in question.  She needs to keep Jason in line with reality. For instance, she takes him to see how video can look as good as film, but he won't have it.  She also rubs some people the wrong way.  In fact, she gets into a tiff with the Farrelly brothers, who walk off the project.  They thought they could be helpful mentors--they didn't sign up for this.

To be fair, it's hard to say what any of these people are really like.  Like any reality show, each half hour we see probably represents a hundred hours of video, and they cut to make it as dramatic as they can, and to make the characters as extreme as they can.

Anyway, with Project Greenlight half over, we haven't even started production yet. Instead, we see Jason reject house after house in Los Angeles for the main location because none have to "old Connecticut" look he's going for.  Jason, this is LA, what did you expect?  People are tearing out their hair--we're shooting in just a few days, we need time to plan.  Meanwhile, Jason complains about all the compromises he has to make. What compromises?

Most viewers probably find Jason a privileged, annoying creep, but no doubt some admire him. Here's a guy who was plucked out of obscurity, but he still sticks to his guns.  Maybe you have to learn to compromise to make a film, but don't we admire artists who do it their way no matter what (even when the result isn't that great)?  Maybe Jason is wrong, and maybe he's blowing it, but if this is his big shot, he doesn't see any point in doing it any way but his.  People with unflinching principles are no fun to be around--some are even dangerous--but once in a while, they get something accomplished.

The show will finish its run and then, presumably, the film will be released. It's a satirical comedy, as far as I can tell. The little snippets of dialogue here and there don't sound that promising, but it's impossible to tell out of context.

I suppose I'll go see it out of curiosity. I don't expect much.  I saw the first two Project Greenlight films, Stolen Summer and, The Battle Of Shaker Heights, and they were awful.  And box office flops as well. But I don't see Project Greenlight as a show designed to turn out a good film, even if that's their hope.  It's like American Idol.  The process is the fun part, but I never thought for a second I'd buy any music they were making.

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