I’ve never been much for reality programming, even before studios got busted for reenacting events and creating fake situations for content, forcing them to minimize their liability by coining the term assisted reality, but when HBO first announced a show focusing on first-time filmmakers being given a chance to write and direct a feature film… I was hooked. Aside from being an aspiring filmmaker, I’m also the type of guy who loves all those wonderful DVD featurettes showing the behind-the-scenes goings on from tv and movie sets, and in most cases, find them to be far more interesting than the actual movie itself. The added value to Project Greenlight is it ran an online script contest, which meant I could actually be a part of the show, if my screenplay survived the brutal peer review stage.
But I was still very much interested in the show. I can’t describe my disappointment as I watched winner Pete Jones stumble his way through shooting Stolen Summer, a humdrum period piece snorefest about a Catholic boy who tries to help his Jewish friend get into heaven. Had I not watched the tv series, I wouldn’t have bothered seeing this film even if it played on the insides of my eyelids.
Season Two rolled around and this time the contest was split into two categories: writing and directing. I didn’t bother submitting for either category, but because I was still fascinated by the behind-the-scenes aspect, I watched Erica Beeney’s script, The Battle of Shaker Heights (a 17-year old WWII reenactor decides to put his battlefield knowledge to work in real life against his high school enemy), win with Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle landing the coveted directing prize. I figured the showrunners learned from the previous season’s debacle and made the effort to put together a superior show this time around.
Sadly, this was not the case.
The show was such a stinkpot, it got booted from HBO and found a new home on Bravo for Season Three. This time the genre was horror, and a script titled Feast by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, won with winner John Gulager as the director. Even though I thought this season was particularly horrible, Feast (folks trapped in a bar, fending off creatures trying to eat them) turned out to be the most lucrative product the show produced both in box office and DVD sales (hell, it even spawned two sequels).
But the writing was on the wall and the show disappeared into obscurity… or so it seemed.
Nearly ten years after the last season, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck resurrected the series, this time focusing on comedy with a ready-to-shoot Farrelly brothers script on hand. All the mix needed was a first-time director. Once again, my thinking was, come on, it’s been ten damned years since the last run surely the producers have gotten their act together and they wouldn’t bother exhuming a turd and try to pass it off as art, would they? So, out of curiosity (and a bit of hopefulness) I tuned in.
And was pleasantly surprised. The pilot opened with Matt and Ben confessing that the Project Greenlight series had nearly wrecked their careers and their friendship. Great! Now, maybe we would get to go behind the behind-the-scenes to get the scuttlebutt on what really transpired on the show. Maybe this time the Good Will boys would open up and speak candidly about what went wrong with the past seasons and address how the current season would travel more in the true direction of the show’s original vision.
But that never came.
I watched with anticipation as the semi-finalist directors were whittled down and the finalists faced the interview process with a judges panel that included Matt and Ben and a line producer the press would soon come to know, Effie Brown. Each one of the contestants were pleased as punch to be there, expressed an eagerness to work on a Farrelly brothers script, discussed what they could bring to the project… all except one, Jason Mann. From the moment he walked into the interview room, Jason acted like he’d rather be anywhere else in world. He showed no real interest in shooting a comedy, stating in no uncertain terms he’d much rather shoot his own screenplay (a feature length version of the short that landed him a finalist position in the contest). Way to talk yourself out of job there, buddy, I thought.
I will never learn.
By swimming against the supposed stream of the show, Jason made himself a controversial figure, and since this was a reality TV show and we all know these assisted reality shows thrive on conflict, guess who won the contest?
What followed next was a series of staged Hollywood fights (indirect confrontations) where new kid on the block Jason did end runs around all the seasoned professionals. The squabbling and inability to resolve any of the preproduction hurdles led to the quitting of the Farrellys and the fake deliberation over whether Jason got to shoot is own screenplay. Yeah, I called it. It was a setup. The intention was to shoot Jason’s screenplay from the get-go. It was also the worst job of creating drama I’ve ever witnessed. I mean, these guys shoot fantasy-as-reality everyday and are able to elicit rage, instill happiness, or bring audiences to tears, so why the blazes couldn’t they make this scripted nonsense look and feel more authentic? If you’re going to go carny, go full out. I’ll gladly be a rube as long as I can’t see the puppet master manipulating the strings.
And Jason Mann was such and uninteresting and one-dimensional character they had to beef up Effie Brown’s role, putting her at odds with everyone (especially Matt Damon) as she fought for gender and racial diversity. Noble causes, both. Too bad it was wasted on this nothing project. This will be the first time I won’t bother viewing the finished product, The Leisure Class. I’m done. I’m out. Project Greenlight and I are parting ways for good.
I give Project Greenlight, the entire series, Zero Homeless Shopping Carts, but trust me when I say it’s me, Greenlight, not you. I’m the one who hung all the extra tinsel on you, expecting you to live up to my expectations instead of accepting you as you truly are. You’re a second rate reality show that hasn’t been fully thought out and you deserve a viewer with indiscriminate tastes. Truly my bad.
Oh, and should you see me panhandling outside your local multiplex, have a heart a drop a movie ticket in my cup.
See ya at the concession stand.