Project Greenlight and how not to make a film

project-greenlightI’ll start off by saying that I love the concept of Project Greenlight, a behind the scenes series on the making of a feature film. I also think that HBO is the right vehicle to deliver that series. I was able to watch all eight episodes on demand followed by an on demand viewing of the actual film The Leisure Class. Now for a reality check. Anyone interested in learning how and why Hollywood turns out so many vacuous, uninteresting duds, needs to watch the series and the end result.

I’m a fan of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. They are the creators of the show. They are also behind the misfires that the show reveals, starting with the decision to go from a story first reality show to a director first contest. One of my favorite Hollywood stories involves the Director of It’s A Wonderful Life — Frank Capra. Once the movie became a classic he was asked about his secret for creating movie magic. He went on to explain his directing style. He never mentioned the writer. The next day Frank Capra received a script made up of 120 blank pages with the notation, “try making some movie magic out of this.”

There are a thousand examples of terrible movies involving talented people. Try renting Defending Your Life starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. The point is that no matter the money, no matter the talent, you have to have a compelling story first. From the moment Jason Mann was selected as the winner, with Affleck and Damon as primary supporters, the resulting movie was doomed. Mann was chosen primarily because Damon and Affleck were impressed with his short film, which was shot on film. It looked good so lets make him the winner. But Mann is a film geek. He’s not a story teller. You knew things were only going to get worse when Mann started insisting on changes, such as his demand to shoot on film and throwing out the original script and replacing it with his own.

Now here is where things really go downhill. No one has the guts to tell Mann that the script sucks. It just needs some work. Go ahead and fix it, you’ve got two weeks. By now HBO is stuck. They’re committed to this project; they have a budget set aside; let’s just do it. Maybe it will work out. It didn’t work out. Everyone associated with the making of this pointless, soporific film is there to collect a paycheck. There is no passion; there is no collaboration; there is no creativity. Everyone keeps talking about producer Effie Brown, but she was the biggest paycheck collector of them all. A producer needs to be a champion for the filmmakers and not a nosy accountant. Granted she was working on a film that was bad from start to finish, but she still collected her paycheck. If she really cared about filmmaking, she would have left the show like the Farrlley Brothers did early on.

As for the film itself, I only sat through it so I could form an honest opinion about the entire project. Had it not been part of Project Greenlight, I wouldn’t have lasted more than the first two minutes. Why spend three million dollars on a film that has zero merit? Tell stories that have a point. Tell stories that say something. Tell stories that have meaning. Mann could have had thirty million dollars to make his film and would not have been any better because there was no story. He could have shot in Connecticut; he could have built a mansion; he could have had his expensive car flip scene. It wouldn’t have mattered.

I hope HBO decides to try this again next year. But I suggest going back to the original concept. Find a great story first. Everything else will fall into place. As for Jason Mann. When you’re more concerned about color correction and exposure than what’s happening on screen, it’s time to focus on what you’re good at. Get a job as a camera operator. That’s where your talents are.

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