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Network: Bravo; Genre: Documentary, reality; Content Rating: TV-14 (for
language); Available: on DVD; Classification: Contemporary (star range:
1 - 4);
Season Reviewed: Season 3 ("Feast")
After an internet contest where aspiring writers and directors submit their work, producers Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore choose from this well of untapped talent to give someone their big break in the film business. Real documentary cameras follow the making of the movie from pre-production and scraping of finances to dealing with tight schedules and difficult actors in production to the post-production editing and screenings. The thrills and the monotony. "Project Greenlight" is back. The movie this season: "Feast", a self-referential monster movie which the enthusiastically wound-up half of the scriptwriting team, Marcus Dunstan, frighteningly describes as "Evil Dead meets Die Hard".
A lot has changed for season 3. With the "Greenlight" movies not making any money it has shifted into survival mode this time choosing to make a marketable crowd-pleaser people might actually see. For this entry Miramax has moved the show from HBO to basic cable's Bravo where the obscenities are blanked out and a wider audience can see it. The most compelling element in this "Greenlight" is that it puts our novice filmmakers in the studio system where we watch them deal with all the concessions they must make to please the studio executives.
It is healthy to be suspect of any "reality" show, but once you get past the set-up (clearly set in place here to give them an uphill battle and stir up some drama), "Greenlight" feels like the real deal. Serious, classy and seemingly authentic. It floored me how much access we are given to the inner workings of Dimension and Miramax (on the verge of a divorce with it's parent company Disney, which by the way should give the anti-Disney fanatics out there something less to complain about). Bob Weinstein doesn't make an appearance but we hear a lot about him and the office politics of the studio - much of it not exactly flattering. That Miramax was actually allowing themselves and their movies to be opened up and shown like this is refreshing. It requires a real trust in the intelligence of their audience you never see on TV.
Example. The boldest and most memorable moment comes when first-time director John Gulager, completely disillusioned at that point, pronounces that the entire movie is just a paycheck to him until he can make something he really wants too. The show then leaves us on that note until the next episode. Now that is a high-wire risk. Coming from a studio that ultimately wants people to still see this movie, to allow us to think "Feast" is garbage, that its director doesn't even believe in, for a full week is gutsy beyond words.
While screenwriter Marcus, basking in their Hollywood experience, is endlessly fun to watch, the star of this season is Gulager. The season revolves around his arc beginning as a stammering oddball who just wants people to quite asking questions and let him "make his movie" and ends with him becoming a strong, confident, apparently talented director. It is a roller-coaster, but "Greenlight" has us firmly at every emotional bank. We cringe at Gulager's inability to communicate and laugh at a rabid pursuit to get his family (including his "girlfriend of 20 years") cast in the lead roles. We feel for his desire to pull off this life-long dream, prove he isn't just a contest winner. But we also see the side of producers Michael Leahy and Joel Soisson (both of whom become great informal narrators) who fear John may ruin the picture. We feel the stress baring down on them and the release when things go well.
"Project Greenlight" is a pure product of the medium. Only a TV show can, and would, rip the curtain back from in front of our escapist entertainment like this. Like "American Idol", "Making the Band" and "Movie Magic", "Greenlight" is a reality show that is forged out of an undisputed specialty for television - clearing out the smoke and letting us behind the scenes of industries built on fantasy, imagination and a little bit of complacent denial on all of our parts to believe in "the magic of film-making". People accept that movies and music just happen and demand it be good. Ben, Matt and Moore's goal with "Greenlight" is also, no doubt, to give the audience an idea of how mammothly complex it is to get a movie together and how slapped together it often is. The show is vastly informative to a point and careful to keep most of the actual film hidden so our entire suspension of disbelief doesn't collapse. Where would be the fun in that? We get morsels here and there to bait or interest.
Who knows how "Feast" will ultimately come out, but "Project Greenlight 3" is addictive. Not only is it a voyeuristic wet-dream for movie fans, but it retains focus on the human elements and doesn't get bogged down in mechanics. Season 3 ultimately becomes a rewarding cheer-the-underdogs TV ride featuring a director nobody believes in, a script few understood, a genre critics look down on and a collection of people with their own conflicts coming together to make something bigger than themselves (and entertain the public). It captures the drive and atmosphere that causes people to become filmmakers authentically, something that would be depicted smarmy and sarcastically on most scripted shows. The thought of a horror movie being made instead of their pretentious coming-of-age drama may make the art-house snobs out there curl up at the bottom of the bathtub and wait for death, but this season is a completely different experience than the show has had before. I can't ask for anything more in a reality series.
* * * ½ / 4
I've never seen anything like this before - where the making of a movie is
unmasked from start to finish. We see it all - warts, nose hair, the works,
all the interesting behind-the-scenes stuff which you really don't get a
taste of otherwise unless you are actually in the production side of the
movie business, and HBO and the Project Greenlight staff deserve a great
deal of credit for putting this together.
The movie involved in this documentary, "Stolen Summer" appears to be a train wreck from hell, with a childish script, a novice, completely untalented director (Pete Jones), and a faux artiste director of photography. It is perfect for a behind-the-scenes expose because there are so many engaging conflicts in its production. Let's start with the "auteur" - Pete Jones, who wrote what from all appearances seems to be a wholly inadequate screenplay and who was selected to direct this for reasons unknown. He is passive-aggressive, clearly hasn't a clue how movies are really made and doesn't have the first idea how to manage the production crew at his disposal. It is hilarious to see how stupidly he directs this movie - throwing his lot behind a director of photography who is clearly only interested in his own self-interest. Further, Mr. Jones doesn't have the first clue how to frame shots or how to obtain good performances from good actors, let alone untrained kids. Then there is the illustrious Mr. Jones pontificating on how he has a "track record" after three weeks of shooting - classic !!!! He truly has no understanding of how lucky he was to have been given this chance to direct a movie and how many other, far more talented writers and directors would have done a far better job on the film. I can't wait for Stolen Summer to be released just so I can see how bad it truly is - I'm thinking it might just be the worst movie of 2002 !!
Now let's deal with the director of photography - who apparently feels that the most important thing in moviemaking is delay, delay, delay - who couldn't set up a shot quickly if his mother was on fire and he had to get the shot in to go put the flames out. His artistic pretensions in full bloom, he spouts off reverently of his "European" orientation, blah blah blah....and Pete Jones trusts this guy??? Please !!!
Project Greenlight is the brainchild of actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon
and Producer Chris Moore, the trio that brought `Good Will Hunting' to the
screen. The show is based on a competition during which wannabe directors
submit their scripts to Live Planet, the trio's production company, with the
winner getting the opportunity to turn their script into a film, courtesy of
Miramax. The series follows the exploits of the contest winner, Pete Jones,
as he directs his feature, `Stolen Summer.'
Having worked on film sets before, I know that movie shoots that go well can be pretty boring places to be. The hours are long and the work is hard, but basically you set up, you shoot, you have lunch, you shoot some more, then you go home. It seems to me that the P.G. creators and producers stacked the deck against Jones to wring out as much `drama' as they could. First they give Jones, who has never directed a film before, less money and less time than would be optimal for the movie he is making. Logic would suggest you would want to give a neophyte more time and cash to make mistakes, do things over, etc. Logic would also suggest you would surround the newbie with the best people you could get to provide support and guidance. Instead, Jones is hooked up with a first-time Producer (Jeff Balis) and a Line Producer (Pat Peach) and cinematographer (Pete Biagi) who seem more interested in furthering their own personal agendas than making the best film for Jones. All through the series the question of `Who's in charge?' hangs in the air, with Executive Producer Chris Moore coming by the set to yell at people and threaten Balis with firing (as opposed to, say, providing genuine leadership and guidance to the production) and studio suit Michelle Sy occasionally dropping in to `represent the interests of Miramax,' whatever that means.
The series shows all the major screw-ups on the production Jones shoots under a noisy train platform that renders sound recording impossible, the big baseball scene is rained out and the crew does not have an alternative location, the scene of the two main characters swimming is hindered by the fact that the child actors are terrible swimmers. The crew gets worn down but soldiers on through the confusion, taking note of such basic directing/producing mistakes as not having a daily shot list. The series is very good at depicting just how chaotic movie making can be, especially when the people calling the shots do not really know what they are doing. Unfortunately, the series did not show anything that went well on the set. Despite the numerous gaffs depicted in the show, a movie apparently did get made. It would have been nice to see how the crew went about crafting and shooting a normal, regular scene, without all the conflict that went on behind the camera.
The last episode of the series showed Stolen Summer's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It seemed the reactions of the audience to the film were upbeat, but not overwhelming. I hope the film is good I'll probably check it out when it goes into wide release. I also hope the mistakes depicted in the series do not hurt Jones's chances of directing again. All in all the idea of Project Greenlight is an admirable one. Any opportunity for fresh talent to break into the insulated world of major films can't be bad. If Affleck and Damon decide to do this again, however, I hope they forget the whole reality series angle and just give the contest winner the money and people he or she needs to make the best film they can.
This imaginative, creative and inspiring 'reality' series was created by
Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore. The three men set up a
via the internet aptly titled, "Project Greenlight" and encouraged
screenwriters, directors and film-makers who wanted a chance to have their
dreams and creations turned into an actual film that would be screened
nationally, to send in a copy of their screen-plays. Out of an astounding
10,000 plus entries from all around the U.S., the number was narrowed down
to 10 where each successful entrant was flown to L.A. to meet with Damon,
Affleck and Moore and the head honchos at Miramax Films to try and pitch
The next 10 was broken down into the final 3 where the deciding jury spent a grueling 6 hours in a hotel room trying to decide which entrant would be the winner. It was quite obvious that all of the 10 finalists were deserving people, but to break it down to three and decide who the winner out of that bunch would be was really tough. Out of the final three, Pete Jones, a native Chicagoan married man with a young daughter was chosen as the winner.
With Pete Jones behind the camera to direct his first feature film, Miramax Films has agreed to produce his film for $1 million. The question this series will have to deal with is if it is realistic that a project of this magnitude can be kept under that budget.
This series is comprised of 10 episodes and is shown on HBO. It is unfortunate that such a small audience will get to view this extraordinary series that examines the film industry and the people involved at close detail. I feel that every film student throughout the U.S. and the world would find this show to be inspiring, very informative and could benefit quite a lot from "Project Greenlight".
Kudos to Matt, Ben and Chris! This series gets a 10 out of 10!
I'll admit when I saw the first few episodes of Project Greenlight
Season 3, I made a snap judgment about Gulagher. I fell victim to a
good producer who knew the first and foremost element of a good story:
Conflict and Resolution. You have to hand it to them because they
edited Gulagher's first interview with Wes Craven, Matt Damon, etc...
to give the appearance of stupidity. He even clapped his hands, making
music by enlarging and shrinking the opening of his mouth.
For all of the aforementioned, and numerous instances of stupidity that they credited to him as he went through the process of making a movie, Gulagher came forward as a bright and shining director/filmmaker. A force to be reckoned with in terms of film-making.
Remember folks FEAST was made for a million dollars, with maybe a tad extra to boot. Also, it was Gulagher's first full feature film if I'm not mistaken.
It was shortly after I heard Damon give Gulagher a big thumbs up about his film-making prowess at the end of the season when I realized there must be something we're not being told, because based on what I'd seen until then, this guy's a moron.
I rented FEAST as soon as I could find it on the rental shelf next to "Dawn of the Living Dead (Now with extra cleavage)." After watching the first five minutes, I could tell Gulagher will make it big. Yeah, not on FEAST because Harvey Weinstein sat on it, but more-so for his overall brilliance and knowledge of story telling.
"I don't know what I'm looking for, but I'll know it when I see it." John Gulagher
Ok, maybe not so glamorous - but then that's a useful thing to
learn, no?. This multi-part docudrama takes a fascinating look at
making movies by following the making of a movie by a first-time
I only hope they put this on DVD so others can learn from their mistakes. ;-)
This film rates an "8" for the pleasure it was to watch this mess. What happens when a cocky first time director (Jason Mann) pushes around Mentor/Producer's Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and the big wigs at HBO - "The Leisure Class". Mann, a Columbia University student director in the MFA program, beat out several other qualified student directors for the opportunity to direct a $3 million HBO film, working along side Affleck, Damon, the Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby - "There's Something About Mary"), Season 1 Winner Pete Jones and HBO movie exec Len Amato. Over the season of the show, the audience watched as Mann stomped his feet and held his breath regarding his demands. What should have been a season about a first time direct making a large film, instead turned out to be season on what it takes to be a Line Producer, as Jeff Balis and Effie Brown fought tooth and nail to hold the production together. When all the dust settled and "The Leisure Class" aired, neither Mann, Affleck, Damon or HBO came out winners.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Forget how John Gulager comes across in conversation, forget his
inability to fully articulate his vision for the movie and his somewhat
misguided determination to cast his family in the lead roles. None of
this matters. The only thing that matters and the primary reason he was
chosen as director of Feast is that this man can shoot the hell out of
a movie. That was evident right from the start when his short film
submission blew the producers away. From that moment on he was their
number one choice to direct.
Yes Chris Moore had doubts but about Gulager's ability to properly articulate his plans for the movie not his ability to make a decent movie. At times his fears did seem to be justified. Gulager came across as awkward, bumbling and a bit of a joke especially during preproduction. During a conference call with an important studio executive, he is asked to describe the tone of the movie and can only sit open mouthed and silent prompting the executive to hang up the phone in a rage.
Then later during production itself, cast and crew are frustrated by his lack of leadership but this is due to his inexperience in working with actors and a large crew rather than his inability to direct. I work in the film industry and I know from experience that no one is born knowing how to handle a crew of sixty people and mistakes are made all the time even by the most experienced directors. Gulager is not helped by the hostile attitude of his DP who refuses to meet him even halfway and is more interested in simply making the day rather than the quality of the shots. Gulager is undermined by him every step of the way and crawls deeper and deeper into his shell, even totally shutting down at one point. Near the end of the shoot, Gulager gets the chance to work with a second unit DP who immediately understands what he is trying to do and treats him with respect and and as a result, Gulager's directing becomes much more confident.
The response to the first cut of the movie by both studio executives and producers is overwhelmingly positive and all praise him for a job well done. Sadly, Feast will probably be Gulager's one and only movie, as lacking the ambition and drive of the writers who secured for themselves ICM representation and rewrite work on a Highlander movie just a few weeks after winning the contest, Gulager will undoubtedly slide back into obscurity which will be a shame for both him and for the industry.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Okay, after a supposedly rigorous selection process we end up with what
is repeatedly referred to as a fantastic script by a talented writer
and a team of two 'very capable' directors. A very different scenario
to the previous series where writer Pete Jones who had never directed
before was given the helm. The result was the appalling 'Stolen Summer'
which made about a dollar fifty at the box office. This time things
were supposed to be very different.
Unfortunately right from the start it becomes glaringly obvious that our two talented and experienced directors are nothing of the kind. At one point, one of them asks if they really need a production designer and wouldn't it be better to just tell the prop master what they want? Things get worse when they upset the leading DP candidate by accusing him of talking over them. As a result, he wisely makes the decision to pull himself out of the running. Through six weeks of preproduction,they sit quietly in script meetings leaving producers,Chris Moore and Jeff Balis come up with ways in which the script could be improved.
After a meeting with Sharon Lawrence, where they sit staring off into space, their casting director,Joseph describes them as mutes and admits that as an actor, he would have serious concerns about working with them.
Once on set they suddenly discover an interest in the script and begin rewriting scenes the night before shooting upsetting both the writer, who they deliberately exclude from the process, and the the producers. Their lack of preparation leads to them falling behind schedule and alienates their actors when it becomes clear they have no idea what it is they want. Watching the writer, Erica Beeney cringe every time they give their actors directions that run contrary to the intentions of the script and story is painful to say the least.
In truth, I don't blame the directors , even though they are intensely unlikeable characters. It was the job of the producers to put the project into the hands of the very best candidates and they patently failed to do so. I can only guess that the reason these two were picked is because it was decided that having two directors would make for more entertaining television.
At the beginning of each episode, we are told that the intention of the project is to identify talented individuals and help them to launch their careers but in the case of Kyle Rankin, Efram Potelle and Pete Jones this clearly has not been the case. Like 'Stolen Summer', 'The Battle of Shaker Heights' went on to gross about two dollars fifty before sinking without trace. Although Pete Jones has managed to sell an idea to the Farrelly brothers, none of the directors have persuaded anyone to let them anywhere near a film set.
Not surprisingly after the third series, Chris Moore declared Project Greenlight to over and then took himself off to become a director. To be honest it should never have begun.
I enjoyed the Project Greenlight series, however, I think a lot of it was BS. I think a lot of the conflicts we saw were staged to make the show more compelling, and the only one who wasn't in on it was poor Pete Jones. Why wouldn't they have made sure the child actors could swim before they cast them? Why was Chris Moore constantly yelling at Jones as if he were an experienced director who should have known what he was doing, when he was just some guy who won a contest? Why did they pick a DP who was such a pill? Was this really the best script out of 10,000, or was it the one they thought the most things would go wrong on? I think we all know the answer.
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