Wednesday, March 16, 2005

DB on TV: Project Greenlight Gets a Big Green Thumbs Up

If you like movies, or writing, or Wes Craven, or Matt Damon, or Ben Affleck, you need to break quick-like to your TiVo or DVR or other archaic taping contraption to program-ize Project Greenlight (on Bravo – check listings), which chronicles an attempt to pick relative unknowns to write and direct a commercial Hollywood film release.

It’s that good.

And yes, you can not like Ben Affleck and still enjoy the show.

This is the third installment of Project Greelight, the brainchild of the Damon-Affleck WonderTwins Duo. This time around the Twins, along with Craven and American Pie producer Chris Moore, are looking for the next great director and screenwriting team to get a shot at greatness, put together an entertaining and intelligent film, and make a little profit along the way.

Except the reality is far messier and uglier than that. And a hell of a lot more fun to watch.

The reality for this reality project is that because they’re playing with millions of dollars of studio money, they need to actually crank out a profit this time around. The first two Project Greenlight films made in the neighborhood of $100,000, which is, in Hollywood parlance, bubkus. This time out, they’re going for a more commercial enterprise (read = need to make money or no more Project Greenlight) which, at a very early stage, is adding an intriguing level of tension and complexity to the proceedings.

Setup to key scene from the first episode: The team is down to picking a finalist from the best three screenplays submitted to the competition. As everyone knows, the script is the blueprint: it’s everything. If the script is tripe, or hollow, or unfilmable, or not right for the budget or time schedule, it will stink like three-week old cod.

The three screenplays boil down to: an intelligent thriller, an intelligent comedy/sci fi flick about time travel, and a story about monsters attacking a house.

You want to guess which one wins?

Key scene from the first episode: Affleck, and especially Damon, really want the comedy. Or, more than that, they really don’t want the low budget, low concept horror movie. You can see their point: why spend their time doing a project like this if you’re not clearly taking a risk or going for a high quality project? The studio, however, lays down the law: it’s the horror flick and a pander to the teeny bopper date crowd market, or nothing.

Damon: "I've never done a movie based on fucking materials,"

Affleck turns to the camera and deadpans, “So at least this [reality show] will chronicle how things go in Hollywood.”

Damon: “The fucking master of horror (director Wes Craven) is seated two seats away from you and he’s telling you [the script] is shit.”


Affleck is right: it’s a huge lesson in how Hollywood goes for the lowest common denominator nine times out of ten, and how the really good films usually sneak underneath the radar of the studios or are in the hands of the half-dozen mega-powerful directors.

The decision process for the directorial finalist was also a delight. Thank the Lords of Television that Damon – who, to be honest, is an intellectual force compared to the affable, disastrous relationship-prone Affleck – spearheaded the choice to select John Gulager, a middle-aged, awkward auteur of sorts who looks like he will either make an art-house classic out of a nothing script… or be the troubled, artsy captain on a ship doing down, way down.

Feast the film will be. And Project Greenlight looks to be a feast for all of us.

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