The original Project Greenlight‘s 3-year run was an intriguing idea for a competitive reality series that, despite copious amounts of drama, never really took hold as anything other than documentation of completely uninteresting failures. The original structure of the series was flawed from Day One: finding a decent screenplay among thousands of submissions written by someone who could also direct — a very tall order for anyone. After watching the original director (Pete Jones, who shows up in Season Four) crack under the considerable pressure of making a film, seasons two and three split the contest into a screenwriting and directing contest, which offered its own set of problems.
Project Greenlight Season Four then tries to address previous issues by selecting a director based on a pre-existing screenplay, written by Jones. By doing so, the producing team, including Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, eliminates the issue of finding the right fit between director and material — or so we thought. Overall, Greenlight fits very comfortably back onto our television screens and becomes a classy addition to the competitive reality genre even if their ultimate selection of director was clearly designed to elicit the kind of conflicts inherent in the reality genre.
Affleck and Damon introduce the series with their by-now patented brand of affable chemistry, and then they quickly get out of the way and let the cameras focus on the real stars of the pilot episode — the budding filmmakers. After narrowing the field down to ten, we watch as Affleck and Damon, along with HBO producers and the Farrelly Brothers (who have signed up to shepherd the director through the broadly comic romantic script), interview the remaining field. From what I can tell, nearly everyone has some kind of filmmaking talent, so those who chose the field selected well. After a few incredibly awkward interviews (including one highly sketchy couple who filmed their entry movie as a couple, subsequently broke up, and saw the film submitted with only one name), the field is narrowed down to two major contestants — Chris, an immediately likable guy whose initial entry film was a huge hit with the team, and Jason, a pretentious and indy-influenced filmmaker with a very specific style akin to Louis C.K.
The laws of reality programming tell you which one they selected.
The episode is edited to make it appear that Jason has bombed his interview, yet he is widely seen as the best filmmaker. Jason even majorly hints that he hates the screenplay and would vastly re-write it, something that doesn’t set well with the Farrelly Brothers at all. Naturally, he is selected as the winner because his pretentiousness and repellant personality will guarantee maximum conflict which, in turn, will guarantee maximum ratings. Or HBO surely hopes, anyway.
Project Greenlight still remains a class act in the world of reality programming, not a small feat to undertake. It appeals to the inner director/writer/producer in all of us, and we watch with equal parts support in Jason’s successes and glee in his failures. It will be fascinating to see the resolution of what appears to be the central conflict: that Jason’s personal filmmaking sensibilities don’t align with the Farrelly Brother’s broadly comic tendencies at all. When Jason, after being awarded the director title, quickly approaches Affleck and Damon about replacing his screenwriter with the screenwriter of Boys Don’t Cry (quite the fit for a broad romantic comedy), you do watch with glee when Affleck and Damon kind of emotionally back away from the ensuing disaster as Bobby Farrelly gazes on in horror.
Welcome to filmmaking reality TV, folks. Strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
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Note: In response some remarks by Matt Damon in last night’s episode, Clarence has expanded on this post at AwardsDailyTV:
Mansplaining Diversity on ‘Project Greenlight’