The fourth season of HBO’s Project Greenlight, a revival of the series after two seasons on HBO and a third on Bravo back in the early aughts, has been arguably the best of the four, in part thanks to the fact that the digital filmmaking revolution has exponentially grown the talent pool of aspiring directors, and thanks in bigger part to the huge personality conflict between the season’s chosen director, a blond stick figure named Jason Mann, and his assigned Line Producer, a seasoned professional in the indie world named Effie Brown.
Things got off on the wrong foot almost immediately when Jason buttonholed Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the show’s creators, mentors, and producers of the movie Jason was chosen to direct, roughly 30 seconds after winning the job, to tell them he wanted to shoot the movie on film rather than digital.
Since the line producer’s job is to keep track of budget and keep the production from spending more money than it has, this created an immediate conflict. Film is much more expensive to work with than digital, which Effie rightfully pointed out; she sent Jason to a digital production house for a demonstration of how digital photography can be processed to look indistinguishable from film to most any set of eyes. Jason, of course, was able to tell the difference, and was so preoccupied with the idea of shooting film that it seemed to keep him from making any other decisions.
This was a problem, but it wasn’t open warfare. The tension ratcheted up a notch when another seasoned Hollywood professional who’d signed on to mentor the young director, Peter Farrelly, heard about the impasse and offered to take Jason to a digital production house to show him how indistinguishable from film digital could be made to look. For some reason, Effie took this totally innocent gesture as an encroachment on her authority, even though Farrelly was suggesting the same thing she had suggested. If a second trip to the Magic Factory had persuaded Jason to give up his quixotic determination to shoot film, Effie’s life would have been made easier, but instead she made a big enough stink about it that Farrelly quit the show.
Up to this point I was sympathetic to Effie. She seemed a little thin-skinned, but I don’t work in Hollywood; maybe Farrelly did cross some kind of line that I didn’t understand. But she lost me when Jason went to Affleck and mentioned the film vs. digital issue. Affleck offered Jason $100,000 out of his salary from the show and another $100,000 on behalf of Damon. Informed of this arrangement, the HBO executive in charge of the movie, not about to let Damon and Affleck contribute out of their own pockets, decided to add $300,000 to the budget so Jason could shoot film.
Again, I can kind of see Effie’s point. Jason didn’t like the answer Mom gave, so he went to Dad. That’s pretty lame and certainly undermined her authority. But at the same time, it solved the problem. When the production is unexpectedly gifted an additional windfall of $300,000, it seems like a producer would see that as a good thing – that is unless they are blinded by resentment over perceived slights. The $300,000 was presented with a choice, presumably for the benefit of the TV audience: Jason could use it to shoot on film, or he could have two additional shoot days. Effie presented this choice and demanded a snap decision, in front of other crew members. Put on the spot after all his agitating, Jason chose film. That seems like a dumb choice, but shouldn’t Effie have discussed it with him privately and told him what she told the cameras: that time is the most precious resource on a film? Instead she just smugly predicted (to the cameras) that he would regret his decision.
Things only got worse from there. Jason didn’t like any of his options for a mansion to shoot in, so he waited until the last possible moment before choosing one, which pushed almost every other aspect of the production back. This was solely Jason’s fault; he seemed to think the location scouts had better options that they were just choosing not to share with him, which is silly.
Then came the stunt. Jason had a car accident in his script from the beginning, and felt it was the emotional turning point of the movie, and he wanted it to visually represent a change in one of the characters by having a car literally flip over. Since this was in his script all along, and no one had told him the stunt would have to be cut or modified, he was caught flatfooted when Effie approached him and said that by shuffling a few budget items around, she thought they would probably be able to shoot the stunt the way Jason wanted. Rather than dropping to his knees and thanking her, as she seemed to expect, Jason quite reasonably wondered why it was ever a question that they would shoot the stunt the way he wanted. Effie took umbrage to what she saw as Jason’s “entitlement,” and the working relationship reached a low point when the issue was revisited and Effie told Jason that flipping a car was not and had never been a possibility, and Jason complained to the cameras that Effie just didn’t like the movie they were making and wasn’t really trying to help.
Though Jason is far from innocent in all of this, it’s important to remember that this was his first budgeted movie (as opposed to a self-financed spec project where he probably served as his own director, producer, cameraman and caterer). He had never led a production anywhere near this scale. Effie, on the other hand, mentioned in nearly every episode that she had produced 17 films. She is the old hand and he is the rookie. So when she said “I think we can probably do the stunt the way you want,” and he replied with confusion that it was ever a question, rather than widening her eyes and expressing disbelief that he didn’t know what was going on and implying that he’s being willfully clueless, maybe a better move would have been to, you know, figure out why he’s not getting crucial information and help him work to improve the lines of communication, so he could make an informed decision or find another creative solution to the problem.
Effie didn’t do that, though. She whined to the other producer, she whined to the location manager, she whined to the cameras. I’m sure she’s right that it’s much harder working with a first-time director. But how could she not expect that when she signed up to be a part of a show whose express purpose is to put a total rookie in the director’s chair?
This season ignited quite a bit of discussion in various comments sections, with a lot of people pledging to Team Effie and taking her side. Whatever your take on the Effie/Jason relationship, there’s no denying that they’re two of the most memorable reality TV personalities to come along since Omarosa.
It will be interesting to see how the finished film, The Leisure Class, came out when it premieres. Jason seems to have a very meticulous eye for composition and certainly seems to have won the affection of (most of) his actors. The brief snippets of dialogue we saw on the show do not indicate a huge amount of hilarity, and the big fight over film vs. digital will probably seem silly in retrospect, particularly as it’s a comedy and even more particularly as it’s a straight-to-television comedy. And will anyone notice or care that the big stunt, which turned out to be a total dud, doesn’t convey the emotional truth that he’s going for?
We’ll all find out on Monday!
Watch the season finale of Project Greenlight at 10pm ET Sunday on HBO; all prior episodes are available On Demand.
Watch The Leisure Class at 10pm ET Monday on HBO, or anytime after On Demand.