Thoughts on Project Greenlight

This was the first season I’ve watched and I thought maybe as a beginning filmmaker it would offer some insight into the process.

I’m not sure that it really did because a lot of what went on in the show felt manufactured for drama. Maybe that’s the editing. I don’t know. After watching the first 20 minutes of the film that was made, The Leisure Class, I decided that the show was more about making an entertaining reality show than giving some kind of documentary insight into the process of Hollywood movie making.

Basically, all of the drama that happens on the show turns out to be mostly irrelevant to the final product. They spent so much time going back and forth about film vs. digital. It didn’t really matter. Sure, it’s beautifully shot, but everyone’s watching it at home on HBO, not on a big screen. While watching the show, I thought “man, you should take the extra shooting days! It’s your first rodeo, this will give you leeway to make mistakes!”

But it wouldn’t have mattered. The issue with the movie was the script and not the picture or the acting or the directing. I actually think Mann directed it well, at least from what I saw. The performances were good and the shots were good. The story had a lot of issues though, right from the start.

And I realized that yeah, HBO cared a lot more about making a compelling TV show than a compelling movie, because there’s no way, just no way that under any other circumstance would they have taken his script and said “yes, this is brilliant, we want to make this.”

It’s not like the premise was so terrible, it’s just that it’s not a final draft of a script. It’s an early draft with a lot of problems that could be solved and punched up. Or if not, they would shelve it and move on. I don’t think half the people on the show even read the script. The notes they were giving him on the rough cut were things that should’ve been fixed in development: Fiona’s character arc, Matt Damon telling him that there were issues with the main character — yeah, if you had read the script, you would’ve seen that coming.

The show left me wanting to hate Mann but I ended up thinking he’s pretty good as a director and might be a decent writer, but he really needed guidance on that front and they let him down. I think he would’ve been better off making his first feature on a $25k budget and learning all those difficult lessons in obscurity. It’s a lot easier to fail in obscurity. I can’t imagine anything worse than becoming a famous artist before your art merits fame.1

  1. Within the realm of artistic careers. Obviously, there are worse things in life.