Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The real problem with this year's "Project Greenlight"

By Lars Trodson

The kerfuffle surrounding some remarks Matt Damon made during the first episode of “Project Greenlight” — which premiered this week on HBO — has overshadowed the ostensible purpose of the program, which is to give an unknown director a shot at making a Hollywood movie.

Damon’s remark, something about how ethnic diversity was important in front of the camera but not behind it (I’m paraphrasing), ran side by side with another rumpus: the fact that the newly chosen director, a guy named Jason Mann, wanted to shoot on film and to replace the writer that “Project Greenlight” producers had chosen to help tighten up the script for the comedy Mann had been hired to direct.

What I see as a bigger problem than all of these is that I think Jason Mann is precisely what is wrong with the film industry today. A short film of his, called “Delicacy,” (can be seen on Vimeo, it’s 10 minutes long), is another one of those superbly crafted short films that has about as much life in it as a chewed up wad of bubble gum.

It’s also another one of the one-joke premises that seems to take forever to unfold and by the time you get to the big reveal, you’ve been drained of all energy and care.

So, the issue here, once again, is not one of craftsmanship but whether or not the movies and moviemakers are any longer capable of conveying something that approximates life without being too precious about it. Mann’s short was all about filmmaking (and unicorns!); it was suffocatingly inert. My gripe with the movies today is not their lack of craft, but their utter disregard for verisimilitude — particularly in the realm of comedy — which has become cartoonish, crude and boorish. There is little whimsy in American films today.

This is especially alarming given that “Project Greenlight” is going to make a $3 million comedy this time around, with a script treatment by the Farrelly brothers. I’m not a huge fan of their work — I think my favorite of theirs was actually “The Three Stooges” movie, which should tell you something — but it’s got some energy and heart to it, not a bit of which I saw in Mann’s short film.

I think Jason Mann was striving for whimsy in his short "Delicacy" — the title will seem aspirational once you've finished watching the movie — but he missed it by a mile. It was self conscious and leaden. The production values were great and the acting fine, but a bit too twee for my taste. The production values evident in the film are of the kind that really excites other filmmakers; they're jealous if your short film looks like it actually had a budget.

But swanky sets don't bring a film to life. They are overrated, as is the one-joke short film. We need more energy and verve. It reminds me of that quote by Georges Clemenceau, “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.” I think filmmaking, in the sad state of affairs it seems to be in, is too important to be left to the filmmakers.

Next time Affleck and Damon should hire some crazy ass amateur that has energy, daring and some sense of craft. Then we might get a real movie.