If earlier editions of “Project Greenlight” often felt like a setup — sending novice filmmakers to be punk’d and humiliated in front of unforgiving cameras — the latest version insists it’s all about delivering a profitable movie, which is probably even more of a prescription for disaster. Segueing from character-driven indie fare to a genre pic under the aegis of Dimension Films, Bravo’s revival of this one-time HBO franchise promises yet another “Be careful what you wish for” lesson on the vagaries of the movie biz, though it certainly gets off to a fascinating start.
“This year is really about making a movie that people are going to see,” insists Chris Moore, the producer featured in earlier productions of “Greenlight,” which conducts a contest to find writers and directors who are afforded the chance to make a low-budget film.
What quickly emerges from the latest sifting process, however, is a sense that the emphasis on marketability trumps quality, causing friction between Dimension execs and “Greenlight” mascots Ben Affleck (who knows a little something about movie misfires) and Matt Damon — two of the project’s nine exec producers.
This debate grows heated, with Damon frequently sounding like he wants off the merry-go-round as the series quickly whittles down to four potential writers (one’s a team) and three directors — all of them, notably, white guys. While Dimension brass talk about doing a movie “that everybody can get behind at the studio,” Damon’s frustration becomes apparent.
“I’ve never done a movie based on fucking marketing materials,” he snaps at one point.
Historically, these episodes have been the most interesting aspect of the “Greenlight” experience, which in previous flights then showcased the hapless filmmakers, serving the industry a “This is harder than it looks” valentine. One of the finalists even jokes, in his audition tape, about how everyone knows the concept leaves directors looking like idiots.
Yet this “Greenlight” also makes clear, as few docu-type projects have, how and why the cream doesn’t always rise to the top, as well as how the smoothest pitchman — as opposed to the most talented candidate — can earn a studio’s faith.
It’s still to be determined whether the program will again devolve into its own kind of horror show, with the fledgling filmmakers cast as the teenagers obliviously necking in the park, unaware of the skewering that awaits them. At least so far, though, “Greenlight” promises to be its own kind of educational video — a “This is your brain on moviemaking” public-service announcement that, however entertaining the train wreck might be, is sure to go unheeded by those eager to climb aboard.