The most gripping drama in the revival of HBO’s “Project Greenlight” happened off screen, as some of the aspiring filmmakers balked at signing a first-look agreement with the company behind the show, Adaptive Studios.
Sources say Adaptive – a relatively new company that acquires abandoned intellectual property, which is how it became the new producer of “Greenlight” – presented the 13 finalists with the agreement the day before a scheduled party to announce the winner. But some of the contestants objected to the terms of the deal, and perhaps foremost to the fact that they weren’t being given enough time to confer with lawyers or other representatives regarding whether they should sign.
That led to a meeting with Adaptive CEO Perrin Chiles, who – according to a recording of the exchange, a portion of which was heard by Variety – sought to reassure the finalists that the company was not seeking to exploit them. At the same time, he stressed that the winner would be chosen from the pool of those who had signed the agreement, and that anyone who felt strongly about not doing so “can opt out.”
Not surprisingly, the unknown filmmakers were reluctant to take themselves out of contention but cited misgivings about certain contractual language. That included an 18-month first-look provision for the winner covering “all entertainment projects … which Winner intends to write or originate,” as well as a commitment that any movies the winner directs for a two-year period was to be produced by Adaptive.
The agreement was similar for the runners-up, with a shorter one-year window in regard to their services as a director. The contract also noted that the eventual winner would be paid $75,000 to direct the film. The program, which premiered Sept. 13, revealed Jason Mann as the chosen director in the first episode.
One source said that contestants weren’t allowed to take the contract off site. As a result, some photographed the pages and emailed them to lawyers or peers seeking advice about whether the terms of the deal were particularly onerous.
In a statement issued to Variety, Chiles said, “Our number one goal is to give filmmakers an opportunity to work in this crazy business. Not only did we give our winner a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but we’re also looking out for other Greenlighters by giving them work and advancing their careers.”
Sources close to the show note that some of the wording was amended or struck to address the concerns. A spokeswoman for HBO said that because the network licensed the program, it wasn’t involved in that part of the process. That said, HBO executives, most prominently HBO Films president Len Amato, are featured on camera within the series.
Insiders note that the contract as initially presented wasn’t different from past editions of the show or the sort of sweeping, phone-book-sized agreements that contestants are commonly asked to sign in connection with other reality-competition shows. In that respect, the contract offers a small window into how such programs operate.
Nevertheless, the issue of ceding rights echoes concerns frequently expressed by unknown talent trying to break into the entertainment industry, who are eager to work but possess little leverage in dealing with Hollywood studios. In addition, “Greenlight” makes a point of featuring producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon discussing their interest in using the showcase to champion young filmmakers. When the revival was announced, Damon stated that “careers have been launched and sustained as a direct result of this contest.” The comedy directing team the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, were also advisors on the show.