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First thoughts on the return of Project Greenlight

First thoughts on the return of Project Greenlight
Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Project Greenlight are back. (Photo by Frank Masi/HBO)

In the last moment of the first episode of Project Greenlight 4, executive producer and mentor Peter Farrelly says, “this guy is the best filmmaker in the group, but I think he’s self destructive.” He’s talking about Jason Mann, the first-time director the Farrelly brothers, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and others actually chose as the winner.

Cue drama for the rest of the season.

It has been a decade since Project Greenlight exited television, when it made an ultimately ill-fated move to Bravo that coincided with the partnership/company behind the show falling apart. While The Chair evolved Project Greenlight‘s format and artistry to new heights, the first episode suggests that Greenlight isn’t interested in changing its DNA.

Yes, Matt and Ben are no longer chain smoking, nor are they sprawled out on couches surrounded by a Hoarders episode of Diet Coke cans, as they were in seasons one and two, but they are still on the same show—even if Chris Moore’s absence is felt early on, just because he was such a fixture on the couches next to them for the first three seasons.

Retaining that core is the right call. I’m thrilled there are now two similar but decidedly different filmmaking competition reality shows now; both are overflowing with possibility for great unscripted television.

There is one major change, though. With HBO financing and broadcasting both the show and film, Project Greenlight is now free of the commercial constraints that came into play in earlier seasons. And, I can’t help but think that they are prioritizing the television show.

By selecting Mann, the on-screen producers of the film seem to be taking the biggest possible risk. When they were interviewing the directors, Mann was actively hostile toward the script. “I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how to make this movie good yet,” he said. “If the script didn’t change, I would be terrified of it.”

He even fought Ben Affleck. “Do you want to direct this movie? Do you want this job?” Affleck asked, and Mann replied: “I think I do.” Affleck was having none of that: “Nope.” Mann finally relented: “I do, if changes are allowed.”

HBO Films’ President Len Amato said at one point that Jason Mann “could either fuck us up or deliver something great.”

Or both, really.

Season one’s Pete Jones returns to Project Greenlight

Earlier, we learned that Pete Jones, the writer/director of season one’s Stolen Summer, will be on hand to help revise the script. It’s an artificial construct, yes, but ultimately isn’t too phony, since he has continued to work as a writer and did work with the Farrelly brothers. Still, his presence seems designed to ratchet up the drama.

Success. “Within seconds of winning, he wanted to fire the writer,” Ben Affleck tells the camera, in disbelief, after Jason Mann cornered Afflect and Matt Damon to insist upon shooting his film on actual film, and wanting to replace Pete Jones with the writer of Boys Don’t Cry, a suggestion that so baffles Matt Damon he laughs.

Project Greenlight has not, however, brought just Pete Jones as a foil for its winner. In the Chris Moore role—though not at all like Chris Moore—is Effie Brown, the film’s producer. She proved her willingness to openly challenge others while the production team was debating who to select, calling them on their whiteness and the potential for elements of the script to go very wrong. She does not seem like she’ll be an agreeable pushover like Jeff Balis was in season one.

The fourth wall disappeared in the first seconds of this new season, which opened on a photo shoot for the very show we were watching. And later, Matt Damon’s tense response to Effie referred to the reality TV series: “You do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”

His acknowledgement that they are casting Project Greenlight 4 rather than finding a director for a movie may not have been intentional, but it was admirably honest. Will prioritizing the TV show instead of the commercial viability of the resulting film give us the kind of reality television we expect from the series? I can’t wait to see.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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