Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Project Greenlight and the Liesure Class

"Project Greenlight" wrapped up its fourth season this past month.

If we assume that the other nine "Project Greenlight" finalists (whether team or individual) had at least 95% of the talent of Mann, better people skills and a measurable level of enthusiasm for the project, than wouldn't it have been a better logistical choice to suggest one of them? The answer is an emphatic no: A cooperative director would not have given the show the requisite amount of drama to make the show interesting or even remotely watchable.

Ultimately, Mann being chosen was a good thing from not just an entertainment perspective but from an educational one as well. "Project Greenlight" taught me quite a bit about film and keep in mind: It will soon be approaching nine years that I have been blogging on here; I have interviewed people who have created TV shows and starred in films; and I minored in film in college. None of those things tell me where exactly a director stands during filming, how many people work in an editing room, or how a director spends his time before the production starts. It is through "Project Greenlight" that you learn the ins-and-outs of what filmmaking is like on a tangible visual level.

On top of the film making narratives of art verse commerce and conflicting artistic visions, the show allows us to see the more mundane battles being waged like getting another shot vs. upsetting neighborhood ordinances, or on  Hollywood stand-in vs. tax-break-friendly Georgia vs. authentic Connecticut on the location front.

The film had two veritable villains in the form of line producer Effie T. Brown (another thing the show does well is answering the casual film fan's number one head scratcher, "What does a producer do?") and Mann himself which led to plenty of debate fodder on the internet over who was really "ruining" the movie. Of course, Mann provides pretty reasonable evidence in a Washington Post interview that many of his villainous traits (i.e. taking forever to choose a location) were exaggerated by the cameras so any TV show viewer familiar with reality show conventions should know better than to truly condemn Mann or (considering we have no reason to assume the camera weren't as drama-hungry for his counterpart) Brown.

The curious thing about the condemnations in online reviews and on message boards was the constant floating around in association with Mann of the most overused word of the year in TV criticism: "Privilege." Mann is a white, male and came off as petulant but that doesn't mean there's a correlation between those things or any on-screen evidence that he grew up pampered with wealth. It was even referenced in the season's second episode that Mann lived somewhat of an ascetic lifestyle to fund his projects. Some comments also surmised Mann was of unreasonable wealth because he went to film school, which I found disturbing for that criticism's undercurrents that taking the time to subjugate yourself to professors in an academic environment isn't something to be admired (and for ignoring the possibility that a person talented enough to win Project Greenlight wouldn't also be able to win an academic scholarship).

I suspect reviewers had difficulty divorcing their impressions of Jason and his overblown aspirations from the final product. If the job of a reviewer is to meet a film on its own terms and to discern what those terms are, the second part of that process is made extremely easy since Jason's obsessions with lighting and the fine details are well-documented.

Personally, I found plenty to like in "The Leisure Class." The HBO film (screened a night after the finale) was an admirable stab at a genre (a comedy of manners) that doesn't exist today outside of stage plays and period pieces set in Britain. By transplanting that style to an American setting, the film has something relevant to say about class in America and that's a pretty decent baseline for a comedic film. The film mostly succeeds at throwing twists and turns at each character to heighten the intensity of the hijinks as the night goes on.

The most interesting part of the viewing experience is deciding for yourself if each of the dramatic episodes behind the scenes made a difference in the final product. For example, there was a car crash that Mann and crew missed out on capturing the way he wanted due to logistical issues. Watching the film made me learn first-hand that I couldn't have cared less about the magnitude of the car crash. On the other hand, the last-minute decision to change rollerblading to pillow fighting in one of the film's later scenes did make a noticeable difference in my viewing experience. In that case, it would have given me a stronger visual image of two people running amok.

The chemistry between leads Ed Weeks and Tom Bell (something Jason Mann had to fight for) was also tangibly noticeable. The characters needed slightly better motivation, but acting salvaged quite a bit in my opinion.

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