Project Greenlight Returns

By Greg Treadway / Posted on September 14, 2015


Sunday night brought the return of Project Greenlight. It’s been ten years between Project Greenlight seasons, but despite the missing years it remained pretty entertaining. Calling itself a reality show like most reality shows doesn’t seem quite right. But it is good television.

Damon and Affleck go out of their way to state their mission of producing a good movie. This is probably not going to be the case. The first episode of the fourth season begins with producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reintroducing the concept: It’s “a documentary about what it really takes to make a movie,” Affleck says, but there are already dozen if not hundreds of those and Project Greenlight is no Burden Of Dreams or Hearts Of Darkness.

This is a reality competition series and not a good one at that. At only 30 minutes in length the winner was chosen in the first 20 minutes. We barely get to meet the contestants or see their work before we’re thrust into some bizarro process that if indeed is the way to make movies should be re-examined. The premiere episode will have you second guessing all of the duos decisions. The competition only focuses on the directing position. The winner will be directing a script already chosen by Damon, Affleck, and the rest of their production team. The screenplay is a broad comedy called Not Another Pretty Woman (which will have a $3 million budget courtesy of HBO) and written by the team of Bobby and Peter Farrelly. Season one winner of Project Greenlight Pete Jones is also on board to handle rewrites. From thousands of submissions, the production group chose thirteen finalists, all of whom were given the same scene to film as they see fit.


At first Project Greenlight seems to be leaning to the earnest, enthusiastic Marko Slavnic to direct. He is very different that fellow competitor Adriano Valentini, who shows up with his bro squad as if he’s under the impression HBO is reviving Entourage. There’s a man/woman team/couple Ashley Barnhill and Kirk Johnson, who broke up before Ashley made the “oversight” of submitting their film as a solo effort. Too much soap opera though to choose them.A question of diversity is brought up by line producer Effie Brown, a black woman who pushes for the team of Leo and Kristen, the only participants to express concern over the portrayal of a prostitute named Harmony in Not Another Pretty Woman. Things get a bit heated between Brown and Damon, who makes the dubious assertion that diversity is best attained through the casting of the movie, not the casting of the show. Despite his insistence that the best filmmaker be chosen completely on merit, however, he also has an obligation as a television producer to cast a compelling lead character (or characters) for his TV show. In this case, it turns out to be another white dude.

Then there is Jason Mann. He is a lanky, vampiric New Yorker who appears to be the worst fit for this material and project imaginable. His interview session with the production team is really something to behold: he basically makes the case that they would be fools to pick him. If “tasked” with directing this broad comedy, he would need to have the go-ahead to turn it into something else entirely. It’s a potential recipe for disaster as far as the movie is concerned (an opinion vehemently expressed by Peter Farrelly, who looks ready to take on the role of the heavy this time out), but who cares about that? It’s also the makings of another fun Project Greenlight season, something that becomes evident when, mere moments after being announced as the winner, Mann takes Damon and Affleck aside to start making demands. He wants to shoot on film (which they appear to be okay with) and “not to throw Pete under the bus,” he wants to bring on the screenwriter of Boys Don’t Cry. (“That great comedy,” Damon notes wryly.)


Maybe Jason Mann’s Not Another Pretty Woman will turn out to be a masterpiece. Stranger things have happened, but ultimately the quality of the film itself is barely relevant when it comes to our enjoyment of Project Greenlight. It’s the behind-the-scenes creative conflicts and seat-of-the-pants problem-solving that have made it such an enjoyable series in the past, and the prospect of this artsy, headstrong young filmmaker butting heads with the populist Farrellys is a strong indication that the return of Project Greenlight is long overdue. Seriously, what took them so long?