Unlike most reality television, “Project Greenlight” always seems like a show that can only really happen once every few years. Most reality television is pumped out pretty consistently, while “Greenlight” has opted to be a flashier, much longer process. It brings together several big-name personalities from the film and TV industry, most notably Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who help produce the series, but who also serve as hosts to all the intriguing and intelligent madness that happens week-to-week.
In the past, the show has run on the concept of a producer team involving Damon and Affleck choosing their favorite script from an amateur writer and director and giving them the chance to turn that script into their own feature-length film. However, things have changed during the 10-year hiatus. With this season being the fourth in 14 years, Matt and Ben want to take a different route.
The changes to the core of “Greenlight” are pretty simple: Instead of choosing a screenplay from amateurs, the producers already have a script written. In this case, the script is a broad comedy titled “Not Another Pretty Woman.” It’s produced by Damon, Affleck, the Farrelly Brothers and a host of others, written by the Farrelly Brothers and supervised by first-season winner Pete Jones. Prospective directors are asked to submit their own short films from which the panel of producers will select the Top 13 who will serve as an ideal jumping-off point to choose the winner. This turns the entire first episode into a normal reality television episode akin to “Shark Tank,” “Masterchef,” or any of the other rigid competition-based reality shows out there. The rest of the season turns its focus to the tension between the director and producers and how they work together to make a movie.
There is backstory to the directors that is normally absent from the rest of the show. While there are still harsh debates on who should direct, it is intercut with juicy drama. The finalists all seem human enough to sympathize with, each having their own vision of what the script should translate to on film. This creates a fun dynamic between the stern selection process and the finalists being analyzed. Variety is evident in the short films that are created in the first episode, which is based around a scene in which characters are speed dating. Some filmmakers, such as Chris Capel, quickly become the favorites for some of the producers, specifically the Farrellys. One of the contestants, Ashley Barnhill, had severed ties with her former boyfriend and co-director before she submitted the film they made, citing it as a solo effort, only to meet him again at the panel. Every single one of the finalists seems to really want this job. They each have aspects of the story they would change, but that doesn’t phase the producers, who understand how the show works and are aware of the diva-like quality that most of the aspiring filmmakers possess.
What makes the winner really stand out is their contribution as the main star of this series. The feel of past seasons of “Greenlight” has focused on whomever the panel chose, and this season has plenty of options and avenues to take that route. It’s important to the show and to the audience that they choose someone whose heart is in the project yet who can prove to be a fun personality to watch week-to-week.
The directing duo of Leo and Kristin make a very strong case for being distinct, bringing up a problem with the script’s diversity and slut-shaming, which strikes a chord in producer Effie Brown. Brown thinks the team will bring a nice flavor to the film that will make it more diverse, while Damon disagrees, saying that the diversity comes from the casting, not the director. Damon states that he has to give the job to the director with merit, but gives the job to another white guy.
The biggest conflict in the episode is the controversial decision in winner Jason Mann. Audiences can tell Mann is not overly passionate about the project, as he says he would change quite a bit and make it almost completely different, much to the Farrelly Brothers’ annoyance. It seems as if he is using a broad comedy penned by the creators of “Dumb & Dumber” to make something largely poetic. The silver lining is the absorbing drama it will produce for the audience. The many facets of how he wants to exact his vision could prove riveting reality TV and make Mann a legend.
As the episode ends, Mann wins the job and is placed onstage by Damon and Affleck but pulls them aside and immediately demands that he be able shoot on film and that they fire Jones. Damon and Affleck are awe-struck and intimidated. The episode lingers here in typical reality cliffhanger fashion. Maybe the tension will make this season of “Project Greenlight” unforgettable, but as it moves along, it’s guaranteed that the focus on how a movie is made will yet again provide compelling TV.
“Project Greenlight” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. CST on HBO.