After last week’s Project Greenlight season premiere, I wondered whether producer Effie Brown would turn out to be the show’s sole voice of reason. The second episode suggests the answer to that question is a resounding “YUP.”
My query was prompted by a scene in which Matt Damon lectured the Dear White People producer on diversity, an incident that went down so poorly with viewers and critics that Damon has since apologized for his comments. But last night’s episode found Brown quite tactfully — and then a lot less tactfully — providing a reality check to a different delusional white dude: Season 4 director auteur Jason Mann.
The half-hour opens with Jason fretting, much as he did in the premiere, about making a gimmicky, mass-market comedy. “I have trepidation about the way this film might paint my career,” he says. Now, it’s easy to be irritated by Jason’s self-seriousness; I certainly found myself groaning about it at times. But let’s also appreciate that we could be watching some Hollywood-thirsty starfucker whose only ambition is to churn out Comedy Product, cash big paychecks, and snort coke off models’ various private parts. That alternative makes Jason’s uptightness, his prim preferences for health food and avoidance of caffeine, look downright endearing. (Although I have to give it to Marc Joubert for summing up Mann’s personality in the line of the episode: “Does Jason fart?”)
And, of course, the battle of Earnest Young Filmmaker vs. Hollywood Machine makes for compelling TV (even if HBO Films isn’t exactly a blockbuster factory). This week’s episode revolved around two main conflicts: the big, exciting possibility of producing Jason’s feature-length comedy script instead of some tepidly offensive prostitute-wedding garbage; and his silly, grating crusade to shoot the movie on film. As in the premiere, Effie Brown is on the right side of both debates, even if our hero doesn’t realize that yet.
Let’s start with the development that might just make the rest of the season worth watching: Jason gets to make his own film! This is a shocking twist, and one that couldn’t be more welcome. What’s kind of incredible is that it comes about thanks to none other than Pete Jones — the Greenlight Season 1 filmmaker who’s on board this time as a writer, and who Jason originally wanted to fire. In an attempt to guide Pete’s rewrite, Jason hands him a short called “The Leisure Class” and the script for a feature-length expansion of it. (A bit of the short makes it into the episode; here’s a slightly longer clip. Possibly it has a sort of Withnail feel to it.) But instead of merely taking inspiration from Jason’s screenplay, Pete decides it’s so good, they should just produce that instead.
At first, Effie and particularly Marc won’t hear of it. “Is this a fuckin’ joke?” Marc wants to know. But when Effie reads the script, she’s sold, too — probably in part because she’s far from thrilled with the movie she’s supposed to be making this season. “I feel like I do films that matter,” she says. “I’m not interested in seeing misogynistic or racist humor being put out in the media.” And so she becomes a great advocate for The Leisure Class, pitching it to Ben, Matt, and HBO. Everyone loves the idea, provided that Jason and Pete make extensive edits. There’s a bit of a panic when HBO’s Len Amato is unsatisfied with the initial revision — “I don’t see a story building,” he says — and the need for more script work delays Effie’s preproduction plans. Four hours after their extended deadline, following a meeting with Peter Farrelly (and his adorable dogs that unnerve Jason), they submit a rewrite that finally gets the greenlight.
Which brings us to the episode’s other big conflict: Jason would like to shoot his $3 million movie on film, rather than digital, even though the cost difference will eat up 10% of his budget and digital is becoming the industry standard anyway. He will not be swayed by the eminently capable Effie (her record: “I’ve never gone over budget, I’ve never gone over schedule, I’ve never failed”), even after she brings him to meet the nice, professional folks at the digital lab EFILM. Instead, he goes running to Matt and Ben, who wishy-washily support his vision and offer such platitudes as, “People who are helping you should be saying ‘yes.'”
Now, I also went to film school, and I understand that there’s a romantic allure to keeping things analog. But ultimately, insisting on film when your relatively small budget is already sure to be stretched isn’t protecting your art — it’s being naive, and bratty.
Though the film vs. digital question drops off the agenda while Jason is consumed with rewrites, he’s back on Effie’s case about it the moment The Leisure Class gets greenlighted. At this point, poor Effie is already having what she calls “my own silent panic” about HBO’s decision not to push back the production schedule, despite the delayed preproduction. And you’d think Jason would have started to trust her by now, seeing as she fought so hard for his screenplay. But when she puts her foot down — “You are not shooting on film,” bam! — he immediately starts sulking and questioning her commitment. This is a tantrum, it’s ridiculous, and Effie is absolutely right in her assessment of the situation: “Jason just graduated film school and won a contest. Jason has no idea what he’s in store for.” Neither do we, but here’s hoping it’s an overdue revelation about who his truest ally really is.