‘Project Greenlight’ Season 4 Episode 5 Recap: Is Jason Mann a Great Director?


We know Jason Mann is obsessive, stubborn, and (by his own estimation) a “cinematic monk.” But is he the great feature film director Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and the rest of the Project Greenlight team believe he is?Though we won’t have a firm answer to that question until The Leisure Class premieres on HBO, last night’s episode did give us our first look at Jason doing what he (supposedly) does best.

We join our director at seven in the morning on the first day of production. He’s already fretting about how little time he’s been given to shoot his film, and seems skeptical that such a conservative schedule is necessary. “It’s not my normal style to go as fast as we are going,” he says. But he hugs Effie and Marc when he gets to the set, which is as magnanimous a gesture as any we’ve seen from him so far. “I feel good,” says Effie, recalling how their many preproduction snags (such as location) worked themselves out at the last minute. “It turned around in a short amount of time, so I know we’ll turn around any challenge we have.”

Of course, those challenges are many. Although HBO and Mattfleck have come up with enough additional funds for Jason to shoot on film, he has to prove to the network that it won’t slow down the schedule too much. (This is something that Greenlight hasn’t really explained to my satisfaction: film isn’t just more expensive than digital because of the materials and crew it requires; it also eats up a lot of extra time.) Meanwhile, location manager Alison Taylor is scrambling to get residents of the Beverly Hills neighborhood where The Leisure Class is filming to approve their request to shoot after 9 PM. She needs 23 signatures, and it’s a mad rush because Jason took so long to settle on a location. Oh, and there’s an awkward moment when Len, during his first visit to the set, walks in on the camera department reading 1st AD Van Hayden the riot act.

Somehow, though, production moves fairly smoothly. Sure, there seem to be confrontations at the end of every day, when Jason wants to get just a few more shots but Effie needs to dismiss the crew and end the shoot in order to avoid paying overtime and incurring the wrath of their 90210-dwelling neighbors. (“I know, when I come onto the set, I’m the ‘no’ lady,” she says.) And Jason has to replace a scene where three actors — who don’t know how to skate — are roller skating through a room full of expensive antique furniture and artwork. (They switch to a pillow fight, and it works.) But Tom Bell and Ed Weeks appear to have great chemistry; “their dynamic together is going to be the movie,” says Jason at one point. Along with Bruce Davison, the actors nail a difficult, pivotal, and apparently quite weird scene that involves Bruce whipping Tom with a leather strap as well as Tom getting naked. (“I don’t really want to get my penis out,” he tells Effie, and ends up shrouding it in some flesh-colored material.)

By the end of the week, the production is more or less on schedule, and HBO has agreed to let Jason shoot on film. The only thing is, Alison still hasn’t been able to obtain all the signatures they need to go forward with the upcoming overnight shoots. Effie and Marc tell Jason he’s going to have to rewrite The Leisure Class so that more scenes take place during the day. This is a bigger setback than it initially sounds like, because the crew has shot every scene so far with a “night look,” so he can’t just shift the entire story into the daytime. For perhaps the first time on Project Greenlight Season 4, we’ve got a situation that isn’t really any one crew member’s fault (though Jason certainly could have cooperated with Alison and gotten a location locked down earlier), but just genuinely sucks.

The preview for next week’s episode suggests that we’re about to see this issue reignite this season’s endless Jason-vs.-Effie wars. That frustrates me not just because I enjoyed this episode’s brief, incomplete respite from seeing Effie vilified for doing her job, but also because all this interpersonal conflict distracts from what I really want to see now that The Leisure Class is in production: Jason at work. So far, it’s been difficult to get a handle on how he sets up scenes, directs actors, and solves problems on the fly.

At this point, most of the information we’ve gotten about Jason’s skills has come secondhand. “Jason’s very anal about things, and he won’t stop until he gets that vision,” says Marc, who later tells us that the director “is getting phenomenal performances out of our actors.” Len’s take is even more contradictory: Jason’s a good director, but he does multiple takes without making adjustments, so maybe he’s just wasting time. We really don’t see enough of him in action to decide whose assessment is correct, if anyone’s. I get that it’s hard to shape people doing actual work into compelling TV, but I wish Greenlight were trying harder to show us that side of the filmmaking process.

And if there are more hilarious moments like the one where Jason painstakingly details the very specifically sized and shaped penises he wants drawn on Davison’s face, I want to see those, too.