“I’m a dream killer, and I don’t mean to be,” says Effie Brown, describing and lamenting her role as a producer who wants to make great movies but can’t do that without modifying them to fit various constraints. So begins The Leisure Class’ ninth day of shooting, and an overcrowded, confusing episode of Project Greenlight that (again) centers on the conflict between Effie and Jason Mann.
Today, they’re shooting the big wedding rehearsal scene, which means Effie is coordinating everything from food stylists to luxury car rentals. After last week’s episode, I complained that Greenlight‘s laser focus on drama is making it difficult to get a sense of how effective Jason is as a director; the same is true for Effie. I would love to watch her navigate some of the more practical, less contentious aspects of the production, instead of just following these two strong personalities’ increasingly repetitive arguments.
Two major conflicts drive this week’s installment of Jason vs. Effie: First, there’s the need to cut down on the amount of nighttime shooting in the schedule because location manager Alison Taylor wasn’t able to get enough neighbors’ signatures on her request for permission to film after 9 PM. Instructed to adapt his script to these new constraints, Jason — whose inability to choose a location until the last minute certainly slowed down the process — is as passive-aggressive as ever: “We are turning this sequence into a daylight sequence, just as Effie decided without me,” he says, accusing her of “backing us into this crazy corner.”
Though he could (pretty much always) stand to be more constructive and take more ownership of his role in making night shoots impossible, the task of adapting a feature-length screenplay that’s supposed to take place over the course of one night into a film that’s shot largely during the day does seem genuinely daunting. Still, Effie is frustrated that Jason is being so inflexible and hopes he will embrace “the pivot,” which she says “happens on every movie.” Ultimately, he suggests a compromise (which I’d like to think is evidence of some growth on his part): they’ll use a series of dusk scenes as transitions between daytime and nighttime sequences. But after a visit to EFILM, Jason is skeptical that it will be possible to match this new footage to what they’ve already shot — and based on the color-matching tests we see, that worry seems well founded.
The other bone of contention is a stunt the crew has saved for the end of the shoot, which entails flipping over a car. Jason (of course) sees this moment as integral to the film and won’t hear of scaling it back, but everyone else — Len Amato and Marc Joubert, along with Effie — has concerns about both budget and safety. But Effie hasn’t given up on it yet, and in light of all the other compromises she’s forced him to make, she seems genuinely committed to helping Jason achieve some version of what he envisions. “My job is to support him as much as I can,” she says, “but that stunt is going to be a beast, and no one can see it coming.”
What follows that bit of foreboding is a seemingly endless series of tense conversations, some between just Effie and Jason, some that also involve Len and Marc, and one at the end of the episode that adds a handful of other important crew members (the stunt coordinator, the 1st AD) to the mix. Each one is painful to watch, because the director and the producer just can’t get on the same page. Jason feels like final decisions are being made about his movie without his input. Effie seems to think he’s only hearing what he wants to. When she takes him aside to discuss some of the work she’s doing to make the stunt happen, he sort of shuts down. Effie complains to Marc that when she tries to help Jason, “I get nothing. I get quiet disdain.”
“The tension grows every day between these two, and the communication sucks,” says Marc. Which certainly appears to be true! Later, he wonders, “At the end of the day, will it hurt what ends up on the screen?” And then he answers his question: “It could.” Well… yup… that’s the worry here.
Taken together, all of Marc’s detached observations raise another question, one Greenlight doesn’t seem particularly interested in addressing: Where is Marc in all of this? He’s on set every day, he’s apparently growing impatient with both Jason and Effie… and unless we’re just not seeing it documented, he doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort to help repair their relationship or otherwise open the lines of communication between the creative and practical sides of the production. In a different exchange, when Effie is complaining that she doesn’t want the only black face in The Leisure Class to be a chauffeur, Marc assesses the situation as follows: “I get it, I understand it, I just don’t want to spend a lot of time on unwanted drama.” So, OK, what’s his quick solution?
It’s starting to seem like Marc just can’t be bothered anymore. But, as with Effie and Jason, it’s hard to tell what he’s actually doing when he’s not expressing exasperation. Is he quietly doing his job in moments too boring to air on HBO, or is he too defeated by all the squabbling on set to be effective? Will we ever spend enough time with him to find out? Or is Project Greenlight just going to continue being a whirlwind of long arguments chopped into increasingly useless snippets of confrontation?
If the show’s aim is to confuse viewers to such an extent that it becomes impossible to discern who (if anyone) is on the wrong side of all the supposed misunderstandings between Jason and Effie, then this episode was a resounding success. Ditto if it’s trying to make us feel the same frustration as everyone involved in making The Leisure Class. “I am a kind and gentle person, but I wanna snatch someone up right now,” says Effie in the episode’s final moments. And you know, I sort of feel like snatching someone up too — Greenlight‘s editors, maybe?