What would you do if you were deep into editing your first feature film, it became painfully clear that the story you wanted to tell wasn’t coming across in the footage you’d already shot, and your producer had just informed you that she’d squirreled away enough money to get you through post-production and some substantial reshoots? It’s probably safe to assume that most of us would hug that producer, Effie Brown, or at least perform some kind of humiliating dance of relief. Not Jason Mann, though. “We could have used this money to do the car stunt the way it was written,” he says. “It’s strange that this money was just tucked away.”
This frustrating moment is, more or less, how our lucky, contest-winning director’s interactions with the woman who appears to be the most effective and embattled of his two producers end. But Effie certainly isn’t the only one who expresses exasperation with Jason as Project Greenlight Season 4 comes to a close.
After all of The Leisure Class’ major stakeholders see Jason’s director’s cut, a common theme emerges in their feedback: the story, and particularly a few character arcs, isn’t quite there yet. “I think they’ve done an admirable job,” says Effie, referring to the way Jason and his editor Craig Hayes have put the movie together, but she finds his depiction of the lead female character, Fiona (Bridget Regan), “problematic.” She “isn’t terribly strong and is sort of a victim.” Man-Bun Matt Damon calls in from a long day of overseas shooting to proclaim the film “ambitious” but suggests “making your lead characters relatable” (whoops!). Petes Farrelly and Jones are more encouraging, though what they like about The Leisure Class isn’t entirely clear. And then there’s Ben Affleck who delicately admits, “The movie is not exactly to my taste,” and suggests Jason screen it for an audience.
At the test screening, a (female) viewer raises similar concerns about Fiona to the ones Effie had, and Marc Joubert concedes that his co-producer was indeed correct about the character. His overall assessment: there were “not a lot of laughs today, and the story has some real holes.” Len Amato says, “I wanna juice up the heart a bit,” and wants Jason to spend all the time he has left “really trying to drive home Fiona’s turn” at the end of the movie.
Jason is not inclined to trust, well, any of this feedback, really. He seems to think the story is just fine and would prefer to use his additional time and money on making The Leisure Class — which, let’s remember, will play on HBO rather than on big movie theater screens — look prettier. “There are technical things that frustrate me still, and aesthetic things,” he says.
The problem, here, is Jason’s ego combined with his naivety. Not only does he believe he’s the smartest guy in any room, but he’s also under the impression that his intelligence trumps the decades of experience just about every senior member of the Greenlight team can offer him. “We’ve made a very unorthodox movie,” he says at the test screening. “It’s meant to evolve from a farce into something realer.”
Let’s forgive him for not knowing that “realer” isn’t even a word; I watched The Leisure Class over the weekend (and will have more to say about it tomorrow), and there’s no reason to worry about this story going over most viewers’ heads. Its storyline is… not weird at all, actually. The issue isn’t that HBO viewers won’t understand the way Jason is subverting certain tropes of romantic comedy and farce, which it does with varying degrees of success. I mean, Birdman is a stylistically ambitious and difficult movie that earned over $100 million at the box office and won an Oscar. Well, The Leisure Class is no Birdman, and its biggest problem is a very conventional one: it just doesn’t develop its characters enough.
Anyway, the reshoots begin — without Effie. “I will never be able to do a good enough job for the film in the eyes of Jason,” she realizes in her final moments on Project Greenlight Season 4. Jason, in what might be his most hypocritical statement of the season, is relieved by her departure: “Everything will go smoother if everyone is not freaking out about the smallest things,” says the man who once gave detailed notes for changes to the permanent-marker penises drawn on one of his characters’ faces. And though Marc says that his co-producer “decided to leave,” on Twitter last night Effie clarified that she was present during the final stages of post-production:
Though it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that the only guy who comes out of the Greenlight finale looking like a hero and sage is a higher-up at the network, it’s Len Amato who offers the most valuable guidance during the reshoot. He all but forces Jason to make Fiona say the line, “The more I say no, the more he gives me what I want” — and those words do indeed turn out to be crucial for elucidating the character’s motivations. It’s also Len whose final assessment of the director seems wisest: “Jason’s not as open as he should be to different input from different people,” he says. “That’s the lesson he hasn’t been able to learn yet.” This is crucial: filmmaking is a collaborative art form. Even the most talented and independent of auteurs have to know how to articulate their vision, accept criticism, and make everyone involved in their movies buy in to what they’re doing.
The episode, and thus the season, ends with plenty of celebration and back-patting. All I have to say about that is, well, watch The Leisure Class tonight and let’s talk in the morning about whether we’re as excited about the finished film as the team behind it seems to be. Either way, though, Project Greenlight accomplished something I never dreamed it could, going into Season 4: it became not only a gripping human drama, but also a show that spoke volumes about the realities of collaborative art-making and — above all — gender, race, and power in the film industry.