Effie Brown/HBO

In its seventh and penultimate episode, the fourth season of Project Greenlight finally bears some resemblance to what it claims to be about in its opening credits each week. By narrowing its focus to one specific night of shooting and the goals that need to accomplished by the end of it—mainly the big turning-point stunt that caused so much controversy in last week’s episode—“Accident Waiting To Happen” largely captures the feeling of working on an all-night movie shoot at the end of a grueling production. The light at the end of the tunnel is near, but it wouldn’t be Project Greenlight if Jason didn’t butt heads with his production team one more time.

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Between episodes, Jason has somehow come around to the idea that the car flip he envisioned won’t be happening. Despite being given a half-dozen options, however, he still hasn’t selected a location for the scaled-down car stunt by the day before the stunt is scheduled to be shot. (At least, that’s what the editing suggests. I find it a little hard to believe the production could lock down a location for a stunt that involves closing down a street in only 24 hours or so, so maybe this is something that happened earlier in the shoot and has been moved to the episode in the interest of keeping the storyline more or less self-contained.) The street needs to have three lanes and be lined with trees, but the ideal residential neighborhood Jason has in mind is an impossibility for the same reason the night shoots at the house got nixed: they would need to acquire permission from all the homeowners in the area.

After a little more grumbling from Effie and Alison about Jason’s sense of entitlement (and some return fire from Jason suggesting that Effie continually undermines him because she never liked the movie), the director finally selects a stretch of road and the planning for the stunt begins. The episode does a great job of laying out exactly what’s supposed to happen: Stunt coordinator Julius demonstrates the crash using models, while Van explains the sequence of shots needed to bring it to life: Drive-by shots of the cars whizzing by, followed by driving shots using a process trailer, and finally the stunt itself, which can only be done once (as Jason says himself right before the cameras roll).

As special guest superhero Ben Affleck points out during his surprise visit, most driving shots are now done with green screen rather than a trailer rig, particularly when time and budget are a concern as they are here. It’s completely within Jason’s character that he chooses to use the more cumbersome trailer rig for the sake of authenticity, but having seen so many fake-looking driving sequences (even on great shows like Mad Men and Justified), I’m with him for once. That is, until it turns out that it takes much longer to remove the car from the rig and set up the stunt shot than anticipated. During one break in the action, he mentions to Effie how great it would have been to have more time…which, of course, he could have had. To her credit, she doesn’t laugh in his face, but she doesn’t fail to mention the two extra days he could have had in her talking-head interview.

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The stunt itself is something of a bust, and Jason’s anguish at seeing it play out that way makes for one of his more sympathetic moments. Of course he wants to do it again, and of course, that’s not going to happen. They can work with it in post-production to try to make it more impressive, but it’s pretty far from the flip he’d envisioned. The sun won’t wait, however; after grabbing the martini shot between Tom Bell and Ed Weeks, production is wrapped.

The nuts-and-bolts focus on getting the driving and stunt sequences completed in one all-night shoot reminded me of a similar experience on the first movie I ever worked on. This episode really captured that feeling, from the prodding of the exhausted crew to get it together before the sun comes up to the bullshitting between set-ups to the giddy feeling of knowing it’s all in the can and the mission is accomplished. That’s usually followed by weeks if not months of wondering what the thing is going to look like when it’s finally on the screen, but for Jason, that moment of truth has arrived as the credits roll.

Stray observations:

  • It’s worth noting that both Affleck and HBO’s Len Amato have nothing but good things to say about Jason on the last day of shooting, at a point when they presumably have had the chance to look at much of the footage he’s shot. Affleck reiterates that he admires the way Jason fights for his vision, so he must be showing them something worth fighting for. (Still, that trailer for The Leisure Class does not inspire great confidence.)
  • While I’m in a charitable mood, Jason does appear to work well with actors in the few glimpses we get of him doing that, and they’re nothing but complimentary towards him as well.
  • Quick personal anecdote: I was responsible for delivering one of the picture cars to set on that movie shoot I mentioned above. Sure enough, on the last day of production, which was going to be devoted to nothing but driving shots, I got into a fender bender on the Hollywood Freeway. I showed up to the set certain I was about to be murdered, but no one was upset with me; they just patched up the car as best they could and went on with the show.
  • “This looks like Batman!” Yeah, Ben. Give or take a couple hundred million.

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