Jason Mann/HBO

The traditional behind-the-scenes filmmaking narrative has us siding with the genius director trying to realize his vision despite the interference of the villainous suits and bean-counters who care only about the bottom line. (The classic example is The Battle For Brazil, Jack Mathews’ book about Terry Gilliam’s epic struggle to get his version of Brazil released in theaters.) In past seasons, Project Greenlight has subverted this dynamic by surrounding an inexperienced director with seasoned production staff and crew. The resulting narrative finds a filmmaker in over his head, constantly needing to be rescued from himself by competent professionals who spend most of their talking-head interviews complaining that their contest-winning director doesn’t know what he’s doing.

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Jason Mann is smart enough to see this is a trap as much as an opportunity, and in this second episode he makes (nearly) all the right moves to improve his odds for success. In doing so, he diverts the season from the predetermined course established in last week’s episode; he still might fail, but it’s not the foregone conclusion it appeared to be. He may not be particularly easy to root for on a personal level, but it’s hard to find fault with his efforts to ensure his first feature doesn’t turn into a train wreck.

Those efforts start with the script he’s been assigned. Jason knows as well as we do that he’s a bad fit for Not Another Pretty Woman, so he enlists a most unlikely ally in his quest to dump the broad comedy in favor of a screenplay he’s already written. Shortly after attempting to throw Pete Jones overboard in favor of Boys Don’t Cry screenwriter Andy Bienen, Jason huddles with Pete for a story conference in which he expresses his disdain for the predictable three-act structure. The co-writer of Hall Pass is taken aback by Jason’s cavalier attitude toward screenwriting convention, but who can blame him for wanting to shake up what sounds like an incredibly formulaic script? The show cues us to view him as an arrogant upstart (and that’s fair, to be sure), but anyone willing to throw Save The Cat! out the window is okay in my book.

The most improbable twist of the season so far comes when Jason convinces Pete to take a look at his own screenplay along with the short film on which it’s based, both called The Leisure Class. In their next meeting with producers Effie Brown and Marc Joubert, Pete passionately makes the case for dumping Not Another Pretty Woman in favor of Jason’s script…and this is the guy Jason wanted to fire! I can only assume Pete had no clue about that at this point in the production, or else he’s the most forgiving guy in Hollywood. The reaction is predictable: “Is this a fucking joke?” Nevertheless, after viewing the short, Effie and Marc are willing to go to HBO with the new proposal. As it turns out, nobody really liked the original script in the first place, which probably tells you more about how movies get made in Hollywood than anything else on Project Greenlight. Just imagine the scripts they didn’t choose.

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Even Peter Farrelly, who appeared willing and eager to assume the villain role last week, is on board with the change, and he leads Pete and Jason through a notes session that helps them get the script in shape to be approved by HBO. (The major problem Jason’s script had? You’ll never believe it! The lead female character wasn’t fleshed out enough!) Somehow Jason and Pete hit it off as an odd-couple writing team and manage to hit their deadline, give or take four hours.

There is one battle Jason seems destined to lose, and that’s the fight to shoot on film. Although he receives assurances from Matt and Ben that this is doable and the production team should totally support him on this issue, Effie is having none of it. To this point she’s been good-humored and positive on every other front (including, after the initial shock wore off, the script switcheroo), but this is a bridge too far. The HBO brass doesn’t want it and it’s a luxury they can’t afford. An aesthetic debate on film vs. video would take up much more space than we have here, but suffice it to say that while Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan have the clout to demand celluloid, contest-winner Jason Mann does not. At least, I don’t think he does. Tune in next week.

Stray Observations:

  • Matt Damon has apologized for his diversity comments last week, although it was really one of those “I’m sorry if you were offended” apologies that doesn’t mean much. I think he’s been hung out to dry enough at this point, but I do wonder how he thought that interaction was going to play when the episode aired. After all, it’s not as if this was a “gotcha” moment caught on tape; it was a scene that was deliberately shaped and edited a certain way on a show produced by Matt Damon. Did he realize he was going to come off badly? Was he willing to take the hit in order to help make the point about diversity? Or was he just…oblivious?
  • I’d also love to know what Boys Don’t Cry screenwriter Andy Bienen makes of all this. He has no other screenwriting credits on IMDb aside from that 1999 film. Is he a personal friend of Jason’s? Or is Jason just a really big fan of that movie?
  • Marc Joubert on the correlation between Not Another Pretty Woman and Boys Don’t Cry: “Forget about apples and oranges, it’s fucking raining frogs. I don’t even understand it.”
  • What does it mean that Effie has produced over 17 feature films? Has she produced 18 feature films? Why not just say that? Or did she produce half a feature film that never got finished? I find this mysterious.
  • “Does Jason fart?” Also mysterious.

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