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Volume 69, Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Arts & Entertainment

'Project Greenlight' exploits filmmakers

in focus

Andrew Beard

Making a film is hard. Directors want creative freedom, studio executives worry about the bottom line, actors want as much screen time as possible, the crew won't work during their union-sanctioned lunch break, and producers stand in the back trying to keep the entire ship from sinking. But rarely is this massive, muddy tug-of-war seen in the public eye. 

Most people only see the resulting film at their local theater without any knowledge of the laborious process behind the twinkling lights and Hollywood glamour.

This ignorance usually leads to the formation of dreamers people who desperately want to have their name inserted into the ending credits. 

Some of these dreamers get their heads so high in the clouds they decide to write a screenplay, and until two years ago, there existed no forum for working-class film wannabes. 

Everyone has a friend like this. One day, he or she blasts through the door, drops a script in your lap and demands to know, "What do you think?" In most cases, people have to put on the courtesy smile and force out the words "good," or, "No really, I liked it." 

Now thanks to HBO's Project Greenlight, no one will be forced to read 100 pages of bad script just to be nice. 

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon created the TV show in an attempt to swing open the backdoor of Hollywood and let people toss their screenplay over the threshold for a limited time. The show is a step-by-step episodic series that goes behind the scenes of the movie-making process of an unknown person's script. 

The first installment produced the ultra-sappy Stolen Summer from first-time director and junior college dropout Pete Smith. The documentary series finally showed the Hollywood antics usually reserved for the shadows the producer yells, the talent doesn't like the rain, and the crew plays political backstabbing games. And to nobody's surprise, the HBO series did much better than the low budget, under-promoted film. 

Damon and Affleck haven't been seen promoting Project Greenlight as if, like Frankenstein, they can't look at the monster they've created. 

The second film produced, The Battle for Shaker Heights, was, once again, a complete disaster while the HBO series raked in the ratings dollars.

Critics have started to pile on the series, saying it gives average people the chance to have their script re-written on national TV, and others just want Affleck and Damon to stop pretending ordinary people can become filmmakers in Hollywood. 

But then again, the two golden boys of Project Greenlight once had their heads high in the clouds, forcing friends to read their load of nonsense Good Will Hunting, and look where it got them.

So don't rely on what the critics say and definitely don't rely on contests, because there is no backdoor to Hollywood, and there is definitely no basement in the Alamo.

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