A large part of what has made the new season of HBO’s Project Greenlight great television — aside from being an always welcome look into an industry that relies on the output of a finished product that hides the imperfections of its creations — is that it has been fraught with divisive moments for the audience discuss, argue about, or secretly make up their mind without telling the other debater.
Was Matt out of line when he spoke over Effie? Or was he presenting a harsh, ugly reality? Did Effie go too far in her conversation with Peter Farrelly, or was he just being kind of a baby?
But the question that I’ve struggled with the most so far is what has imbued these first four episodes with so much drama. Is Jason Mann a cocksure novice taking advantage of his privileged position, or is he an artist of conviction, unwilling to compromise on what could be his one real shot at making a film?
The former is the easiest mode of thinking to slip into. The viewers’ and the film’s production team’s first impressions of Jason was of someone who was only half-interested in being there. It didn’t help that his next official move was to attempt to fire the writer without having met with him. This is the very same writer that would help salvage Jason’s original screenplay for a greenlight.
But then you get to thinking. Can’t all great artists be terrors in their own right? When Jason asks for an 18th century house in California or insists on 35 mm before a script is even ready, is that specificity the product of a singular vision, the kind that results in great art? At this point in the show, when we’ve only heard snippets of the script and have seen a few samples of Jason’s work, these are the questions you have to ask, because you can bet that the auteurs we venerate today have pissed off their share of line producers.
Now, the film is the thing, so we won’t be able to say whether Effie’s and Mark’s torment at the hands of Jason was worth it until The Leisure Class premieres on HBO in glorious 35 mm. But Sunday’s episode featured a decisive moment that could be what defines Jason from here on out.
After a secret rendezvous with Ben Affleck, Jason finds himself with an extra $300,000 in the budget. That amount is exactly what he needs to shoot on celluloid, but it’s also enough to buy two extra shooting days. To her credit, Effie attempts to explain to Jason what those extra days could mean for the production, but it’s not enough. He’s shooting on film. (FYI: Because there are certain things you can’t achieve digitally.)
As Effie explains in her interview about the key moment, shooting days are the currency of a film production. They are how professionals measure the size of a project when it’s uncouth to ask about the budget. They are your lifeline when something goes wrong, because it will go wrong. They determine what kind of hours your crew has to work. In excess — and this is something Jason should have considered — they are what can give you the freedom to get the specific shots you want, and in short supply, they can force ugly compromises.
In choosing 35 mm, Jason has keenly demonstrated that at this juncture, he cares more about how a film looks than whether the scenes or characters work, and until we see The Leisure Class, I’m inclined to believe he’s as difficult as Effie clearly wants to say he is.
Project Greenlight airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.