What Happened To Project Greenlight?
*This piece can also be found on Black Girl Nerds.
Can you hear it – the collective sigh of viewers now that the fourth season of Project Greenlight is over? It must be deafening at this point. Now that it’s over, I have questions. Really just one question: what happened to Project Greenlight?
From the first episode featuring that infamous scene between veteran producer Effie Brown and the guy that who sabotaged Matthew McConaughey’s mission in Interstellar, watching this show every week has been like watching a war documentary and not even of the Ken Burns variety. However, in this war there were no victors. None whatsoever.
Courtesy of HBO’s “creative” editing, this show quickly drifted away from the “filmmaker getting to make his first big movie” narrative to a war between logic, realism and abundant amounts of male privilege. The battle lines between Effie and director Jason Mann were drawn early on and unfortunately we knew all roads would lead to conflict. Effie and Jason were reduced to typical reality show caricatures, leaving the show to play out more like The Real Filmmakers of Hollywood and not a show highlighting the ups and downs and the art of moviemaking.
Effie was given the “difficult” edit. She was chastised and vilified for speaking up and doing things producers do – keeping a project on schedule, on budget, pointing out production issues and having the difficult job of saying “no”. Again, these are things producers do.
Jason’s slightly more sympathetic cut had him hailed as an “auteur” and the future of filmmaking. The seemingly ungrateful novice who was clearly manipulative, obstinate, stricken with selective hearing when Effie and many others spoke and inexplicably obsessive over the smallest details – a plot for his movie not being one of them- stood firm in the belief that he should be able to make the movie he wanted to make.
I suppose credit can be given for that as all storytellers have the right to fight for artistic control. But this behavior was constantly rewarded and lauded while Effie was painted as the problem. I’m sure this sounds familiar to many as it happens every day to women across the country and across many industries. But we’re not often given the gift of cameras rolling to actually capture it.
Here’s the truth about this season: Out of all the applicants and submissions received, the winner was an insufferably smug director, hailed as a creative genius and given $3 million dollars to make a high-brow film about the 1% and have it shown on a huge network. Advice from seasoned professionals and network executives on how to make his art better were met with constant objections. He played Effie against nearly everyone on the production team as a child would a parent. Effie says it’s not cost effective to shoot on film, Jason goes to someone else who says he can have all the film he wants. Effie says she saved him money during the production, Jason later complains about the fact that she saved him money and he couldn’t do a stunt he had planned.
Another truth: despite Jason Mann’s bad behavior and the chilly reception to the clunky, unrelatable film he labored over, he will work again. He will work a lot. He will probably work more and get more opportunities than most women in the industry today. The established Bro-triarchy will ensure that he works because they ALWAYS circle the wagons to protect their own.
Now, even Effie Brown admits there was room for improvement in regards to how she handled things throughout the season. During an interview with BuzzFeed, she stated:
“…My biggest thing about watching me at work was realizing I have some s**t to work on, and a lot of that has to do with always feeling like I have to be on the offensive.”
She’s aware of the root of said behavior and it’s something that not only affects her, but is all too familiar to women in leadership positions or in spaces where they are the minority in regards to gender and race.
“But then I look at it and think, how else was I supposed to react to that when there are people disregarding me or not taking my expertise?”
The two are apparently on good terms now, which is nice to hear. (The same can’t be said for Effie and Matt, but I guess you can’t be everyone’s type.) However, Jason’s bad behavior and HBO’s lack of stepping in or stepping up for Effie and for her message will resonate with viewers for quite sometime. This season of Project Greenlight isn’t worth praise as great television. Watching what Effie and many others are subjected to on a daily basis should not be entertainment. It should be stopped. No one should be given a pat on the back for what transpired this season, especially the editors of this show and network executives. (The Hot Ghetto Mess incident anyone?)
Despite the issues that plagued this season, each episode provided a very close examination of leadership, privilege, race and how mixing them together can often have disastrous results. Again, if disaster is indeed the result, it is not something that should be aired for our amusement. It was made very clear that Project Greenlight cannot continue in its current state given that each film has been met with a lukewarm reception and also this season’s abundance of controversy.
So, how can this show and HBO move forward after this season?
1. Don’t let this season (or this show) die. As uncomfortable as it was to watch, we should not let what happened during this season fade into the background – not at all. Show this season to aspiring filmmakers and give them a real-world education. Talk about it with those who try to put their head in the sand and say there is no problem. This season should be required viewing in film schools. Let’s not shy away from these conversations any further. In order to make real change, we need to know exactly what we’re working with. Aggression and exclusion of women in this and other industries is no longer the dirty little secret people would like it to be. Thank you HBO for having the cameras rolling and capturing it. We saw everything we needed to see. Now we see you too, Hollywood.
2. Reboot, relaunch and retool this show, immediately. I know this is the brainchild of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, but now that Ben has graduated to Batman status and the decision was made to bring Matt Damon back from Mars, perhaps it’s time to bring in new mentors and a new advisory board. Hollywood is so keen on reboots, remakes, re-imaginings and regurgitations of projects, why not include this one? The new panel should look more like Hollywood and the rest of the world and be far more inclusive than this and previous seasons.
Brad Pitt – Actor and co-founder of Plan B pictures, which has 24 projects under its belt and many more in production.
Effie Brown – The Project Greenlight veteran and producer with over 20 films under her belt and 20 years of experience knows how to get the job done regardless of size and scope. Bring her back for a second season to pass down that vital knowledge to others.
Lexi Alexander – The Oscar-nominated director (Johnny Flynton), former World Kickboxing Champion and stuntwoman is a known advocate for women’s rights and inclusion in Hollywood and across all mediums. Lexi would not hesitate to hold filmmakers and executives accountable for their role in creating art and would be a valuable asset to the show.
Jesse Williams – The Grey’s Anatomy star is also a former teacher, prominent activist and the executive producer of Question Bridge: Black Males, a multimedia project, art exhibition, student/teacher curriculum and website. He also serves on the board of directors of the civil rights organization Advancement Project and is never afraid to speak his mind in support of the good fight.
Ava DuVernay – Acclaimed director and founder of ARRAY, an organization dedicated to the increasing visibility of independent films by people and women of color. She uses her voice to boost those “outside the center of Hollywood” and that voice would benefit many rising filmmakers.
And in rotation as consultants:
Laurence Fishburne – actor, playwright, director and producer with a career spanning 40 years. And Morpheus fromThe Matrix, Pops from Blackish –need I say more?
Paul Feig – Critically-acclaimed director with a long list of credits and whose decision to reboot Ghostbusters with a female cast (and predominately female crew) attracted some ire from angry, die-hard fanboys. Clearly not afraid to take risks.
Mark Ruffalo – Actor, producer and activist most known for his role as “The Hulk” in The Avengers films, he also has a keen eye for developing great content.
3. Cast a wider net for submissions. Reach out to filmmakers everywhere. This season’s selections from the advisory board appeared to come out of the same exclusive pots and (non-inclusive) circles that most projects and opportunities arise from. They need to find more content that reflects the way the real world looks. One way of doing this – take to the internet.
On November 3rd, Pearl Street Films and Miramax announced the creation of Project Greenlight Digital Studios, an expansion of the brand and concept to the digital space. According to Deadline:
“The new operation aims to make Project Greenlight a 24/7 operation, allowing viewers and community members to participate in greenlighting projects, and creators to interact with industry representation and distribution opportunities. The new operation will provide premium content crowdsourced and curated with the online audience in mind, along with a slate of contests, original content, and promotions that will be announced in the coming months.”
They are also launching an online competition called Get the Greenlight will be followed in early 2016 by a digital series anthology contest, co-hosted with Issa Rae’s ColorCreative TV, with the goal of finding emerging (and diverse!) writers.
4 . Take a break, a long break. (Really, it’s okay, we won’t mind.) This season of Project Greenlight was like the houseguest who can’t take the hint on when to leave. Despite the education it provided and the water cooler conversations that stemmed from each episode, this show clearly lost its way and the drama continued for far too long. Perhaps a break will benefit both HBO and viewers alike. Surely, if they make some of the much-needed changes during this hiatus, they’d (possibly) stand a chance at recovering some of the credibility lost while making the movie version of Love and Hip Hop.