Creativity comes in many forms. For some, it means rearranging the spice rack and for others it means writing a blog that tens of tens of people will read. Whatever your outlet for creativity is, it is important to find a way to express your ideas. HBO’s Project Greenlight is a contest for directors to find the resources to create whatever their artsy-fartsy brain wants. Project Greenlight is in its fourth season and as far as I’m concerned all the other seasons belong in the trashcan. This year, Jason Mann won and from the beginning, his skeletal frame and entitled attitude gave me the creeps. The documentary follows Mann’s journey as he tries to capture his vision while staying on budget and on time. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon pop in from time to time to prove that they know how to direct and drop a couple F bombs along the way.
The structure of this season isn’t what is awesome. The tension between the director and producer, Effie Brown, is what makes Project Greenlight compelling. There is a lot to learn, not only about filmmaking, but also about life. From the budding director to the spice rack re-organizer there are many lessons to take from Mann’s stubbornness and Brown’s assertiveness in regards to creativity and art.
Life Lesson #1: Effie Brown should be your spirit unicorn.
Spirit animals are people, animals or things that exhibit the same essence as you (or want to be.) Effie T. Brown isn’t my spirit animal. She’s the mythical creature that I want to be when I’m replaying what I should have said after a minor confrontation. Her role as a producer is to tell Jason Mann that they can’t afford to do most of the things he wants to do. The relationship between Jason and Effie is more strained than any relationship filmed on TV. Ever. Jeb Bush and Donald Trump would be more agreeable while making a film than these two.
Brown re-brands phrases to politely tell someone you have considered their opinion and you truly couldn’t disagree more. Brown renamed compromises to “pivots.” She says “duly noted” when what she really wants to say has more expletives than a Tarantino film. Effie toes the line between being confrontational and professional. Throughout the show I wanted to be the mediator, but then I also knew I want no part of their drama.
Life Lesson #2: Creativity can’t be stifled
At the heart of the argument, Mann believes that, as an artist, his vision should be executed without any pivots compromises. From the moment Matt Damon and Ben Affleck give Mann the award he is uncooperative. He immediately wants to fire the writer and he begins his campaign to shoot with film. (If there was a Project Greenlight drinking game, you would take shots every time Jason mentions film and every time you see an Aquafina bottle.) Matt and Ben are floored. They were ready to be showered with gratitude for allowing this “nobody” to create a million dollar film. In their mind, (nobody + money= gratitude) is as certain as (water + cold = ice.)
Jason does play by those rules.
As an amateur director he argues with the head of HBO, his producers or anyone else who attempts to stifle his creative vision. Luckily, he can bear the weight of all this pressure because his shoulders are so broad.
Speaking of Mann’s physical traits, he looks like a stereotypical villain. You couldn’t cast a better villain in a movie than Jason Mann. The name Jason conjures up images of blood-splattered hockey masks and knives. He walks like Gru from the Despicable Me movies and his clothing color of choice is black. His entitled attitude and evil asthetic all add up to make a person you don’t want to agree with.
But, that doesn’t mean he can’t make a great movie.
Life Lesson #3: Creativity must be stifled
In all reality, no one can create with unlimited resources. Even when they were filming The Pirates of the Caribbean they had to cut corners somewhere. (Although with a budget of $378 million, where would you need to skimp?) Regardless, time, casting, filming and finding the perfect location are all constraints that dictate where money can be spent. What Mann fails to grasp is that collaborating could have helped his film and not harmed his film. The uproar about the un-Connecticut-ness of the location could have been squashed if he had worked more with the set designer. The difficult transition between night and day in the film could have been fixed with a clever scene about how a character passed out in a lawn chair for hours. (That’s not the best fix, but that’s not my job.)
Problems seem insurmountable when you think you are going at them alone.
In the end, I didn’t even watch all of The Leisure Class. In a way, HBO didn’t need to show the movie. Project Greenlight isn’t about the actual movie. It is about how the movie gets made. It is about the process. This is something we lowly non-Hollywood people can learn from and apply to the proverbial spice rack in our lives.
And to that I say, “Duly Noted.”