Six episodes into the fourth season of Project Greenlight is exactly how long it took for Jason Mann to graduate from struggling auteur to Mr. Hollywood. We can see the transition in this episode’s final scene, where Mann and his producer Effie Brown are meeting with the Head of HBO and their entire crew over lunch to discuss the logistics of a stunt sequence planned for the finale of Mann’s film, The Leisure Class. Brown begins to discuss specifics for this car chase sequence, complete with toy models arranged on the lunch table, as Mann chows down, wearing dark sunglasses (he eats the same way he looks – like a bird). She gets right to the issue of whether one of the cars will perform a flip. In Brown’s mind, the flip is “right out”, due to cost and difficulty of execution, and she presumes this information has already been passed to the director. But Mann casually asks between bites of his lunch, with the head of HBO sitting right at the table, “What about the flip?”. Brown’s hand goes to her forehead as she quietly sighs before responding, “There is no flip.” Mann doesn’t let the issue die, but adds insult to injury by radiating a swaggering cool confidence as Brown gets more upset – a classic example of passive-aggressive behaviour. As Brown’s frustration grows, HBO President Len Amato looks on with an expression of disbelief as the rest of the crew squirms, looking anxiously to their watches for an end to this nightmare. Mann simply continues to calmly eat, uttering little quips like, “We haven’t made that decision,” as an agitated and fuming Brown attempts to do her job. The documentary filmmakers end the scene before the end of lunch, but it’s fair to say that most of the audience would have applauded Mann’s choking on his noodle salad at that particular juncture. For the director to so completely alienate his producer, and the documentary audience, with such breathtaking arrogance could possibly have been predicted, but it’s shocking all the same.
Brown herself continues to wage her one-woman war for Hollywood equality behind the scenes, insisting, for example, that a servant character not be played by an actor of colour. But the portrait of this strong-willed and businesslike producer that in previous episodes teetered perilously on the edge of audience alienation (she doesn’t take criticism well) is substantially softened here. Brown works hard – very hard, indeed – to help the film and its director. But she can’t work miracles. The issue of shooting at night that arose last week is settled here: they won’t be shooting at night. Other problems continue to bubble to the surface throughout the production. The main issue seems to be the director, who appears to skate above it all, not listen to the reality with which Brown supplies him in every interaction, and expects miracles. Rather than the cliche of the struggling artist bound by an uncreative bean-counter producer, here Project Greenlight successfully shows us the opposite: a hardworking and well-intentioned veteran producer with an impossible child for a director. To pivot (borrowing one of Brown’s favourite words) the narrative in that way is a singular achievement for the makers of the behind-the-scenes documentary, to say nothing of the fact that this did indeed all really occur.
The big winner in all of this turmoil, from what we have been shown, is the film The Leisure Class itself. The clips are quite funny, with great writing and a wonderful cast, and the footage looks spectacular due to Mann’s stubborn insistence on shooting with real film. This might be, of all the Project Greenlight movies so far, the one that finally crosses over into some sort of authentic independent success.
But while The Leisure Class may find its audience, the behaviour of Jason Mann cannot be overlooked. In most jobs, to be openly disrespectful on a basic human level to one’s superior brings fairly large consequences. To do it while cameras are running and simply not care is egregious. This season of Greenlight was always about whether or not this prickly and difficult artist could work under the basic restrictions of professional filmmaking. The answer, so far, is a resounding no, regardless of what film is ultimately produced. Mann speaks in lofty tones about his future career and how this film will stack up against all of his future masterpieces, but he doesn’t sound like a cinematic dreamer. He sounds like an over-entitled little boy, playing “Mom” (Brown) off against “Dad” (Amato, Affleck, etc) until he gets what he wants. Luckily there are adults in the room who will eventually allow something quite profoundly wretched to hit the proverbial fan in the coming episodes, and perhaps finally bestow upon the director a sense of reality.