It’s just a few more months until the return of Project Greenlight! So what does that have to do with this review? Well, if you’re like me, you’re looking for something to tide you over until then. That’s where The Chair comes in. Produced by Chris Moore (the guy who also produced the first 3 seasons of Project Greenlight), The Chair is a docu-series that follows two first time filmmakers making their first feature length films. The catch is that they’re making two different versions of the same movie……kind of. Each has been given the same starting point: the same budget, the same city to use for locations and the same screenplay. Yes,they’re given the same screenplay but only as a jumping off point. Each are given the freedom to adapt the screenplay as they see fit. They’re also given final cut (unheard of for first time filmmakers). At the end of the process, which includes mounting a theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles, an online vote is conducted to declare which film is the winner of this little experiment and the filmmaker will be awarded $250,000. Essentially, it’s a high stakes drama that goes behind the scenes and gives you a window into the difficulties of making an independent film. The result is a 10 episode series that any filmmaking fan would be into…..and so would any t.v. fanatic as well.
To create this show, Chris Moore had to find two first time filmmakers from very different entertainment backgrounds. Shane Dawson (one of the directors) is from the world of Youtube and has built a fanbase of 10 million strong with over a billion views on his videos. Anna Martemucci comes from an extensive indie film background and has been primarily a screenwriter but has also worn the hats of actor and producer on many occasions. Each are given a script by Dan Schoffer and a production office in Pittsburg to make their movie. As Chris is producing both films and The Chair itself, he enlists a team of producers headed up by Zachary Quinto (Spock in the New Star Trek franchise) and his partners at Beyond the Door Productions to aid the two filmmakers on their journeys. They are there to mentor both Shane and Anna and help their productions make it to the finish line, which they do to varying degrees.
What’s most interesting about the series is the high level of transparency, not just in the making of the two features but also in the show itself. We get to see every problem that plagues both productions, Shane’s Not Cool and Anna’s Hollidaysburg, from the script (which both directors rewrite) to the production (money is tight) to getting the finished films in front of an audience. We also get to see the difficulties of producing the entire program as Chris Moore struggles to find the money for not just the films but also the docu-series itself. It’s interesting to see how self referential the show is. Chris continues to lay out the trials and tribulations of attempting a program like this (and questions its success) and each of the filmmakers make known their own insecurities on how they will appear to those watching the finished product. Anna continues to struggle with the cameras following her right through to the end of production, asking them at many times to leave the room or not be so visible. Shane’s fears manifest in the form of predictions on how the editors will cut the program together, believing that they will focus on his mistakes or perceived bad judgement calls. Where other shows would shy away from all this self awareness, The Chair embraces it which makes for more than a few entertaining moments.
Much like Project Greenlight, the series did a great job of making the viewers equally like and dislike both Shane and Anna. You see that Anna is making a very personal picture but at the same time are annoyed at the preciousness she gives to every moment of her filmmaking experience. Shane’s tale is much more fast paced and one can get behind this young director’s attempt to break away from the world of 5 minute web videos and make an actual feature length comedy. The only problem is that it looks as though the film he’s making will miss the mark on telling a good story. Both get highly emotional at various points and act out in different ways. There are times the audience is rooting for them and times where they’re definitely not. In the world of reality t.v., it’s not often that it feels like “real” people are on display but The Chair pulls off presenting their subjects as just that. They’re both real people learning the very difficult lessons of indie filmmaking.
The reality of the teams that are supporting them (or in some cases, not supporting) is also very open and honest. The most interesting wrinkle to the story is the animosity that builds between Dawson and Zachary Quinto. Quinto is not impresed with Shane from the start and is vocal about it in a few short interview segments. When it comes time for Zachary to see the two finished films, there is definite drama as he does not care for Not Cool. What makes this friction all the more intriguing is that the producer and director are never shown in the same room together for more than a few seconds yet it’s probably the most dynamic relationship of the entire series.
The Chair comes as a 5 disc DVD Box Set which includes both movies. Not Cool (which is also available as a separate DVD release) is very much in the vein of gross-out comedy that Shane Dawson’s fanbase would enjoy. The problem here is that Dawson’s audience is mostly made up of 12 to 15 year olds and so the humour is very elementary. The jokes are raunchy without any nuance and the characters are more charactures built around catch phrases and sick sight gags. The only actor in the piece worth watching is Cherami Leigh who plays Tori. Despite having a very juvenile script to work with, she gives a performance that really makes us feel for her and relate to her struggles as she returns home for her first Thanksgiving after going off to College. Dawson miscasts himself as the male lead and gives himself a couple of cameo comedy parts aswell. This might be what his audience enjoys but after a few years, when they turn 16, they will be wondering what the hell they were laughing at.
Hollidaysburg is a more engaging film that really plays with it’s subject matter. Like Not Cool, this film is about a group of college freshmen who return home for their first Thanksgiving since going off to school. Where it differs is that instead of a raunch-com, we’re treated to a character piece that explores the many fears that college kids have of not being the “big dog” anymore and having to redefine themselves. While not the greatest, Hollidaysburg takes you back to the indie films of the 90’s with a sleepy pacing and somber tone that is soothing but fun. It’s a film that I will definitely watch again. I can’t say the same for Not Cool.
If you’re a fan of filmmaking and the process behind it, The Chair is worth picking up. It’s an interesting look into the world of indie film that doesn’t feel forced the way that most reality programing does. Check it out on DVD through Anchor Bay Entertainment.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!