Project Greenlight: Season 1 (2001 - 2002)

SEASON:

Season 1
Project Greenlight

Critics Consensus

Prioritizing personality conflicts over productive collaboration, this moviemaking docuseries might not yield great art -- but it makes for spectacular reality television.

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Critic Ratings: 13

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Episodes

Air date: Dec 2, 2001

More than 10,000 would-be filmmakers submit scripts via an Internet contest for the chance to direct a movie. The pool is narrowed to 10 hopefuls and then to three finalists before the deliberations to pick a winner begin. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore and Miramax executives make the ultimate decision.

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Air date: Dec 2, 2001

Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore and Miramax executives spend hours choosing a winner. The three finalists anxiously await their decision, which finally comes in the middle of the night. The lucky filmmaker is announced to a national TV audience.

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Air date: Dec 9, 2001

On the second episode of Project Greenlight, newly christened screenwriting contest winner Pete Jones begins pre-production meetings on his script, Stolen Summer. "I'm ready to make a movie," says Jones, in his trademark halting, William Shatner-esque cadence, "I'm not really sure how to go about it at this scale." Others know what a challenge he's facing. "As hard as you have ever worked," executive producer Matt Damon says, "triple it, and that's what it is to direct a movie." Line producer Patrick Peach talks about the risks involved in handing the reins to a first-time director. Jones gets notes on his script from Miramax. There are discussions about the budget. Peach, who will oversee spending on the shoot, says, there's "no way to do it on a million-dollar budget." Jones realizes, "Everything you write has a cost to it." Executive producer Chris Moore tries to prepare Jones, telling him that he may have to sacrifice shooting the film on-location in Chicago, or setting it in 1976. "He's in a tough spot," Moore points out, "because it was sold as a million-dollar movie and it can't be made for a million dollars." Miramax arranges for Jones to meet with director Kevin Smith (Clerks). After Jones complains to Smith about his budget battles, Smith jokingly turns to the camera and shouts, "This motherfu--er appreciates nothing!" Responding to Miramax exec Jon Gordon's suggestion that he set his film in 2001, Jones says, for the first of what will be many times, "Over my dead body." The casting process begins, with casting director Joseph Middleton suggesting Aidan Quinn for a key role. Jones wants to try to get Sean Penn before offering it to Quinn. He also writes a letter to Emma Thompson, who turns the project down.

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Air date: Dec 16, 2001

In the third installment of HBO's reality series Project Greenlight, Pete Jones and the executive producer of Stolen Summer, Chris Moore, continue their pre-production battle to get a bigger budget for the film from Miramax. Jonathan Gordon, Miramax's executive vice president of production, is annoyed about the memos he's gotten from Jones and Moore complaining about the money-saving script changes the company has suggested. One suggestion was to shoot a pivotal swimming scene in a pool instead of in Lake Michigan. Jones again threatens to cry. The casting process continues. Sean Penn turns the film down, so an offer is made to Aidan Quinn. Executive producer Ben Affleck drops by and is told about the changes Miramax has suggested. "Do they have to be kids?" Affleck jokes, referring to the problematic lead roles in the script, "Can they just be short?" Prodded by Jones and Moore, Affleck calls Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein. They arrange a meeting to discuss the budget. Moments later, Gordon calls, upset because they went over his head. "You guys suck," he tells them repeatedly, "I can't believe you didn't call me first." Affleck unveils his Chris Moore impression, telling Gordon that Moore said, "Jon Gordon's stonewalling us." Affleck explains that Moore has a penchant for getting "wildly overdramatic" in his memos, joking that he often threatens to kill himself. Affleck talks privately to Gordon, then tells the team that he got them a 1.7 million-dollar budget. Later, Jones finds out that Weinstein didn't want to sell the foreign rights to the film to raise production money, so the number is lowered to 1.5 million dollars. Later, Aidan Quinn expresses reservations about working with an inexperienced director, saying he wants to be involved in casting and wants the length of the shoot extended, meaning another fight over money.

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Air date: Dec 23, 2001

Pete Jones leaves L.A. for Chicago to begin scouting locations, scheduling, and doing other pre-production work that needs to get done before he can start shooting his movie, Stolen Summer. Jones gets good news from Miramax. They've met all of Aidan Quinn's demands, including extending the shooting schedule, and he's signed on for the film. Jones visits the insurance agency where he used to work, and tells his former co-workers about casting Quinn. Chris Moore points out the importance of the planning stages of the movie. "If you're bad at pre-production," he says, "it's a disaster." The mother role in the film still has not been cast, but Jones has a good meeting with Marg Helgenberger (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), and wants her for the role. He has to get approval from Quinn, who seems hesitant about it. As Jones describes it, Quinn is concerned that Helgenberger looks "too Californian." Quinn arrives at the production office, and asks for copies of the continuity breakdown and the wardrobe breakdown. He seems ready to take a very active role in the production. He explains that he doesn't really trust the filmmakers to do it right. He has a meeting with Jones and Kevin Pollak, another cast member, in which he asks Jones a lot of questions about his character's background. Pollak is amused by Quinn's thoroughness. "Whatever his backstory research crap is, it so works for him," he says. Jones meets with the young actors who will be playing the lead roles in his film, Adi Stein and Mike Weinberg. As the first day of shooting approaches, Helgenberger, upset that the production does not seem willing to meet her scheduling demands, passes on the project. About ten hours before shooting begins, they scramble to secure the services of Bonnie Hunt.

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Air date: Dec 30, 2001

Line producer Patrick Peach points out that "the first day of shooting is really important in terms of Pete's confidence." Co-producer Jeff Balis explains that his job is to make sure that things are going smoothly, and to keep executive producer Chris Moore up to date. Michelle Sy says that she's on set to watch out for Miramax's interests. They all have to make sure the low-budget shoot stays on schedule. They have to "make the day" -- get all the scheduled shots done -- each day, because they don't have any flexibility. Bruce Terris, the first assistant director, explains that he's "the whip," making sure everyone on set is where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be. The production hits a snag right away, as the first shot of the day includes the two child actors, and takes place under the El tracks in Chicago. The trains frequently pass overhead with a deafening roar. Director of photography Pete Biagi points out that the production didn't budget for a sound crew rep to be involved in location scouting, which might have averted this problem. Pete Jones does his best trying to squeeze the shots in between passing trains. Leah Gale, the children's acting coach, tries to keep Adi Stein and Mike Weinberg focused. The children are only allowed to work about five hours a day, and as the clock ticks down, Weinberg gets restless, and has trouble remembering his lines for a complicated and emotional scene. Others push Jones to cut some of the dialogue, and at first, he resists them. "Let's pay the script the respect it deserves," he says. But eventually, with time running out, he gives in. Later, Moore arrives at the production offices, and chastises Balis for not keeping him informed of the problems they encountered.

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Air date: Jan 6, 2002

Day two of the shoot of Stolen Summer doesn't go any smoother than day one did. To add a little more pressure, producer Chris Moore is at the location. Things start off badly, when it takes much longer than anticipated to rig a process trailer with a camera to tow a car behind it for the first shot of the day. To make matters worse, the shot is framed so that non-period cars can be seen in the background. Moore points out that there was no need to have the shot take place in a moving car to begin with. He questions the decision-making of the production team. Things get even worse when the caterer doesn't show up with lunch. Union rules state that if the crew isn't fed by one o'clock, the production has to give them penalty pay. And then the camera short-circuits. "This was not a banner day for the organization of Stolen Summer," Moore dryly tells his production team when they finally do sit down for lunch. He tells Jeff Balis and Pat Peach that they have to say no to Pete Jones sometimes, despite Jones' propensity for saying, "Over my dead body." Later, Peach tells Moore privately that he was talked into the camera car by Balis, and questions Balis' leadership ability. Peach and Balis later advise Jones to come up with a new catch phrase in his dealings with Moore. The production moves to another location, and they finish the day early. Balis suggests getting a shot that had been planned for another day, but when Moore isn't looking, Jones and DP Pete Biagi add a new shot instead, which leads to a heated confrontation between Moore and Jones.

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Air date: Jan 13, 2002

Though the producers had discussed having a cover set for the baseball scene during pre-production, the day before the Little League scene, when there's a good chance it will rain, director Pete Jones says he doesn't want to shoot the hospital scene at the cover location. He says he didn't think the actors were "emotionally ready" for the dramatic scene. Chris Moore discusses the situation with Jeff Balis, who can't give him any answers. "If it's pouring rain and we can't shoot anything," he warns Balis, "I will be far less controlled than I am right now." Naturally, there's a huge storm, and the field is full of puddles. But the decision is made to shoot the scene anyway. Moore has to fly back to L.A. to attend to his wife, who is due to have a baby. Kevin Pollak tells Jones he's concerned about the health of the extras, who are sitting out in the cold, wet bleachers. During a lunch break, Pat Peach tells first assistant director Bruce Terris that Balis is green, and the studio has no confidence in him. "I'm not very political," Terris later says. As the shoot continues in miserable weather, the morale of the crew takes a downturn. Later, while the others are nervously watching dailies, Peach calls a Miramax exec with more complaints about Balis. Peach and the crew later make the decision to postpone shooting some scenes at the beach until the following week, when the weather might improve. Peach suggests that Balis withhold this information from Moore until things are more firmly decided. Later, Moore calls Balis and complains about being kept out of the loop. He tells Balis he wants him to leave the set and return to L.A. later that week.

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Air date: Jan 20, 2002

Pete Jones is very upset on hearing that co-producer Jeff Balis has essentially been fired. He says that he needs Balis on his set. Balis tells Jones that he had thought things were going pretty well. When Jones tells Pat Peach the news, Peach doesn't seem particularly upset about it, and suggests Jones "just be cool" about the decision. The next day, they're shooting the most elaborate scene of the film, a scene in which a firefighter, played by Aidan Quinn, rescues a boy from a burning house. Due to some confusion on the part of Jones and DP Pete Biagi about how much of the house will be in the shot, the art department has to scramble to dress the side of the house. They don't start rehearsing until four hours after call time. Chris Moore calls Peach on the set, and asks him how things are going. Jones takes the opportunity to complain to Moore about his decision, and Moore tells him, "Jeff is being fired because of you." Later, Moore calls Michelle Sy at Miramax to get her opinion about his taking Balis off the shoot. He then calls Balis to give him the good news -- Miramax wants him to stay on. Balis agrees to call Moore every day to let him know how things stand. Balis is cool to Peach, because by now he's heard that Peach was "stabbing [him] in the back." On the set, Biagi doesn't get good coverage of a stunt involving a fireball, but he doesn't seem too unhappy about it, because he wants the film to focus on the "human side" of the story. Balis lets Jones and Biagi know that henceforth he wants to see a shot list at the beginning of every day.

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Air date: Jan 27, 2002

Bonnie Hunt complains to director Pete Jones because she's concerned about how she's being lit and shot during an emotional bedroom scene. The DP, Pete Biagi, is unsympathetic to Hunt's problem. "Is this a Hollywood movie where everything's slick and glossy?" he asks. Some on the production team think Jones has put too much faith in Biagi to handle the visual aspects of the film. The director disagrees. Later, the filmmakers need to shoot three pages of dialogue before lunch, which is a lot. Biagi takes an excessive amount of time to light the location, leaving Jones with inadequate time to work with his child actors, Adi Stein and Mike Weinberg. The film's editor, Gregg Featherman, tells Jones he's not happy with the kids' performances. So Jones confronts Biagi, telling him they can't spend so much time waiting for lighting. Biagi lets the crew know he's unhappy with Jones' approach. Later, shooting Hunt and Aidan Quinn in the bedroom, Biagi doesn't get the shot he wants on a pan, so he intentionally shakes the camera, making the pan unusable. He calls it a "sly dog trick to protect the visuals." Producer Chris Moore calls it a very "aggressive" move, displaying Biagi's lack of trust in the rest of the production, and his desire to protect himself. Later, for a crucial scene at the beach, Biagi and Jones want a crane shot for the climax. This entails a long day putting together scaffolding for the camera out in the ocean. Moore and Jeff Balis both question the need for the complicated shot, which Biagi insists on shooting during "magic hour," at dusk. Another problem arises at the beach. The water is freezing, and neither Stein nor Weinberg knows how to swim.

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Critic Reviews for Project Greenlight Season 1

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (7)

Intended as a corrective but ends up a delicious exposé instead.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…
Top Critic

While Stolen Summer looks like a disaster (I haven't yet seen it), Project Greenlight itself is a grimly fascinating if dubiously contrived piece of television.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

If you're one of the thousands who apparently aspire to break into the movie business, this series is not without value. It's also not without tedium.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

The result demonstrates that there's nothing more enjoyable than the crashing failure of a hubristic chump.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

It's fly-on-the-wall moviemaking, a must-see for anyone hoping to break into the creative side of the film business.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…
Top Critic

You've never had such fun watching someone else fail.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

Making a film is kind of a nightmare, but a riveting one. And Project Greenlight is in itself a riveting documentary.

Nov 14, 2018 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Project Greenlight is a must for anyone eager to break into the moviemaking business. The educational show thrusts you into a place where viewers were never allowed before.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

Rarely do we glimpse the drudgery that's involved in bringing movies to life. "Project Greenlight" offers a rare and unvarnished glimpse at the friction-filled cogs and gears that drive the Hollywood machine.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

It is a fast-moving, entertaining series that offers an inside look at the creative process and what producers and studio executives are looking for when they option scripts that may be made into films.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

Project Greenlight opens a door on a culture usually seen only through the hazy gauze of the Hollywood hype machine, and leaves the audience better informed about that world, and the way it shapes the way we see the real one in which we live.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

Project Greenlight is a dream come true for a guy named Jones, but it looks like less of a thrill for the average viewer.

Sep 6, 2019 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Project Greenlight: Season 1

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