Project Greenlight, Matt Damon and the Myth of the Visionary Director

Fuck Matt Damon.  No, seriously, fuck this dude.  Because of his mansplaining (or #Damonsplaining) of diversity to a Black woman, I felt obligated to watch Project Greenlight.  And I hate Project Greenlight

Particularly because it relies on that most problematic of Archetypes, the Visionary Director (AKA Auteur).

Take the following incident from season one, episode six of the show.  Writer/director Pete Jones wants to cover a scene beneath an elevated train track in an uninterrupted tracking shot.  This tracking shot is his Vision for the scene.  Yet, when Jones arrives on location he discovers that the train comes every ten minutes or so.  Somehow the crack team of professionals hired to guide Jones through his first feature failed to check the schedule (because, Reality).  Uninterrupted tracking shot plus young actors (struggling to remember/deliver dialogue) plus train every ten minutes equals disaster (i.e. conflict). You might say those seasoned professionals allowed Jones to be hoisted by his own Vision.

Indeed, the greater the hubris of the Visionary Director (hereafter referred to as the VD), the greater the possibility for conflict.  It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Jason Mann has been elected season four’s VD.  Mann exhibits all the “Fuck-you-all, I’m the director!” the VD position requires.   While other competitors tried to remain polite about the Farrelly brothers script they would be shooting, our friend Jason had no such qualms, stating that the script would need to be extensively re-written to suit his purposes.  Fuck the writers, Jason’s got a Vision. (He also, apparently, gets that he’s supposed to be an asshole to be on the show, and has an appropriately VD-ish way of filling a director’s chair).  

The team that Effie Brown was supporting, Leo Kei Angelos and Kristen Brancaccio, by contrast were polite (AKA not VDs and not, therefore, viable for the show).  It is worth actually parsing the words that have landed Damon in the pile of shit on which he currently sits, because they reveal more than internalized/institutionalized racism that is standard operating procedure in Hollywood.  In the episode he says, “when you’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.” The use of the word “casting” has been somewhat lost in the understandable maelstrom that has ensued.  However, what Damon is saying, in so many words, is that the Angelos and Brancaccio team don’t work as a cast for Project Greenlight.  Not that they don’t work as viable potential directors for a film.    

Which isn’t surprising because, as anyone who has actually spent any time in the industry can tell you, film is a collaborative fucking medium.  While there may be some VDs out there, most directors fall into a spectrum somewhere between good and mediocre, and most are supported by a team of people (cinematographers, set designers, wardrobe people, editors) who are integral to delivering a strong product (and who prevent them from doing stupid shit like Jones’ tracking shot).  A good team not only compensates for weaknesses in the directing, but also provides a sounding board for the director.  Smart directors (one might even say Visionary Directors) know this and, as a result, keep the same group of people around them from project to project.   

And yet, young filmmakers coming up, whether in film school or simply by studying the industry, are force-fed the VD Myth that they are supposed to rule their productions with a singular vision.  I bought into it myself when I started out, and it brought me nothing but unnecessary pressure and misery.  Over time I figured out that I didn’t have to have all the answers, that the work might actually be better if I empowered everyone on my crew to have and express their opinions.

Nevertheless, the Myth of the VD persists.  **UPDATE: A loyal reader has also pointed out that the DGA effectively promotes the VD Myth by making co-directing credits almost impossible to obtain!**  Even on Reality (that most non-VD-worthy of forms) young directors are convinced that their role is that of dictating, not trying to elicit the best from their team (resulting in predictably awful work).  A prime example of what happens when a would-be VD gets their hands on a big feature is evident in Josh Trank’s epic meltdown on the set of The Fantastic Four.  

However, some instances of VD-ness are not as entertaining; some are lethal.  Such was the case when mediocre (to poor) director Randall Miller insisted (in a moment of excessive VD) on shooting on a live train track despite having been denied permission by the railway to do so.  No other rail option (and there were other, safe options) suited his Vision.  One dead Camera Assistant and several injured crew members later, Miller sits in Georgia prison having plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

So, quite honestly, fuck this whole VD Myth.  For real.  

Frankly, by already teaming up in their endeavors, Leo Kei Angelos and Kristen Brancaccio (the eliminated Project Greenlight directing team) are already winners.  Between them they bring the kind of diverse viewpoints that inherently makes for stronger work.   And in bypassing the whole debased VD Myth in agreeing to share the directing role, they indicate an acceptance of collaboration that will bring the best out of their production team.  In that regard, they are (combined) a Director who is much more likely to succeed than your average, know-nothing VD.

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