Indie moviemaking gets ‘The Chair’ on Starz

09/03/2014 8:00 PM

09/03/2014 4:25 PM

I love my job. I could talk about it all day, but if I did, I’d probably have even fewer friends than I do now. It isn’t a glamorous job, but there are people who enjoy the end product, the words and images we offer on paper or online to inform, motivate, engage and amuse. How those words and images get there is what they call watching sausage get made – something you probably don’t want to see if you like the sausage.

That’s the problem with Starz’s first original unscripted series, “The Chair,” which combines the often unexciting process of independent moviemaking with a TV competition show. The 10-episode series will premiere Saturday.

The show was created by Chris Moore, co-producer of “Good Will Hunting,” who also teamed with that film’s Oscar-winning screenwriters Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to create “Project Greenlight” (making its way back to an HBO revival). Moore and various other production partners, including actor Zachary Quinto and his production company, chose a pair of talented people who’d never directed a film to make separate 85-minute feature films based on the same source material. The winning filmmaker will get $250,000, but both resulting films will get theatrical releases and air on Starz.

Shane Dawson has more than 10 million subscribers to his YouTube channels, where he’s posted hundreds of short and hilarious videos, many in the worst possible taste. He makes a living off of his channels but knows it’s time for him to move from the kids’ table to sit with the grown-ups.

Anna Martemucci studied screenwriting at NYU and wrote an indie feature, directed by her husband, called “Breakup at a Wedding.” Now she wants to sit in “The Chair” herself – the director’s chair.

Dawson and Martemucci are handed a script by Dan Schoffer titled (horribly) “How Soon Is Now” about a pair of Pittsburgh high school graduates who go off to college, return home for Thanksgiving and stuff happens.

In other words, Dawson and Martemucci are handed one of the most tired cliches in Hollywood and told to make a movie about it. The fact that everyone thinks this is a novel idea may suggest why Hollywood is stuck in the tar pits and is just finishing its worst summer season in seven years.

The show’s first two episodes shuffle along at a comatose snail’s pace as the newbies are confined to coffee-fueled discussions about money, locations, more money, costumes, a DP (director of photography) quitting, funding coming in dribs and drabs, and whether American Eagle female mannequins all have the same cup size.

Both directors are given final cut approval and can do what they want to the script. Martemucci all but rewrites it, because writing is what she’s comfortable with. Each director cuts two characters out of the script, but they’re two different characters.

Bit by bit, we get a little sense of the directors’ visions. While Martemucci sees the script as a source for a quirky little indie about college kids learning you can’t reclaim your high school glory on a holiday trip home, Dawson sees it all as fodder for his trademark over-the-top humor.

The more we get to see each concept, the more interesting “The Chair” could become. But strap yourself in for long, detailed meetings, mostly populated by people wearing knit caps, about stuff that either will make no sense to you or that you don’t care about.

A lot can happen between concept and final cut in moviemaking, and if you can stay awake through the endless meetings, “The Chair” could be – you should pardon the expression – worth sitting through.

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