With an overwhelming number of interesting scripted TV shows to choose from, I make almost no time for reality television anymore. The one exception of late has been Starz's “The Chair,” which follows two directors – YouTube comedy star Shane Dawson and New York indie screenwriter Anna Martemucci – as they each attempt to make their first film, using the same script.
Chris Moore, the central figure of the terrific “Project Greenlight,” is the man behind this filmmaking experiment (even as old buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are producing a “Greenlight” revival for HBO), and one of the most interesting things about the series is how transparent it is about the process. There's been talk about how Anna got her spot because she and her husband are tight with some of the projects financiers, how the entire show (which was produced on spec, with Starz getting involved later) is often short of funding (with Moore frequently putting big expenses on his credit card), how much pressure producer Zachary Quinto is putting on both the directors to make their films into positive showcases for his native city of Pittsburgh, and how the reality show at times gets in the way of the filmmaking.
In picking Shane and Anna as its directors, the show not only found a clear contrast in origin story and storytelling style, but in personality. As a former fat kid who turned himself into a YouTube sensation with 6 million followers, Shane is at times cocky to a fault – there's a lot of discussion from the two films' shared producers about how Shane is making his movie only for his fans, and whether those fans are the type to actually spend money on a feature film version of his shorts – but also highly sensitive to criticism. Anna, meanwhile, is a spectacular bundle of neuroses and frustrating behavioral tics, not least of which is the way she treats her husband as the movie's unofficial co-director, even though he's almost never actually in Pittsburgh. (One gets the sense that he wants as little to do with the reality show as possible.)
On the podcast, Fienberg and I discussed “The Chair” in early September after we'd seen two episodes, and it's only gotten better since then as the story has taken both their films – Shane's gross-out comedy “Not Cool” and Anna's quirky dramedy “Hollidaysburg”(*) – have gone into production.
(*) Both films have already had limited runs in movie theaters, and based on what “The Chair” has told us about each project, it's not surprising that “Hollidaysburg” has gotten much better reviews from critics than “Not Cool” (which inspired Neil Genzlinger at The New York Times to suggest, “No one involved with it should ever be allowed to work in the movies again”). There's a cash prize attached to the show based on audience voting, which I suspect Shane will win, given his much larger following, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of work either director finds after this.
We have an exclusive clip, embedded above, from tomorrow's sixth episode (it airs at 10 p.m. on Starz), getting into the specifics of how Anna and Shane have each chosen to interpret one of the opening scenes of Dan Schoffer's script, which gives you a sense of the two very different people at the center of “The Chair.”