This time last year (2014) I was riveted to “The Chair” on Starz – a semi-reality, semi-competition in which 2 very different first time directors were given similar budgets and a script and access to mentors. My interest was piqued since one of the mentors was Zachary Quinto, the new Spock and a superb actor. You can see my initial article about it here.
The effects of The Chair are still rippling out. Recently creators Chris Moore and Josh Shader talked about mistakes typical with first time film makers, drawing from their experience with The Chair and other projects. I have some observations of my own.
Each director had their strengths, which also turned out to be their weaknesses.
Shane Dawson is a YouTube star, with 10 millions subscribers, mostly teens who adore him and his vomit-gag style of humor. He is self-made and self directed. He cast himself as star and directed every aspect. The flip side is that he got very defensive about criticism. Initially he wanted to break into a wider audience, but he ended up with a longer version of a Shane Dawson vid.
Anna Martemucci describes herself as a New York style indie. She is schooled in screenwriting and has done a number of shorts and a feature film with her husband Victor, brother-in-law Phil, and friends. She’s more collaborative and more comfortable getting feedback, but the flip side is that she depends a lot on Victor and Phil. People associated with her movie said it felt like there were 2 or 3 people directing, not one.
I assumed from the beginning that Shane would “win” in spite of assurances that popularity wasn’t the only criteria. And he did. That he could deliver an audience of 10 million was probably a big factor in Starz signing on. Anna had personal connections – she and Victor are long time best friends of producer Zachary Quinto. In the film making world I hear that personal connections count but, as this “competition” showed, they don’t trump the dollar power of a big following. One surprise was that Anna didn’t realize this and is still feeling she was set up, a pity since it gave her an experience and exposure as a director she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
I was as interested in the mentoring aspect as I was in the differences in the directors. Shane’s initial mentor was Zachary Quinto, a total mismatch. Shane’s vocabulary is mostly expletives, whereas Zach, in public at least, is very conservative. At a presentation with him in Salt Lake, he wouldn’t even share his favorite cuss word because “there are young people in the room“. Zach’s attempts to get Shane to make a more sophisticated approach fell with a thud. Oil and water. Also Zach wasn’t physically present much since he was shooting Agent 47 in Berlin during The Chair.
To the rescue came Zach’s business partner, Corey Moosa. Corey’s style was to support Shane’s vision, rather than trying to improve it. He even lent his cute backside to a mooning scene. So Shane was more open to listening to Corey. Throughout, Corey was superb at gentle guidance. Some interesting lessons were here for those who hope to influence others.
If you’re interested in Behind-the-Scenes movie making, tune into “The Chair” on Starz, starting Sept. 6. Two novice directors compete with each other in creating a movie. The directors are Shane Dawson, a prolific YouTube personality, and Anna Martemucci, writer/actress in “Breakup at a Wedding” and other vids by Periods Films. Both were given a starting script and a budget to go forth and create. Their process was captured – that’s what the Starz series shows – their actions and anxieties as well as the coaching they get from the more experienced producers. Their resulting films will be judged by the audience.
Both had available high-class coaching. Chris Moore (“Goodwill Hunting“, “Project Greenlight“, etc) brings his experience of a lot of hits under his belt. In contrast, the Before The Door coaches are newer to the scene, yet have already created two Oscar nominations – “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost”! Before The Door is the production company of Star Trek’s Spock, Zachary Quinto, and his business partners Neal Dodson, Corey Moosa, and Sean Akers. I’m as interested in their coaching as I am in the directors’ processes.
I attended a panel for “The Chair” at the San Diego Comic Con 2014, where we compared how the directors addressed the same scene. Zachary Quinto and an actress read the scene as originally written by Dan Schoffer. Then Chris Moore showed Dawson’s and Martemucci’s versions of the same scene. I was amazed at how different they were! For example, Dawson’s focused more on him – he played the character and most of the camera was on him. Martemucci’s focused more on the story, on getting across the situation and relationships. My guess is that Dawson will only be able to “do his own thing”, which is probably just fine to his many followers. Martemucci is my bet for a more versatile future as a director. She appears to have the discipline to be able to give form to someone else’s idea. We’ll see, eh?
Tune in – and let me know your impressions!