As the most expensive art form, it’s difficult to experiment with filmmaking in the way that the new Starz show The Chair does. Produced by Zachary Quinto, Neal Dodson and Corey Moosa, the program obsessively watches as two aspiring filmmakers turn the same script into different films.
The closest cousin to this kind of semi-scientific meddling might be Michael Haneke remaking his own Funny Games. Or maybe Lars von Trier forcing Jorgen Leth to remake one of his short films in The Five Obstructions. Or maybe we can consider this as another in a long list of remakes that just so happens to take place simultaneously so that we can’t say which film is the “original.”
Maybe I’m overthinking this (I am), but it’s exciting. Tinkering and deconstructing cinema is almost always fun, or at the very least interesting, for the audience – especially when the filmmakers themselves look to be losing their minds. That’s not schadenfreude, but a recognition that making movies is insanely difficult, and there’s a joy in watching grueling work transform into something special.
In the case of the show’s guinea pigs, Youtube star Shane Dawson and actress/writer/now director Anna Martemucci, they have the added weight of knowing that strangers will be scrutinizing their every decision after the process is completed.
There are two interesting things going on in this trailer for the show. One, it tends to focus on the heart of darkness element instead of the joyous relief that undoubtedly took place during the process. It’s all gargantuan (“Keep your fingers on the lower notes of the synthesizer, Jim!”), so hopefully the show itself blends the good with the bad while teasing a new train wreck each week.
Two, the producers clearly picked personalities in the reality show contestant vein in order to augment the entertainment factor. Dawson and Martemucci are both performers, and that must have been irresistible to a production looking to supplement their own shots with video diaries and true character-based moments. Dawson even chose to star in his film and toss on a wig as a supporting character.
Shy geniuses they aren’t, and that’s a little disappointing because it feels like the worst part of gaming the reality show system has entered into what could have been a more robust storytelling experiment. A sign where ratings-hunting impinged on bold artistic thinking, or where the same people we always see unsurprisingly take both open slots.
Naturally, the show looked to pick two filmmakers with diametrically opposed styles. Dawson is bombastic, seeking to make a “broad teen comedy” while Martemucci is steeped in NYC indie flare, attempting a reflective dramedy style.
So what happens when two directors make the same script into two different movies? Not Cool and Hollidaysburg.
Here are the trailers for both:
Besides one feeling more like American Pie (slipping into full-on parody at times) and the other like Garden State Lite, there are some remarkable similarities. Even though there isn’t much scene overlap in the trailers, there isn’t exactly a chasm between the two despite titles that would draw in drastically different crowds. Both are mildly raunchy, filled with shifting existential crises and focused on two disenchanted people meeting cute before falling in love.
Although, you have to wonder how Dawson handles the dried-up vagina line and how Martemucci handles the glory hole sequence (or if they avoid them altogether).
That lack of a dramatic differential might be due to a difficulty in pulling away from a Girls-esque script where the style is DNA-deep in the dialogue to begin with.
On that front, I’m curious to hear them discuss how the screenplay came about and what kind of parameters were attached to the project. According to IMDB, first timer Dan Schoffer gets the sole screenwriting credit for Not Cool, while Holidaysburg lists him among Martemucci and two other writers. Based on the WGA rules for credits alone, the latter film must have altered the screenplay a lot more than the former. Will the glory hole survive? Why were they allowed to change the script at all? Does it ever stop snowing?
In other words, the show (which premieres September 6th) has my interest piqued purely from the questions that it’s created.
(A last, tangential thought that’s not meant as a knock on these debut directors, but on top of the experimental gimmick to the project, the budget for each film is listed (correctly?) on IMDB as $600,000, so it’s fascinating what Joshua Caldwell was able to do with exactly 1% of that budget.)