Movies about making movies are a favorite subject of first-time filmmakers. Yeah, it’s narcissistic. But if the rule of thumb is “write/direct what you know,” that’s the thing most obsessives who want to be in the film business know best.
Yes, most such movies only find a home in film festivals, where the cinema-savvy audience, like the crew, is “in on the joke.” But every now and then, a “Living in Oblivion,” “The Big Picture” or the like makes it into the mainstream. And sometimes a “Disaster Artist” makes one so bad it grows its own cult.
“Greenlight,” as you can guess from the title, is about getting the go-ahead (“green light”) to make your first movie. It’s an intriguing premise, not horribly executed. It just lacks the boldness to do something really “out there” with this idea, and it has an ending that reflects that loss of nerve.
It’s about an aspiring director, Jack Archer (Chase Williamson of “Camera Obscura” and the horror podcast “Video Palace”), so desperate to make that first feature that he weeps to the would-be C-list producer (veteran heavy Chris Browning of “Westworld,” “Ray Donovan,” etc.).
With the “Nobody’ll let me make a movie until I make a movie” Catch-22 that faces every film school graduate — and the staggering student loans that come with it, you’d weep too. Beautiful novelist girlfriend (Evanne Friedman) whose parents call him a “bum looking for another handout” to his face?
Thank heavens Moseby (Browning) has pity. Or something.
“This is your moment, man, your ‘Piranha II.'”
That’s the humor in movies about making movies. The set and the story it tells are about movie biz “types,” the dialogue is inside-baseball and jargonish.
The flattery is empty “I love your work” lies.
And the goal in this corner of filmdom is to make a movie as famous and infamous as “Piranha II,” the no-budget mess than “made” James Cameron a movie-maker.
But at what cost? Jack gets a hint when his cast is presented to him. Nancy (Caroline Williams) is a B and C picture veteran. Turns out, she’s Moseby’s wife.
His DP pal (Shane Coffey) just says to suck it up and make this Deal with the Devil work. Which Jack does, until the day he’s told “I need you to make the last killing in the movie real.”
Yup. Moseby wants an actor killed on camera. And he will blackmail Jack to get this outcome, or kill a bunch of people Jack cares about, or Jack himself, if he doesn’t.
Digging into the production files to see what happened to the original director of “Sleep Experiment” isn’t encouraging.
For an 85 minute film, “Greenlight” takes too long to get started. Too many of those #whitefilmschoolgradproblems are passed on, and repeated ad naseum as they struggle to get Jack to that fateful meeting with Moseby.
The performers are accomplished enough to be diverting. But the viewers’ mind conjures up far more intriguing directions for this to go in from the moment an aspiring starlet (actress and producer Nicole Alexandra Shipley) says “I know someone looking for director.” There are much more sinister things one could be with Moseby, Faustian things.
Instead, they go for the most pedestrian motivation of all. And while there’s a modicum of suspense as Jack tries to reason/wriggle his way out of this upcoming “kill shot,” “Greenlight” blows the ending. Completely.
It’s a horror tale a little too good to be a “film festival only” movie, a little too promising to appreciate on its own pedestrian terms.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Chase Williamson, Evanne Friedman, Chris Browning, Shane Coffey, Nicole Alexandra Shipley and Caroline Williams
Credits: Directed by Graham Denham, script by Patrick R. Young. An Entertainment Squad release.
Running time: 1:24