I am three episodes (watching the fourth, the fifth is on the net) into ‘The Chair,’ a new reality show on Starz. It’s about time to ponder it. The premise is that two directors – Shane Dawson, a YouTube Star, and Anna Martemucci, an NYC writer/actress are making versions of the same movie in Pittsburgh, PA. Their productions are taped, intercut with Zachary Quinto, Chris Moore and other established film makers who are financing and facilitating the whole competition.
The audience gets a view of film production most haven’t. Whoevers film wins gets to make a film of their own.
Now, I have to two filters to viewing this show that others may not. The first is that I’ve acted and worked in production for Film & TV in New York. I don’t know it all, but I’ve lived, and survived, life on sets and production offices. Also, I went to school in Cleveland. A number of Pittsburgh folk tended to look down on Cleveland. Thought that the Iron City was better than even New York.
I have minor issues with the Pitt, you might say.
Now, I believe the show was also intended by Quinto to play up the wonders of Pittsburgh as a Mecca for independent film. In that.. Heh, heh, heh, no. While a gorgeous place, we are reminded it’s homogenous, with a relatively shallow acting pool ( despite having one of the top conservatories in the country. Why wasn’t Carnegie Mellon reached out to for talent?) and a sense of propriety that almost kills the productions. Casting and location agents seem to be badmouthing the scripts ‘edgy’ content to point that local talent are saying no to SAG (union) jobs.
Actors saying no to paying, union gigs? Casting agents working against their client? The fuck? I said no to a couple of no-money gigs based on the audition experience, but no. Short of appearing in the “Atlas Shrugged – Part 4 – Shrug Harder,” you just don’t. Not to paying jobs. Not to union gigs. That’s just suicidal. And for the directors, agencies you are paying to work for you undermine you?
Screw that, guys. Do the next season in Chicago, if not NYC. Where Indie Film LIVES!!!!
Now, for the directors.
It’s important to remember these are two photogenic filmmakers and performers. Shane looks like the offspring of Rivers Como and Tegan and/or Sara. Anna can ratchet up from cute to ‘damn, gal!’ as the situation demands. Both are framing up or voicing conflict with production- whether they need to or not. Both are very aware of how to frame their stories, or should be. They are both up to breaking the fourth wall to kvetch about the producers, or ‘forgetting’ a mike is live.
Part of what keeps me from picking a side is that both directors, having worked in film for years, seem to lack a certain professionalism I’ve seen eve in college shoots. Shane is prone to tantrums, which he is shown to be working out or solving afterwards. Anna is constantly telling people she is less than capable or needs help, and relies too much on her husband/brother-in-law team, as opposed to the crew she’s hired.
I’ve thought a lot about this last bit a lot. It’s not uncommon in film for a director to have a strong, hard -wired team with them. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh are a great example. Whatever viewer quibbles I have with Anna, I think some note of how she is not unusual in working this way might have added some balance. Nor is it particularly unusual for first time directors to play a role in their first films.
Let me get on my high chair.
You are fucking directors. You are leaders of artists, and have hundreds of thousands of someone else’s money invested in you. Vent effectively, deal with problems so the camera has something to see, but DEAL WITH IT.
Now, my main concerns aside, both have strong points, and are certainly the driven artistic types many of us couldn’t quite manage to be. Anna is deep into the script, and I think when she has her cast and crew set, will get a more coherent story out. Shane, who triggers me less, I think is hampered by the gross out humor. I’m worried he’ll lose the whole film for the same of a far out joke he wants to get. As much as his production has fewer internal problems, he had to deal with the small town mindset.
The show can be frustrating, especially when the directors don’t live up to the level of professionalism. But I really look forward to them pulling their productions together, and giving us a tough choice. And I need to finish some of the scripts I’ve been threatening to finish for the last several decades.