We’ve been following the story of “The Chair” for a while now, but to quickly recap: The STARZ original series is a documentary, from Project Greenlight co-creator/American Pie producer Chris Moore, that follows two young filmmakers, YouTube star Shane Dawson and Period Films co-writer Anna Martemucci, chosen to direct two separate movies based on the same original screenplay. The first five episodes were made available all at once on STARZ and we’ve watched them all!
Before we dive into our thoughts on the series so far, let’s take a look at a clip that we think exemplifies the core question the show intends to ask, namely: How do two different directors interpret the same material? (NSFW!!!!)
As you can see from the scene above both directors took drastically different approaches to the look and tone of their final films, as well as the overall script. In fact the changes to the script and subsequent fallout are a prevalent topic in the series’ first few hours, particularly how the original writer reacts to the changes made to his material.
The two filmmakers were chosen by the Moore himself, who then partnered with Producer Josh Shader (who provided the show with the writer and original screenplay) plus the producing team behind recent indie hit Margin Call; Neal Dodson, Corey Moosa and Zachary Quinto. It’s established fairly quickly that Quinto (and his team) have been brought in to act as mentors to the contestants using their collective producing experience dealing with other first time filmmakers. It is also made clear that Quinto and Co. have a preexisting relationship with Martemucci, having produced Breakup At A Wedding, a film she co-wrote with her husband Victor Quinaz (who also directed). Anna, while honored for the shot at directing her own feature, sees herself as a writer first and proceeds to immediately rewrite all of the scripts’ dialogue.
Enter the original writer: Dan Schoffer. Schoffer immediately comes off as a likable, talented guy stuck is a terrible situation. It’s hard enough for most writers to watch their baby transformed as it is passed through producer, director and studio hands, but watching it happen twice looks to be utterly excruciating. For the most part, Dan keeps his cool; offering to work with both directors to adapt each version of the script to their own personal tastes. Shane seems keen to have the help (although ultimately he knows exactly what he wants and isn’t looking for too much collaboration), where Anna’s relationship with Schoffer quickly begins to deteriorate from the first minute of their first meeting.
As the show progresses into hours three, four and five we’re taken along with both filmmakers, and their growing crews, to in Pittsburgh, PA where both films will be shot simultaneously. There is a constant juxtaposition to how each director handles nearly identical tasks. Anna spends a lot of time focused on who she will hire as Cinematographer. Shane spends less time. Shane casts himself in the lead role of his film, and then later casts himself in a smaller female role after becoming frustrated with the casting options he’s been given. Anna knows who she wants for most of the cast and has almost no problems finding actors from the surrounding area to fill out the rest.
The show is worth watching if you’re a fan of the human drama reality television promised, but usually relies on shock and fake “real” moments to deliver, because nothing here feels staged or “acted”. The series is especially worth viewing if you think you might have a passion for filmmaking, as Chris Moore’s team holds nothing back from the audience, often in the room to capture moments most directors would never want exposed to their possible viewing public. Making a movie is unbelievably stressful and that make for truly fascinating reality television.
We hope the show get a second season, because we would love to watch many other first-timers power through this process, but we hope Moore and the producers are a bit more firm about rewrites to the original screenplay next time, giving the audience a chance to truly see how a director’s influence alone (working from identical scripts) can shape and change a film.
At the end of the series two films will have emerged: Martemucci’s Hollidaysburg, and Dawson’s Not Cool. As you will see in the trailers below they are almost entirely different films; sharing character names, locations and key plot points only. A winner will be picked (and awarded $250,000) via a multiplatform survey system (much like ones you take in a traditional test screening), but in many ways both filmmakers already won, as they have gotten a shot most people can only dream about. The opportunity to build a career is there for either director, regardless of who wins the prize money. That said, they also have no one to blame but themselves should their films not connect with their desired audience causing their careers to both begin and end in the same place.
A lot of pressure for even a seasoned director to handle, will these two first-timer’s be able to pull it off?
Have you caught the first five? Do you prefer one trailer over the other? Should the show get another season would YOU be brave enough to take a shot in THE CHAIR?! Answer our questions in the comments below!