A sneak peek at ''Greenlight,'' HBO's new moviemaking contest

By Liane Bonin
Updated August 21, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Armando Gallo/Retna Ltd. USA

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were struggling nobodies before their Oscar winning script for 1997’s ”Good Will Hunting” propelled them to top dog status in Hollywood. Now they want to share their good fortune with another fledgling screenwriter. The producing pair’s next project is ”Greenlight,” a TV show/ movie deal/ Internet screenplay contest which will give one cinematic Cinderella a lucky break.

This fall, budding auteurs will be able to submit feature length scripts electronically to Project Greenlight. A finalist — selected by Affleck, Damon, and the rest of the ”Greenlight” producing team — will get to direct his or her winning screenplay with a budget of $1 million. The finished product will be distributed theatrically by Miramax. But there’s a catch: To make the cut, the writer/ director will need to be comfortable in front of the camera as well as behind it — ”Greenlight” is also the name of HBO’s new 13 episode reality TV series (tentatively set to air in the winter of 2001) which will follow the director’s every move, both brilliant and boneheaded.

”We want to show that movie making is not just about glitz and glamour,” says series coproducer Kent Kubena, who is also the vice president of Pearlstreet Productions, Affleck and Damon’s production company. ”We’re peeling back the cover a little bit, showing the back of the Hollywood sign.” Additional behind the scenes footage will be aired on the ”Greenlight” website, where viewers will also be able to vent their opinions about the off screen drama.

If the production runs amok, the winner won’t be able to rely on the project’s celebrity sponsors for help. Though Kubena says Affleck and Damon are involved in every aspect of the project as executive producers, they’re taking a hands off approach to the actual making of the film. ”We’re letting the filmmaker loose to do their thing, so they won’t always be able to call up Matt and Ben and ask them to pull them out of a bind,” says Kubena. ”We want to make a good movie, but some of the drama is in whether the winner will be able to pull it off on their own or not.”

Kubena has a few helpful tips for contestants who think they might have what it takes to make the final cut. ”Ideally, we’d like to find a first time writer director, but essentially it’s going to come down to a good script,” he says. ”And they might have a better chance if it’s something more apt to be produced on a low budget.” What if the winner isn’t quite as colorful as the castmates of ”Survivor”? ”We don’t want it to be a personality contest, because someone you may find boring someone else may find riveting,” says Kubena. Well, that would definitely explain why ”Big Brother” is still on the air.