The longtime pals launch a filmmaker search contest on the Web

By Liane Bonin
Updated September 28, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Affleck and Damon: Yukio Gion/AP

Three years after ”Good Will Hunting” made them household names, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck say they are out to change the way Hollywood does business. To this end, they’re using a website, a movie deal contest, and a little (okay, a lot of) chutzpah. ”We’re excited about taking the moviemaking process out of the hands of the five guys in suits in Burbank who have been the adjudicators of who does or does not get to make a movie for the last 80 years,” says Affleck, 28. ”We’re letting anyone who wants to decide.”

The cheeky, Massachusetts raised duo are giving power to the people on their just launched website, Project Greenlight. Damon and Affleck see their screenplay contest as a way to not only improve their karma but bring the studio system into the 21st century. (One lucky winner will receive a $1 million budget to direct a first feature for Miramax, the making of which will be the focus of an HBO reality series, ”Greenlight,” next year. Only writers who haven’t yet sold a script are eligible to enter.)

Because Greenlight features a ”do it yourself” voting procedure — each person who submits a script to the competition must download, read, and then vote on three other entries — the contest is both low budget and low maintenance. (From the top 250 vote getters, Affleck, Damon, and the rest of the ”Greenlight” staff will pick the winner. Entries must be received by Oct. 22.) The pair hope that their enterprise will inspire studio heads to launch their own Web efforts to find fresh talent. ”The brilliant thing is this is a self governing body,” says Affleck, who boasts that the site will succeed where other Hollywood driven sites like Steven Spielberg’s have failed. ”While we didn’t invent the Web,” Affleck says, ”we use it, and we’ve been disappointed with the way people have failed to capture the potential that’s there.” Damon adds that the site’s next goal is to create an online community for aspiring filmmakers.

Though the A list buddies hope to give the studio system an overhaul, that doesn’t mean they’re biting the hand that feeds them. ”I’m not even super into bashing Hollywood,” says Affleck. ”Interesting movies do get made. But as studios become bigger, multinational conglomerates, it becomes about filling up the slate, and it becomes an assembly line.” Damon notes that ”Good Will Hunting” wouldn’t have been made if Affleck hadn’t slipped the script to ”Dogma” director Kevin Smith, who took it directly to Miramax chairman Harvey Weinstein. ”Miramax had already passed on it,” he says. ”This contest is something we would have loved to have access to when we were trying to sell our script.”

But the eventual winner, who’ll be announced March 1, shouldn’t expect to get rich. ”First time directors never make any money,” says Affleck. ”They make union scale [negotiable on projects budgeted under $1.2 million]. You take those hits on your first movie.” The filmmaker winner also runs the risk of very public humiliation. Any tears, hysteria, or screwups will likely end up in the HBO series. ”I don’t think there’s a risk of absolute meltdown,” says Affleck. ”But making a movie isn’t easy whether you’re a neophyte or Sidney Lumet.”

And what if the ”Project Greenlight” director squanders his million dollar budget before he completes the film? ”We look forward to the day the director tries to get more money from Harvey Weinstein,” Affleck jokes. ”But Harvey is such a press whore he’s going to sink his own ship by promising things while the camera is rolling. ‘Oh yeah, another million dollars! We support filmmakers!’ And then we’ll cut to the director on the phone going, ‘What do you mean? You told me we were getting another million!”’