The frat pack at LivePlanet aims to make reality TV interactive

By Josh Young
Updated August 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Damon, Moore, Bailey and Affleck: Michael O'Neill/Corbis Outline

After saving the planet as a World War II pilot in ”Pearl Harbor” (a feat he’ll repeat as a CIA operative in the upcoming ”The Sum of All Fears”), Ben Affleck is easing into another role: multimedia exec. Tucked away in his sparse Santa Monica office at LivePlanet, the integrated media company he and bud Matt Damon cofounded last year, Affleck has been coping with a platoon of lawyers, debating the potential legal quicksand created by the company’s envelope-pushing slate of reality programs. ”It’s a wonder anybody f—in’ does anything, with how litigious society has become,” sighs Affleck. ”The amount of lawyers that we’ve generated work for is astonishing. That’s not the sector of the economy I want to be contributing to.”

No, Affleck’s goal is considerably more ambitious than padding the pockets of lawyers. The actor, who turns 29 on Aug. 15, wants to connect the Internet to the real world via TV and movies — and, incidentally, make LivePlanet a one-stop destination for interactive entertainment. So far, so good. At least two projects are already off the ground. In January, ABC will launch ”The Runner,” the company’s attempt to reinvent reality TV. The premise: A ”runner” competes for a $1 million-plus prize by completing a series of ”missions” across the country, while three ”agents” try to ”capture” him.

The LivePlanet-designed twist? Not only can potential contestants apply to be runners or agents online, but viewers can win a share of the pot by digging up and sharing clues about the runner’s whereabouts on the Web.

LivePlanet is also going full throttle on Project Greenlight, a kind of Head Start program for young auteurs. The project began with an online screenplay contest that drew 7,291 submissions. The winning script, Peter Jones’ drama ”Stolen Summer,” was then shot last spring on a $1 million budget with a cast that included Aidan Quinn, Bonnie Hunt, and Brian Dennehy. Now in postproduction, the film has a distribution commitment from Miramax, and the entire making-of process is being chronicled for a 13-episode HBO documentary and a book for Talk Miramax Books. ”There are a lot of symbiotic relationships, which is why having LivePlanet involved was a good thing,” says Miramax TV president Billy Campbell, who worked on the idea from its inception.

The company’s emphasis on interactivity and a multimedia approach sets it apart. ”LivePlanet does media events, shows, and films that were impossible before the advent of the Internet,” explains ”Runner” creator Sean Bailey, a LivePlanet cofounder. ”’Runner’ couldn’t have been done in 1990 because you couldn’t have connected to the American public.”

While day-to-day business at the 63-employee LivePlanet is guided by Bailey, 31, the chief creative officer, and CEO Chris Moore, 34, the Good Will Hunters have not simply licensed out their names. Affleck recently holed up with Bailey to create a TV series and online treasure-hunt game called ”Push, Nevada,” which is in development at ABC for 2002. Damon, 30, has less direct involvement in the company’s operations, though he and Affleck personally pitched ”The Runner” to ABC. But in the end, it’s Moore and Bailey who are largely responsible for making their famous friends look like visionaries…or fools.

Why would the Oscar winners gamble their reputations and cash on a bootstrap operation? Like all other projects involving Damon and Affleck, who grew up together in Cambridge, Mass., LivePlanet starts with friendship. Damon and Moore both attended Harvard but only hooked up after landing in Hollywood, where Moore, a former ICM agent, met screenwriter Bailey. Affleck joined the quartet when Damon recommended him for a role in ”Glory Daze,” a 1996 indie movie Moore was producing. One night over a game of pool and a few beers, the foursome promised that if they ever made it they would get a connecting suite of offices with a basketball hoop. (Today their work space not only boasts a hoop but a pool table, a kitchen, and a two-way Internet video hookup to LivePlanet’s second office, in Silicon Valley’s San Mateo, Calif.)

Their early bull sessions focused on the tiredness of traditional media on the Web. ”What we would come back to was, ‘Would you ever go watch a short film on the Web?”’ says Bailey. ”Even if a theater showed the 10 best short films in history around the corner from my house, I wouldn’t go.”