A frat pack headed by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon aims to make reality TV interactive -- and lucrative.

By Josh Young
Updated August 03, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

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 co-founded founded 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.