Chris Cross

Behind the Greenlight is a producer proud to be an ass

"Are we gonna play chicken here, Robert? Who's gonna go first?"

That's Chris Moore talking, from the other end of a cell phone--the preferred means of communication for the Hollywood producer too afraid of standing still. Moore--a producer of Good Will Huntingand the American Piefilms, partner with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in the LivePlanet production company and, these days, a man best known for playing himself "as an ass" on HBO's Project Greenlightseries--has misunderstood a question I've asked him. He thinks I've just called him a failure, in so many words. He doesn't want to answer the question posed to him over the speakerphone in his ride. And it was such a benign question to begin with.

Simply, it was this: What is Moore's assessment of the success of LivePlanet almost two years since its official inception in June 2000? It's a fair enough question, and it's asked with all due courtesy and consideration. Upon its formation, LivePlanet--which "creates integrated media, a new kind of entertainment experience that combines traditional media, new media and the physical world," according to the company's Web site--was heralded as the dazzling debut of four would-be visionaries, two of whom happened to be Oscar-winning writers and actors.

The affable bastard: Chris Moore, a producer of Good Will Hunting and, ahem, one of the stars of HBO's Project Greenlight
The affable bastard: Chris Moore, a producer of Good Will Hunting and, ahem, one of the stars of HBO's Project Greenlight

In September 2000, the 34-year-old Moore, Affleck, Damon and Sean Bailey appeared on the cover of Fortune, beneath a headline offering them up as "the future of the Internet"; inside was a story that insisted "there's good reason to believe that this company is more than just a vanity project for young men of a generation that considers startups cool." Last year, both The New York Timesand Entertainment Weeklychimed in with their own huzzahs--even though, to that point, LivePlanet was still more concept than company. They were going to create all kinds of motivated programming, including a series for HBO--Project Greenlight, which would document on camera a first-time filmmaker's 2-million-buck outing on Miramax's dime--and another reality show for ABC called The Runner, heralded by the Timesas "Hollywood's most ambitious attempt yet to integrate the Internet into mainstream programming."

Thus far, LivePlanet has only the engrossing, well-viewed Project Greenlightto show for its efforts. The Runner, intended to present a nationwide manhunt for a player armed with only a credit card and a car and a cell phone, was set to debut last fall but now lingers in the blocks, still awaiting the starter's pistol.

"I am sure if you read those articles, you have a point of view," he says, "but I hear your point. But let me ask you: Weren't we also going to talk about the Joy RideDVD." (Christ, that's right. I almost forgot. This interview was arranged so we could talk about the John Dahl action-thriller-comedy that Moore produced last year, which comes out on DVD next week with four alternate endings. Dude, we might get to it later.)

"OK." He laughs. "Well, I think we've actually done a really good job. I think those articles, particularly being on the cover of Fortune, were premature. My partners tease me, because I have a phrase saying, 'The most success you have is when you sneak up on somebody.' My success in my career, whether it's American Pieor Good Will Huntingor Project Greenlight, were all projects that were on the edge--so much so the companies involved with them weren't even sure they were gonna be successful, and then they turned out to be successful because they were actually really good and interesting and people got a chance to discover them. What I would say is if you're holding us to this sort of 'These are the new geniuses' articles that came out in The New York Timesand Fortune, we're not smarter than anybody else, but we're still out here. There are a lot of companies we were compared to that don't exist anymore, and we have real results."

Yes, LivePlanet has real results: The 12-part Project Greenlight, which debuted in December, provided the best kind of cheap, voyeuristic thrills ever proffered by so-called reality television. It began as a contest in which 7,000 aspiring filmmakers submitted their screenplays for consideration and ended up with a single would-be auteur, former Chicago insurance salesman Pete Jones, getting $2 million from Miramax to make his movie, Stolen Summer, about a Catholic boy who tries to convert a rabbi's dying young son so he can get into heaven. The film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival to decent reviews--decent, perhaps, because the series portrayed Jones and the film's producers, including Moore and people he hired, as bumbling, backstabbing bastards and promised little more than a mess made by doomed dilettantes.

The intentions behind Project Greenlightwere indeed noble, if one believes the proselytizing Moore. It was to provide entertainment for casual viewers and education for would-be filmmakers; it was to prove that anybody could make a movie. Nobody escaped Greenlight's glare: Moore, barking orders and firing underlings, came off as an "ass," to use his own word; Jones, hiding behind apple cheeks and aw-shucks mannerisms, turned out to be a master of manipulation; stars Aidan Quinn and Kevin Pollak and Bonnie Hunt were cast in varying shades of petulant; and the movie's producers came off as incompetent, in-over-their-heads boobs.

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