This week I’ve decided to revisit a DVD review and do something more. Upon reflection I never did a proper breakdown of the extras, as it would’ve been significantly longer and I thought it’d make for a fun column instead. Plus nothing of note is happening in film, and there’s nothing significant coming out this week, thus I figured I’d double back and talk about something that interested me more than Liam Neeson and the kid from Robocop.
So I reviewed The Chair, a fascinating experiment in film-making, as it chronicled the making of two films based off a single script. An indie director and a YouTube star were given the same base script to make the film they wanted to with a handful of conditions. With the same character names, same location (Pittsburg) and final cut, Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci had the entire process covered for a documentary television show called The Chair for Starz.
Competing for a significant amount of money based on a number of metrics, we follow the duo as they go through the entire production process and make a pair of films that diverge from Dan Schoffer’s original “How Soon Is Now.” Dawson and Martemucci rewrote it for their own films, based on what a direction they wanted to go in, and thus for the first time since The Exorcist prequel gave us two films based on one script.
It’s hard to really call it one script, considering both films were admittedly changed radically by both directors into something completely different than the original, thus for this purpose I’m calling them both writer/directors. That’s the more honest way to describe it. Schoffer may have written one film but both directors rewrote their version of it that his receiving of singular writing credit on both films feels wrong on a creative level. It’s WGA rules, of course, but my thoughts have been that his film didn’t get made. Something different from his original idea was made. That he got sole writing credit feels off. There’s no other way to describe it.
Simple premise for both films: Scott (Shawn Dawson in Not Cool, Tobin Mitnick in Hollidaysburg) was a popular guy in high school coming back to his home in Pittsburgh, PA, for Thanksgiving. He was super popular back in high school and now is having a rough go of college. Dumped by his high school sweetheart Heather (Jorie Kosel, Claire Chapelli), he has a meet cute with Tori (Rachel Keller, Cherami Leigh) as he and his friends from high school learn about what changes (and what doesn’t) when you move on from your glory days in high school.
Dawson’s film was voted by the people via a number of social media platforms, winning the competition, but it was pretty controversial in that the producers seemed to disown the film after it was completed but no one ever told Dawson until the final cut was released. It’s amusing to see everyone sign off on his film during the process, and give him nothing but good compliments and feedback, and then completely crap all over the film once it’s completed. I can see why he was pissed at the end; seeing the producers ticked at the end when they were all gung ho during the process (and knew what he was doing) and yet he wound up being the one sneered at for the more “appropriate” film.
Dawson chose to go towards a younger audience, the same one that follows him on YouTube, and go for a teen sex comedy in the vein of Superbad. It’s interesting that this is the only film he references but also shows you the difference in generations. That was his first choice to films to emulate, the one he names specifically, and it’s an interesting choice. His audience skews towards this age, as well, so it’s not that shocking that he’d go this route. It’s a pretty gutsy choice because the genre is insanely hit or miss. A great teen sex comedy is rare; the world is littered with more bad to awful sex comedies than nearly any other genre.
It also makes me feel old because kids of a certain generation view that was their great sexy comedy to watch as a teenager. I was in my mid to late 20s when that came out, thus it’s one of those films that means certain things to certain generations. I imagine that my feelings about a film like Porky’s or Revenge of the Nerds would be the same as there’s would be towards a film like Clueless: something for another generation I can enjoy but wasn’t aimed at me. Porky’s was aimed towards my sister’s generation and was an older film when I watched it at the appropriate age. So I can see why he’d aim towards that; it’s one of those moments when you realize that life has a way of moving forward without telling you.
Now comes the film that the producers thought was better but didn’t manage to win the competition: Hollidaysburg.
Martemucci opted to stay in the world where she’s made her name (the indies) and make a dramedy about how you can’t go home again. Hers was less inspired in a lot of ways; there are lots of films in every level of quality from amazing to craptastic in this world. To make a great coming of age film, particularly an indie one, is still difficult but the odds are much more slanted in her favor.
I can appreciate what she was trying to do because making any sort of film is difficult. The indie world, of which I have friends and family involved in, is a difficult one because you rely on people loving film much more than money. Thus I can see where she’s coming from; you want to make a film where people are going to want to come to work for you because it’s something you can use on an acting reel. Its experience and reps, thus she made a film that was about her establishing a lot of bonafides so that she can get the next gig as opposed to something brilliant.
It’s the big difference between her film and Dawson’s, I think. She was aspiring to make something good but something that was an introduction to what she could do in the future. This is a film that isn’t aspiring to greatness or has any particular film in mind to be as good as. She brought her whole team, like Shane, but she wasn’t using it for her brand like Dawson did. If she had she’d have put herself in a much bigger role in the film, as opposed to a very minor supporting role that she took for herself. This was about her pushing herself as a writer/director, which is a very interesting thing to do.
It was the difference in her set and Shane’s, I think. She was in charge and had as much on her plate as she thought she could handle. Shane was front and center as the star as well as the writer/director of the film. This felt more like his personal statement via the film much more than Anna’s was in that regard.
Hers was an audition, his was a statement.
It’s the one noticeable difference I saw the first time I saw both films, as well as I noticed throughout the show. Dawson seemed to view this as his one shot at making a film and being able to leave being primarily a YouTube star behind for a career behind the camera as a creative type. I can see why; I bet he doesn’t imagine himself being 40 and still doing wacky YouTube skits for teenagers. That would be fairly sad in a lot of ways and I think he knows his expiration date for being relevant in that regard is ending soon.
Martemucci, on the other hand, is a working professional trying to add work experience and move from the starving artist phase of her career. This is what she’s always wanted and thus this isn’t about her brand or her being a star. It’s the difference between working in the industry and being a self employed entertainment professional on a burgeoning media platform. This is something she’s already familiar with and can see the end game in sight for what she wants to do.
It’s the one thing I noticed while watching the show and it comes out profoundly while watching both films. Not Cool is a big leap at something that falls spectacularly short. Hollidaysburg is a repeatable, serviceable film that is made fairly regularly.
Not Cool isn’t a brilliant film … and it certainly wasn’t the better film than Hollidaysburg. Not Cool had moments of brilliance but needed a better editor, for starters, and could’ve used a more professional polish on its final script as Dawson’s brand of comedy doesn’t quite translate from YouTube to screen effectively. But I have to give him the nod because he went for more than just making what we see multiple times a year. Dawson went for legendary greatness, for a film that would be to the next generation a defining, iconic look at their particular experience in those in between years from childhood to adulthood. He wanted a film that could connect in that way that generations look at The Breakfast Club, which is admirable.
Dawson was going for a grand slam when a solidly hit double would’ve been spectacular for where he started. He wound up grounding out to first, weakly, but he was going for broke. He may have not been ready to craft on film the sort of film he had in his head, of course, but I like to think of this in the same manner as The Man with the Iron Fists. The sort of big, sprawling kung-fu film that RZA wanted to make in his head seemingly wasn’t the one that came out BUT you can see what he wanted to do.
Dawson’s film feels the same; we can see what he wanted to do but the film that wound up coming out isn’t it. Give him a couple of films to work on his story-telling manner and revisiting the material, with a more professional cast, could wind up with the sort of film he wanted to make.
That’s my problem with the Martemucci film, which I enjoyed more than Not Cool as a film. It wasn’t all that brilliant but it was good … but I’ve seen this type of indie before. It’s the sort of film that comes out every month DTV, straight to Netflix, gets a grass roots e-mail campaign that winds up in my spam filter or winds up in the Wal-Mart el cheapo bin shortly thereafter. We’ve seen this film before and it’s the one you’re supposed to like, supposed to hashtag something like “support independent film” and the like.
This isn’t going to be the sort of film we revisit if/when Martemucci winds up becoming an A-list director. It’ll be a film you try and track down through Netflix as a curiosity. And that’s why Not Cool deserved to win The Chair despite the objections of the producers; Dawson crafted a film that tried to be great and failed. Martemucci tried to create just another indie film and succeeded.
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.