DVD: Chair, The (2014)

March 13, 2015 | By

 

Chair_S1_2014Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Anchor Bay / Starz

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  February 17, 2015

Genre:  Reality TV / Documentary

Synopsis: 10 episode documentary series covering the making of two indie films based on one script.

Special Features:  Includes bonus feature films Hollidaysburg and Not Cool.

 


 

Review:

Dubbed an “original filmmaking experiment,” Chris Moore’s 10-episode series follows a similar format of Project Greenlight (2001), the making-of-a-film series which he executive produced through its initial three-year run, except the focus in this variation is on the making of two films based on the same script, as envisioned by separate first-time directors with very different sensibilities: Shane Dawson, a prolific YouTube filmmaker whose broadly comedy shorts are devoured by (what’s now reached) 6.4 million followers; and Anna Martemucci, writer / star of Breakup at a Wedding (2013), a film directed by her husband who’s coincidentally best friends with Neal Dodson, one of The Chair’s producers. (That tidbit is brought out in the open early into the first episode, and however one regards Martemucci’s selection, she’s the perfect contrast to Dawson more commercial sensibilities.)

The singular screenplay each filmmaker must use is a youth dramady by first-timer Dan Schoffer, but as the first episode details, Schoffer’s big shock is realizing the show script that got him representation and a final green light with The Chair will undergo heavy transformations during the rewriting process.

Martemucci and her writing partners apply a complete overhaul, changing and eliminating characters, adding different ‘beats’ and upgrading the dialogue into a more measured indie drama, whereas Dawson’s changes include the addition of major gross-out humour, ramping up the raunch factor, and making sure the final script comes close to what his fan base would appreciate.

Dawson’s business savvy is tied by a firm umbilical cord to his longtime producer Lauren Schnipper, whereas Martemucci’s support team comes from her writing partners, husband Victor Quinaz and brother-in-law Philip Quinaz, but as the show’s multiple producers realize, each director has his / her own unconventional approach to directing and maintaining quality control over their own material. Schnipper handles a bit of dramaturgy and co-directing, whereas Martemucci relies on consults from the Quinaz brothers, but each team of Chair producers realizes the system used by each director actually works – it’s just a matter of adapting things and knowing when to step in to avoid wayward decisions, prolonged states of indecision, and potential cost overruns.

23 humans are credited in various degrees as series / film producers, but in addition to Moore, the main faces shown on camera are Corey Moosa, Neal Dodson, Josh Shader, Julie Buck, Josh Hetzler, and Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek), and while the central focus is ostensibly on first-timers Dawson and Martemucci making their respective versions of Schoffer’s heavily revised script, what really stands out are the supportive roles of the producers.

The first-time directors may be the stars of the series, but the real interest lies in watching the various types of producers and assistant directors problem solve, troubleshoot, and keep each production moving to ensure they wrap on time, on budget, and the final edits gel into fully functional movies after the directors have exercised their right to final cut.

The Chair docu-series is only self-serving in the sense that it’s an adjunct to the films, and will provide additional publicity for each $600,000 movie, but it’s also a primer on What a Producer Does: navigating through an assortment of rough waters and remaining cool, being decisive, politely stubborn, and creating an environment to ensure directors can focus on the filmmaking.

The fine art of diplomacy is also a recurring theme, with no production phase free from any careful intervention. Dawson’s initial first edit required some tweaking from a veteran cutter, whereas Martemucci’s main hurdles involve obsessing over small details during filming while the day’s clock keeps ticking.

The show’s lone controversy lies in Quinto and his producing partner removing their names from Dawson’s film because every frame offends their sensibilities; what’s odd is that they approved a script which reportedly contained all the offensive material.

Within its 10-episode arc, The Chair covers a lot of ground, and it’s only the excessive philosophizing in the first and final episodes that feel like running time filler. There’s a lot of repeated statements on being independent, artistic visions, the indie spirit, blah-blah-blah that could’ve been trimmed, and the so-called winner announcement is rather anti-climatic since neither film performed well.

SPOILER ALERT

 

Based on audience responses, Dawson was awarded a $250,000 prize, although as the finale states, his film fared better because of his fan base, whereas after two screenings at which Martemucci was present, her film played to crickets. Moore concedes the entire concept was a gamble, but it certainly wasn’t a failure nor an act of folly. The Chair deserves its ‘experiment’ branding, and it’ll be interesting to see what genetic changes are applied should the series return for second round.

 

END OF SPOILER

Writer Schoffer admits that little beyond the basic framework of his script remained in Martemucci’s film, Hollidaysburg, while Dawson stayed closer to the original structure and characters in his Not Cool, so while there will never be a film faithful to Schoffer’s original script, the end results by The Chair’s directors are fascinating.

Hollidaysburg_poster_sIn Martemucci’s variant, Tori (Rachel Keller) returns home to a Thanksgiving family dinner with her parents and two sisters in Pittsburgh, after which she’ll head back at university and hopefully survive the rest of her sophomore year. On her first night back home, she literally collides with Scott (Tobin Mitnick), the high school jock beloved and adored by many – except recent ex-girlfriend Heather (Claire Chapelli). Scott soon courts Tori, while his ex starts a friendship with his best friend / local pot dealer Petroff (Tristan Erwin).

Dawson’s version similarly begins with Scott (Dawson)) and Tori (Cherami Leigh) returning home to their respective families, colliding into each other and starting a romance, except Scott’s sister Janie (Michelle Veintimilla) is courted by the school’s oddball Joel (Drew Monson) – two characters reworked as Heather and Petroff in Martemucci’s overhaul. Scott still has an ex named Heather, but she’s less prominent in Dawson’s film, appearing at intervals in garish sexual encounters.

NotCool_poster_sIn Dawson’s Not Cool, Scott has a sister, a father who runs a record shop, and a mother dead from cancer, while Tori’s family consist of a blind sister (Lisa Schwartz) and two parents; in Hollidaysburg, Scott has an older brother (Philip Quinaz) with both parents recently moved in Florida, and Tori has two sisters (one, suffering from laryngitis, is played by Martemucci) and both parents.

Both directors present parents as having less maturity then their kids (or family pets, for that matter), but whereas Martemucci accents Tori and Scott’s  sense of displacement in being reunited with a world they’d left for university, Dawson focuses on characters struggling with aspects of being cool, wanting to be cool, not caring about being cool, and struggling with social awkwardness – teen concerns aimed towards his largely teen YouTube audience.

Dawson also avoids adult subjects because they’re irrelevant to the surreal world he’s established: when Tori brings up the death of Scott’s mother, it’s quickly shoved under the rug so the scene can close with another broad, physical moment. Martemucci’s script has characters a bit more seasoned and grounded in reality, but there are flaws in both films, some of which turn up in The Chair episode dealing with test screenings and focus groups.

Martemucci’s two lead actresses look alike – something raised during the early casting calls – which mandated some split screen shots to quickly distinguish Tori and Heather, whereas Dawson’s film is packed with too many gags designed for later pay-offs, of which most were apparently retained. (The DVD’s deleted scenes gallery is mostly full of trims and extensions than wholly new material.)

As relatively decent as the fairly fresh-faced casts may be, neither film emerges as a solid work. The rewriting on Martemucci’s Hollidaysburg likely diluted the film’s coherence, because the opening / closing narration feels tacked on, and there are characters who drop out of sight, as though material was written but never shot, or never written, causing gaping holes in the rather abrupt denouement. Martemucci isn’t as visual and kinetic as Dawson, and Hollidaysburg arguable could’ve benefitted from more footage of locations, especially the derelict factory that features strongly in the locations scouting episode of The Chair, but is reduced to a few rather banal shots.

Dawson’s film is very much the product of a filmmaker accustomed to short-form narratives where dialogue functions like sound-bites and punchlines instead of actual conversation, and most of the time no one’s saying anything especially sincere, or it’s clouded in argot that might make more sense to his target audience; the dialogue isn’t incoherent, but if stripped of the constant sexual references, there’s nothing substantive.

He does have a great sense of pacing for his brand of comedy (and stronger use of music, both score and source), but it’s the barrage of grotesque material which make Not Cool an agonizing experience. It’ll be interesting to see whether 20 years from now Dawson’s film will be regarded as an accurate representation of the period’s youth humour and relished with nostalgia as a kind of pungent fromage, or written off as an example of a high concept that fails completely in a feature-length format, with gross gags appreciated by a minimal group of connoisseurs.

Dawson was blasted by some critics for being racist, but that’s an idiotic, knee-jerk reaction, because the verbal assaults and rude character behaviour extend to all races, creeds, colours, shapes, and bodily movements. The jokes are as tasteless as South Park, but because they’re presented in live-action, you do see a hobo engorging himself in a cup filled with his own shit; a man pressing his penis against a gondola’s window to a passing vehicle; an explosive outburst of vomit; Scott being raped by psycho-sex kitten Heather; and Dawson’s own two cameos as a foul-mouthed bus driver and an oversexed teen. It’s supposedly designed for his target audience, which to Moore may have seemed like great insurance in case Martemucci’s more restrained approach failed to generate buzz / profits on the indie circuit, but qualitatively Hollidaysburg is the more satisfying work; it would have benefited from more humour and better music, but it’s easy to understand why Quinto reacted so strongly to Not Cool, given the biggest shock – the shit-eating sequence – comes early into the first act, and the pre-credit sequence involves a vomitous outburst.

Although Not Cool is available separately on DVD, both Dawson and Martemucci’s films are included with The Chair episodes in a really economically priced set (about $20). At 10 episodes (each averaging 54 mins.), it’s an easy series to absorb in a few sittings, and if Moore manages to shepherd a Season 2 into fruition, perhaps he’ll include an episode covering the changes in the careers of Season 1’s cast & crew.

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s Blog — IMDB: The Chair / Hollidaysburg / Not Cool
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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