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Thursday, February 12, 2015


The prospect of watching another reality TV show, this time about young filmmakers directing their first feature, didn't really do anything for me. That is, until I started watching it. About a minute later, when the premise fully clicked in my brain, I was instantly hooked.

THE CHAIR: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is one of those scintillating "what ifs" that really piques my curiosity--namely, what would happen if two first-time directors were given the exact same screenplay and budget (less than one million dollars) and then let loose in the wild to shoot their own seperate, individual movies? Movies that would then be voted upon by an audience, with the winning director receiving $250,000 along with whatever industry cred might come with it? Just the thought of this had visions of "omigod, this is so cool" dancing around in my fevered brain.

Created by elite Hollywood producer Chris Moore (GOOD WILL HUNTING, AMERICAN PIE) and co-executive produced by Zachary Quinto (STAR TREK, "Heroes"), Josh Shader (AMERICAN WEDDING), and Corey Moosa (MARGIN CALL), the show gives those of us interested in the day-to-day details of independent filmmaking a truly in-depth look behind the scenes. (Needless to say, those NOT interested in such things will most likely find the series rather dull.)

The script they're given is a funny but fairly unassuming romantic comedy by writer Dan Schoffer. There's enough to it to be challenging but hopefully not get either novice filmmaker into too much trouble.

This irresistible premise is, for the most part, fulfilled in continuously interesting and watchable ways, only occasionally running out of steam here and there. The icing on the cake is that after the ten episodes of the series are done, discs four and five of the DVD set contain the actual movies themselves. It's truly fascinating to watch the end results of all that has gone before and judge for ourselves which "contestant" had a better grasp of what they were doing during the whole chaotic process.

But first, we meet the newbie directors in question--Shane Dawson, an inconoclastic YouTube star whose lowbrow comedy videos are watched by over a million loyal (mostly female teens) subscribers, and Anna Martemucci, a more serious-minded actress-writer-producer whose credits include the film "Breakup at a Wedding" and numerous short subjects in conjunction with her husband Victor Quinaz and his brother, Phil.

Shane, a bundle of nervous energy with a Justin Bieber haircut, is the more boisterous and outgoing of the two because he's more comfortable in front of the camera. He's used to taping himself all the time so his "video diary" segments are as much a performance as a record of his daily thoughts and feelings.

Shane is eager to perform for the camera to the point of casting himself as the lead in his own movie. He's itching to roll film and create instant gut-level entertainment without hovering contemplatively over a keyboard for hours or conceding to any constructive input or criticism from others. (This includes his trusted and very loyal producer Lauren, who, before it's all over, will seemingly feel alienated by his petulant and accusatory behavior as his self-confidence begins to erode.)

Anna, on the other hand, is much more introspective and literary, interested at first mainly in extensively rewriting the script than focusing on physical details. Her diary segments tend to be contemplative, melancholy, and occasionally a bit self-pitying (as Shane's will also eventually become). She sees herself as a role model for young girls and, perhaps because of Shane's existing fanbase, considers herself the "underdog" of the competition.

We get an idea of how things are going to go when, right off the bat, they each take a sledgehammer to the script and start reshaping it in their own images. It's clear Anna's going for a warm, emotional dramedy that's straight from the heart, while Shane intends to dive headfirst into the muckiest end of the comedy pool. Obviously, these are going to be two wildly divergent films that will scarcely resemble each other.

The producers assert their influence in ways that make the two directors feel crowded, especially when Quinto suggests that Shane tone down the grossness of his script when he, in fact, wants to dial it up beyond the level of SUPERBAD or AMERICAN PIE. This will lead to a surprising and somewhat shocking move by Quinto in a later episode. Anna, meanwhile, raises concerns with her tendency toward perfectionism and spending too much time and money on details while neglecting the big picture.

How will each of these directors run their movie sets? Each has their primadonna moments, sometimes tending to be a bit childish and even bratty when not getting their own way. The suspense over how smooth or how calamitous things will go builds until that first day of shooting begins. This is when THE CHAIR really takes off and both Shane and Anna show their true colors.

It's not only an opportunity to witness independent filmmaking in action every tenuous step of the way, but to watch it being done by total novices who are flying by the seat of their pants. As producer Chris Moore puts it in one episode, it's fascinating because we get to see two very different directors making completely different decisions in order to solve the same problems.

The five-disc set from Anchor Bay and Starz is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. There are no actual extras, although I consider the two finished films--Shane's NOT COOL and Anna's HOLLIDAYSBURG--to be bonuses in themselves because it's such a rare treat to be able to see the final results of all that has gone before and evaluate them on our own.

Which novice director made the most of his or her silver-platter opportunity to create a worthwhile and watchable film? To be honest, THE CHAIR: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON didn't turn out the way I thought it would, and I even found myself disagreeing with the chosen winner once I'd seen both movies. But that's just one of the things that makes the series compelling and, for me, addictive.

Buy it at

Read our review of NOT COOL
Read our review of HOLLIDAYSBURG


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