Starz's new filmmaking competition The Chair is essentially Project Greenlight with a twist, with first-time directors Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci each making their own movie from the same script with a $250,000 grand prize at stake. But above all else, The Chair is a reality show — a fact that's not lost on its two stars.
"One of the most difficult things about being on a show like this," Anna tells Yahoo TV, "is seeing yourself be made into a character. Like, the fact that acoustic indie music plays when you visit my set, and crazy, fun, young-guy music plays when you go to his set."
Yes, The Chair works overtime to paint Shane and Anna as complete opposites — he's the brash, young YouTube star! She's the sensitive, NYU-educated artiste! — but Anna insists they're not actually that different. "Shane and I do have incredibly different senses of humor, but there's also a ton of overlap. And when we're together, we laugh a ton and make a ton of jokes. I don't know if we'd be fans of each other's work, but we're definitely fans of each other as humans, which is really lovely."
But just because the two filmmakers get along great doesn't mean tempers don't flare at all while The Chair's two movies are in production. In fact, Shane hints that "near the end of the season, there are some situations that are very, very intense that I had to pretty much go to therapy for. … And all I want to do is tweet about it and talk about how much I hate this person, but I can't do that," he laughs, before adding, "It's definitely not Anna." (Whew.)
We wanted to find out what makes these two filmmakers tick, so we hit them both with a series of rapid-fire questions about their backgrounds and their experiences on the show. Read on to see just how different The Chair's dueling directors are.
Formal training: None.
His movie's title: Not Cool
Tagline: "We had a whole thing the other day about trying to come up with one. And I was so proud of one I came up with, and then Starz called and said, 'Great! We're going with "From the producer of American Pie."' But one that I had was 'You looked way cooler online.'"
Genre: "Definitely broad teen comedy, similar to Mean Girls or Superbad. Probably more like Superbad, because there's a lot of heart at the center of the movie."
First movie you ever saw? "Jurassic Park."
How old were you when you first picked up a camera? "Ten years old."
Favorite movie? "It's a toss-up between Titanic and Scream."
The biggest influence on you as a filmmaker? "Wes Craven."
A dream career you'd like to emulate? "I'd say Kevin Smith. The fact that he can keep making the stuff that he wants to make and he created this world where he's in control of everything… that sounds awesome."
First reaction to signing up for a reality show? "I was such a Project Greenlight fan that I was like, 'Dude, I don't even need to read the script. Yes, sign me up.'"
The hardest part of the process? "Mainly, the pressure that it was somebody else's money. Because I had been making my own stuff with my own money, and if it was terrible, well, it's my money, and my bad. I'm the one that suffers the consequences. Whereas this was walking into a room full of people in suits, being like, 'We're putting money into this.' And all I'm thinking is, 'My movie has a lot of s--t jokes, and you guys are wearing suits.'"
A memorable piece of direction you gave your actors? "I really tried to keep everything light and fun, because we're making a comedy. I think my motto was, 'It's all gonna work out. If we don't get it, we got something.' I've been on sets where everybody's going crazy running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and then the movie sucks, and I'm like, 'Why were they doing that? They should've had more fun with this, because we're not having fun watching it.'"
The best advice Chris Moore gave you? "I showed him the rough cut of the movie, and he really loved it. But he said, 'Don't be afraid of the heart of the movie. Don't feel like you have to punish the audience for feeling something.' Because my style is to make something really heartfelt and then have a joke right afterwards. And he said, 'Why don't you take away a couple jokes?' So I did, and that made the heartfelt stuff really work."
Formal training: A degree in dramatic writing from New York University.
Her movie's title: Hollidaysburg
Tagline: "Oh my God, we just came up with it: 'Small town, big feelings.'"
Genre: Coming-of-age comedy
First movie you ever saw? "I think I had a serious obsession with Thoroughly Modern Millie, starring Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore. I watched it a zillion times when I was five."
How old were you when you first picked up a camera? "My grandfather and my mother are both photographers. So, I would assume, a baby."
Favorite movie? "It's a tie between Rushmore and Fargo."
Biggest influence on you as a filmmaker? "Wes Anderson. I went through a very intense obsession with him in my late teens/early 20s, and I somehow finagled an internship at his place. So for two years, I worked in this weird little office above a bar in SoHo, and I would do his grocery shopping and put his jam in his fridge just the way he liked."
A dream career you'd like to emulate? "I would say Alexander Payne. Every time one of his movies comes out, I know I'm going to get something sort of beautiful and funny and sad and interesting. But most of all, funny. Election is one of my favorites of all time, too. In terms of high school movies, I just worship it. His mix of pathos and humor gets me every time."
First reaction to signing up for a reality show? "The show aspect of it was just endlessly terrifying. … I had a month or two to mull it over, and I went on a family trip and asked all my siblings. It's hard to make a decision when everyone you know and love and trust, their face falls when you say 'reality show.'"
The hardest part of the process? "Pre-production, and the unknown of it all. Episode 2 is when I was at my worst. But the day we started shooting, it felt as though a puzzle piece clicked into place. It was like heaven. I felt like I had found my happy place."
A memorable piece of direction you gave your actors? "There was this one character, Heather, who I wanted to embody freshman-year depression. You get incredibly depressed your freshman year: just eat strange foods and sit in your dorm room and be disgusting. So I wanted to depict this girl — the most beautiful, desired girl in the school — having freshman-year depression. And I just remember screaming, 'Dead face! Dead face! Dead face!' Because actors have a tendency to act and want to emote. And I said, 'No, you are numb, and you are not emoting here.' So I just remember screaming, 'Dead face! Dead face! More humping! Dead face!' And I was like, 'What has this become?'"
The best advice Chris Moore gave you? "He was just telling me how different directors see stuff, and that there's no right way to do something. And he was like, 'It's OK to be either way.' And that was very freeing for me. In areas where I felt really confident and I had a very clear vision, I took the lead. And then in areas where I felt I needed some guidance and I felt a little overwhelmed, I would hire the most talented person I could find, and I would say, 'I would like some guidance here. Give me all your ideas and let's talk.' So Chris Moore gave me some really sound advice. And I love when he backs it up with people like Gus Van Sant, who I adore. It all really hits home when you're like, 'Oh, you worked with him!' That was a thrill."
The Chair airs Saturdays at 11 p.m. on Starz.