Ben Affleck, Matt Damon on 'Project Greenlight's' Winner and How Filmmaking Has Changed Over the Past Decade

Project Greenlight - H 2014

The series will debut on HBO in the spring

One lucky Hollywood hopeful is getting the chance of a lifetime thanks to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who sent aspiring director Jason Mann home with a multimillion-dollar feature film deal at the Project Greenlight season four reveal at Boulevard3 Friday night.

Along with Affleck and Damon, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, HBO Films president Len Amato, and Adaptive Studios head of business development and co-founder Marc Joubert were also in attendance and all helped select the winning director. Though it's been almost 10 years since the last Project Greenlight winner was chosen, the team said they're more passionate about discovering new directorial talent than ever before.

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"They are completely invested in this project," Joubert said of executive producers Affleck and Damon, with whom he worked on previous Project Greenlight seasons. "They believe in it, they want to see all of these finalists work. They're really bummed they have to pick just one winner; the talent level is unbelievable."

Thousands submitted short films to the Project Greenlight contest this summer, of which 200 were selected to create video biographies; 20 were then voted for by Facebook users, and in the final round, 13 contestants were provided with a script and directed and filmed a scene for judging.

Ultimately, Mann, a San Francisco native who studied directing at Columbia University, prevailed, and will oversee his movie made into a $3 million feature film in 20 days, with the whole process chronicled in the fourth season of the HBO documentary series.

Project Greenlight aired three seasons on HBO between 2002 and 2005, taking a nine-year hiatus before Affleck and Damon, along with Joubert, approached HBO about bringing both the contest and the series into the new decade, for a new crop of talent.

“We never really wanted the show to end, it just kind of ended,” said Damon. “In today’s day and age, with technology being what it is, it’s a lot easier to host a director competition.”

The time away from Project Greenlight gave the whole team a chance to reflect on how to make the contest even better, and was especially informative for Affleck, who has directed Argo and The Town since making his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone in 2007.

“One of our big goals now is trying to make a movie that works, and to see, from the inside out, what it looks like to struggle trying to make something good every day,” Affleck said. “It’s really hard, and I know I’ve struggled with it. That thought process, that creative process, is really interesting once you get kind of behind the curtain.”

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For industry veterans like Affleck and Damon, the talent of Project Greenlight season four contestants emphasized how dramatically technology has changed the playing field for young filmmakers.  

“I remember doing Saving Private Ryan, and Steven Spielberg showed me stuff that he shot when he was 12 years old [on a] Super-8 camera,” Damon said. “In 10 minutes now, my children take an iPhone and they sit there and they make those little iMovies, and they tell stories, and they understand how to cut shots together. The process has kind of been democratized.”

In the less than 10 years since the last season of Project Greenlight aired, social media platforms such as Facebook, Vine and YouTube have revolutionized how filmmakers break into the industry, said the Project Greenlight team. Affleck and Damon recalled sending contestants laptops and instructions on how to digitize VHS tapes, and even building a website for the submitted videos (“We should have created YouTube,” Damon joked) during the show’s first few seasons.

“Now we completely take that for granted, not only technologically, but culturally,” Affleck said of video sharing. “And so that cultural familiarity with this process, we just felt like the world has come to a place where our show will work 10 times better.”

Project Greenlight’s first season winner, Pete Jones, went on to write and direct his debut film Stolen Summer in 2002, and will help rewrite the script for Mann's feature film, which will be a comedy. Jones remembers uploading his own script to the Project Greenlight website using a phone modem (it took six hours) and recording his short film using a camcorder, and said he’s just as impressed at how technology has changed the way newcomers break into the industry.

“These people are sharp, they're just so much further ahead of the game," Jones said. "It's a really impressive group, and going through it myself, I'm so nervous for them, and I'm excited for them."

Mann will also be mentored by producer Effie Brown, most recently of Dear White People, and by the Farrelly brothers, described by Affleck as "really expert, interesting, straight-shooting, caring, passionate guys."

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"That's a whole other level we've never had," Affleck said of the Farrellys. "And it also means we're trying to make a movie with a more broad appeal."

When the Project Greenlight feature film is ready for mass audiences, Adaptive Studios' Joubert hinted, the debut may be just as unconventional as the contest itself.

“We can’t say it right now, but it’s something different,” Joubert said of the upcoming movie’s release.

Production on the feature film will begin soon, and the HBO series is set to debut in spring 2015.

Twitter: @OliviaNiland