“The Battle of Shaker Heights is more like the war of subplots.”
Review by Scott Hollerman
The Project Greenlight 2 movie The Battle of Shaker Heights shows that an experienced crew, talented actors, and even inexperienced co-directors can make just as mediocre a movie for a million dollars as Hollywood typically does for $50 million. The movie looks good, Shia LaBeouf shines, the real battle is there’s no substantial story.
You literally sit there for 10, 15 minutes wondering what the story is about. Then 20, 30 minutes go by and you realize this isn’t really going to be a movie that’s strong on plot. When the movie ends at a total run time of under 80 minutes, perhaps the most polite thing you can say is, “I think that was better than Stolen Summer.” (The fist Project Greenlight movie.)
I imagine screenwriter Erica Beeney would say that the directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankln ruined her script. I imagine she’ll always wonder what the film could have been if Jessica Landow had been chosen to direct. On the Project Greenlight 2 DVD set they do show the films selected by various directors, and in my book Landow’s film did stand out above the others. But I’m not sure the film would have been that much better.
What this coming of age film needed at some point was someone to step up to the plate and say to the filmmakers, “Look, you have some nice moments in this script, but you need something the audience can hang their hat on.” Here are three examples found in classic coming of age movies:
In Stand by Me, it’s as simple as the four boys going to see a dead body. A lot of thing happen in that movie, but that is their goal. In Big, Tom Hanks doesn’t want to be a short kid anymore so he makes a wish to the Zoltar carnival machine and is a kid in an adult-sized body. Cool at first, but then he just wants to be a normal kid again. The goal is to find the Zoltar machine and reverse the wish. In the movie Sandlot, a baseball signed by Babe Ruth goes over the fence that has a mean guard dog and a mysterious man. The goal of the young boys for the entire movie is to find a way to get the ball back. It’s a simple thing, but it’s the glue that holds many a movie together. Of course, there’s more to it than that and I have 900+ posts here that goes into depth of the finer nuances of screenwriting.
I didn’t read the original script for The Battle of Shaker Heights, but I’m amazed that it was chosen above thousands of others submitted.
Maybe all the short-lived Project Greenlight concept was was a good idea to use the foundation of filmmaking to be the basis for a reality TV program. If the film worked great, but the real gold was if the show found a TV audience. Afterall, when Survivor or The Apprentice finish their TV runs, that’s it. People don’t rush to the movie theaters to see another version of it or buy the DVDs.
If that was the case, then they needed to not just look at scripts and reels, but think more in terms of who would be a more interesting character to watch for 13 episodes on TV. In that case, Pete Jones the writer/director of the first Project Greenlight was more interesting to watch than those in Project Greenlight 2. Audiences could connect with this seemingly Midwestern common man who was plucked from seemingly nowhere to make a movie. Pete could be a pain, but I don’t remember him being a whiner.
In the end, both the TV show and the movie didn’t succeed in finding a broad audiences leading producer Chris Moore to speculates to executive producer Ben Affleck in episode 12 of Project Greenlight 2, “Maybe the last image of the show this year is you, me and Matt, just sitting around a table going, ‘You know what? ‘All the talented people are in Hollywood’ the system the Hollywood system works.’” Followed by this Affleck sound bite, “If (Project Greenlight) doesn’t work twice then (the studios) would say, ‘Nope, no talented people outside of Hollywood. System works. Keeps out the bad, keeps in the good. Why f#@k around looking for guys on the internet?”
But back in 2002-03 when they made Project Greenlight 2 there was a young woman who had just graduated from the University of Iowa named Brook Busey who would move to Minneapolis and who would eventually write a little screenplay. She would, in fact, be discovered by a Hollywood manager via the Internet. Her script had a simple plot. Girl gets pregnant, what’s she going to do? It got made into a movie, found a large audience, and she won a little gold statue called an Oscar.
Somewhere along the way Brook changed her name to Diablo Cody and moved to Hollywood.
P.S. Interesting sidenote, both Project Greenlight movies were written by writers from the Midwest and set in the Midwest (Ohio and Illinois). Also read where The Battle of Shaker Heights screenwriter Erica Beeney went on to get her MFA from The Ohio State University a few years after her movie was released. In the big picture of screenwriting, Erica hit a home run. Percentage wise not many screenwriters ever see their ferature script made and released in theaters with their name as writer on a single title card.
A big thanks to Affleck, Damon, Moore, LivePlanet, Miramax, HBO and everyone else involved with Project Greenlight for giving a detailed glimpse into the world of filmmaking.
Scott W. Smith
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