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THE BENAFFAIR: Adventures at the Sundance Project Greenlight party

Photo credit: Egyptian Theater, Main St, Park City. Photo by Paul Zimmerman
by Paul Zimmerman

DATELINE PARK CITY (AKA SUNDANCE): Ben Affleck is in a good mood. That is either because A) He’s in Sundance to announce Bravo has picked up his lil’ 'how to make a movie for a million Miramax dollars' contest TV show, Project Greenlight, after it was dropped by HBO, or B) He’s one week away from the public announcement that he’s breaking up with Jennifer Lopez. Or maybe it’s a little of both.

Either way we’re comfortably stuffed into the basement of a bar at the top of Main Street in Park City, and Ben is both on stage and beaming. As well he should. He’s solo this year; last year Sundance reached a new high (or is that low?) in paparazzi silliness when they shut down Main Street after he and Lopez hit the scene. Now he’s following a flack from Greenlight sponsor Hewlett-Packard who has had the unfortunate task of making a speech that both satisfies the corporate heads and bores a well oiled audience (did I mention the open bar?).

It’s Saturday, the fourth day of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, and Affleck grabs the microphone and gleefully announces for the third year of Project Greenlight "We're doing what I like to call the 'sell-out season,' “ Translation: If they can’t make a decent Miramax styled film for one million, maybe they can make a decent Dimension styled film.

“If you make love to a pie, we want you!” Ben yells to the receptive audience still reeling from the HP speechmaker. “If you cut off someone’s head,” Affleck continues, “we want you.”

Project Greenlight, for those of you who have been living in a cave like an Iraqi despot, is the brainchild of Affleck and fellow Boston pal Matt Damon in an effort to give back to the indie film community that spawned them both (Either that or they are the faces for an idea somebody brought to Miramax, depending on what story you believe). The rules are simple and change every year. Year one, folks sent in scripts and then picked one lucky winner to direct their work. That produced the lackluster glorified TV-styled drama, Stolen Summer. Year two they chose a separate writer and director, the result being the equally muddled Battle of Shaker Heights (audiences stayed away from both in droves).

Both years Miramax, geniuses of multi-tasking that they are, simultaneously produced a 13-part “making of” series that was run on HBO (that was far more entertaining, dramatic and humorous than the films they chronicled, we might add). While Ben and Matt made “strategic guest star” appearances, the emerging star from this two year rubble was the screaming, phone-throwing, face-twitching Miramax producer assigned to the show - Chris Moore.

Meanwhile, back in Park City, Affleck works the crowd like a seasoned Catskills vet, while Moore stands off to the side smiling slyly. Following a brief slide show demonstrating HP’s newest digital camera, Moore takes the stage only to be continually shot down by Affleck who’s just warming up. NOTE: For those of you on the edge of your seat, Matty was on location elsewhere, could not attend and instead sent a video greeting.

“Jeez,” a fellow journalist whispers, “Afflecks funnier and more spontaneous here than he was in his last four films.” While I’m counting backward to agree or disagree (Let’s see Paycheck, Gigli, Daredevil…) I’m elbowed out of the way by a large New York-looking woman (I can spot a New Yorker a mile off).

“Check your ticket,” she hisses spittle leaking from both sides of her mouth, “Check the BACK of your ticket,” It seems a drawing is about to take place, 20 lucky folk are going to walk with HP swag and that’s a sweet sound to these near frostbitten ears (did I mention the sadistic doormen in Park City and how they love to let one person in per minute when the temperature is in single digits?).

Why all the hub-bub? “YOU Take Five” is the name of the HP contest, in case you’re interested. The idea is you take five digital pictures (which form a bit of a story) and send them in and if you make the cut “The top five regional finalists will each receive an all-expenses paid trip for two to the premiere of the next Project Greenlight movie, a walk down the 'red carpet' at the premiere, access to a private cocktail party hosted by HP and a suite of HP digital photography products.”

Which is all well and good, but the fact of the moment is if you’ve got a certain stamp on the back of your ticket you walk back onto chilly Main Street holding a HP duffel bag full of digital cameras and accessories. We quickly whip ours out (the ticket not our joints, did I mention the Utah cops love to bust you for public urination?) only to realize we HAVE no tickets, we were on a list at the door. Before the serious funk sinks in we hear a scream from our left, seems the brother of one of the HP staff has a winning ticket and -hey!- I smell a fix.

NOTE: For those interested in either the still contest or becoming that next Miramax, uh I mean Dimension darling, details for the YOU Take Five contest are at (deadline March 31st, so get snapping) and for Project Greenlight try (submissions to be sent in February 4th-20th).

Meanwhile back on stage Moore is getting roasted by the increasingly upbeat Affleck. “First prize, you work for Chris (Moore) for a week,” Affleck says taking a dramatic pause before adding “And second prize, two weeks.” The laughs are loud enough they almost drown out a scribe who blurts out “Now THAT was funnier than all of Gigli put together.”

And so it ends. The stage has grown dark. The swag is dispensed. The music has been turned up to “get the hell out of here” decibels. And as Affleck prepares to disappear into thin air (did I mention there will be none of the customary “Gentle Ben hangs with the Everyday Joe’s” tonight?) he’s got one more for the road. Smiling wide and scratching his circa Chasing Amy goatee he cracks “After all it does take money to make movies that no one is going to see.”

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originally posted: 01/29/04 12:31:07
last updated: 01/31/04 10:56:07
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