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Starz’s ‘The Chair’ Is a Compelling, Creative Hot Seat
September 4, 2014  | By David Bianculli
 

The first foray by Starz! into unscripted TV is The Chair, a new 10-part series that gives the same script to two different film directors to see what they come up with. In the same spirit, I invite any of the other TVWW critics to write their own review of The Chair. Meanwhile, here’s mine…

I don’t think Starz! is as taken with its newest series, The Chair, as I am. Otherwise, the network would be giving its first unscripted series a high-profile prime-time showcase – but The Chair is scheduled to premiere Saturday nights at 11 p.m. ET, probably the least likely place for young adult viewers, especially, to find it.

But they should, because this 10-part arts documentary series, even more so than HBO’s Project: Greenlight, lays bare exactly what goes on behind the scenes as people collaborate, and clash, to produce a low-budget independent movie. It’s not only a primer for aspiring young filmmakers – it’s an unvarnished master class.

The idea, as The Chair creator and Greenlight co-producer Chris Moore (at right) explains at the start, is to see what two different filmmakers can do with the exact same original source material. In this case, what happens is that a script by Dan Schoffer called How Soon is Now, about college students on their first Thanksgiving break back home, gets handed to two directors, both of whom also are writers and have acted in front of the camera as well.

Before you can say “Take one, scene one,” these two have called in writer Schoffer and asked for a majorly revised second pass – excising some characters, rewriting dialogue and making other significant, mood-altering changes.

Anna Martemucci, an NYU film graduate (seen in photo at top), takes herself and her aspirations so seriously, she spends much of the time in panic mode.

Shane Dawson (left), a home-grown talent whose YouTube video channels have more than 10 million subscribers (about half of what Starz! itself claims), inserts lots of R-rated jokes and sight gags. And, for good measure, casts himself in the lead role.

You know how, in every season of such competitive-creativity shows as Project Runway and Top Chef, there’s always one contestant who’s so whiny and self-absorbed, you almost want to slap them out of it? In this first cycle of The Chair, there are two – and they’re the only two. So the only real rooting interest here, at least for me, is for the show’s premise and format itself, which is truly inspired.

How different will these two finished projects eventually be? Very, very different, with not only different tones, but different names. Dawson’s is called Not Cool, and Martemucci’s finished version is titled Welcome to Hollidaysburg. Both films will be shown by Starz! after the 10-part Chair series is over – so we get to see the baby pictures as well as the ultrasounds.

And I intend to be watching every step of the way. TV shows about the creative process don’t get much more creative than this.

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(For my full review of The Chair on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and to hear clips from the show, visit the Fresh Air website.)

 
 
 
 
 
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