On the first episode of HBO’s Project Greenlight we saw producer Effie Brown, the only person of color on the judge’s panel, try to advocate for diversity in the director’s selection. Matt Damon cut Brown off, saying essentially that as long as there was diversity in casting there didn’t need to be diverse filmmakers. It was a problematic argument, and Brown recognized this and said “whew, ok” and then seemed to let it go. Damon later issued a half apology and claimed his comment was taken out of context.
Brown was hired to make sure the director who was chosen, the very exacting Jason Mann, stayed within the $3 million budget he was given. She has extensive experience as a producer (Dear White People, Real Women Have Curves) and assumed this job would be similar to her past projects. In a new interview with Thompson on Hollywood, Brown explained that the job was much different than she expected, that she was only paid the minimum allowed by the Screen Actors Guild, and that she had ongoing issues with not only Damon, but with Peter Farrelly, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother. In contrast she said that Ben Affleck had her back. It sounds like she was hired for a specific job, which she did by trying to reign in production, and that the other producers, specifically Damon and Farrelly, didn’t want to listen to her. In fact Peter Farrelly (and by extension his brother, Bobby) quit the show when Brown disagreed with him on an issue that would have made the movie go $300,000 over budget.
She was paid poorly yet featured heavily in the show
“It became apparent that the entire series was about me and Jason [Mann],” she told me in a phone interview. “If I would have known that I would never have done this for free!”
Brown was paid the SAG day rate for the first day of shooting the series along with her producer’s fee plus two points on the back end for the movie: “It was a sh*tty deal. I only got paid to do the film.”
Brown explained before she was hired that she runs a tight ship
In her direct way she told them: “These are the movies I’ve made. I’ve never gone over budget or schedule. I have always delivered a quality movie. My crews look like America, everyone is qualified.”
[Adaptive Studios’ Marc] Joubert asked her: “You know how to say ‘no,’ right?”
She replied: “I’m not afraid of saying ‘no’ and holding a tough line. You haven’t researched me at all! If there’s anything that I could work on, it’s being a little kinder and gentler. I’ve been stuck in impossible situations. I’m an army brat. So I lead, you follow the chain of command, or get out of the way.”
On the exchange shown in episode one where Matt Damon shut her down
“It did feel like an intimidating room to walk into and be part of,” said Brown. “They had already met and hung out and picked the first 13 contenders. I was the last person coming in. They know each other. That was not the full conversation, to be real. That was a more polite version of that exchange.”
On why she argued with Damon
“I had no choice really. I’ve been black and a woman all my life. I have worked in this business for 20 years. I’m 43. It was one of those things. Literally in that moment, was I going to risk public humiliation, bringing up this opinion, or deal with shame and excuses: ‘You let that go by?’ That’s a big responsibility. I was more afraid of my mother: ‘That’s how we raised you and sacrificed, that’s it? When the time was for you to stand and be counted?’ That’s all that went thorough my head: damned if I was going to do that. At the same time, Matt was the biggest movie star in the world, he could win the Oscar with ‘The Martian,’ he’s incredibly thoughtful, so smart, so sensitive. Before that all happened, I am with Jason Bourne and Batman, I loved it. It was disheartening, to be ‘Oh, like, ok.'”
On her relationship with Damon now
“Word on the street is I’m not his favorite person.” (Brown promises more reveals in later episodes.)
How Brown comes across on Greenlight
Throughout the first five episodes you see a clear demonstration of how Hollywood men function with each other, what their internalized rules and assumptions are, how they instinctively work around a woman who is perceived to be in their way. Brown, a veteran of 17 independent productions, is fair and professional, even if she tends to be straightforward and direct.
Peter Farrelly couldn’t handle being told “no” so he and his brother quit
And she is fearless. When she tells Peter Farrelly—another Hollywood talent accustomed to sycophants—on the phone that Mann has already been shown the ropes of 35mm vs. digital and doesn’t need a tour of the FotoKem lab, Farrelly abruptly calls Joubert and quits the show. He no longer wants to deal with Brown. Damon, who helped to bring the duo onto “Project Greenlight,” loyally sides with them against her. And Affleck, to his credit, says she should just continue to do her job, as her producing partner Joubert constantly worries about how Brown is registering with the various powers that be. She’s focused on making the best film possible on budget. Of course, Mann goes around her again and convinces Affleck and HBO to give him the extra $300,000 to shoot on film.
Brown had no idea how her scenes were being edited so she lobbied for approval
Even though it holds final cut, HBO still had to deal with powerful Damon and Affleck. “Pearl Street could have kiboshed it,” said Brown. “They all saw all these cuts and approved them. Ben Affleck was the cat who had my back. Ben is down. All right, good! That was surprising to me, I thought it would be Matt, who has this liberal reputation. Honestly, I’m grown enough to say, ‘I’m not for everybody, not everybody likes me, and he may be one of those who just can’t stand you.'”
There’s so much more in the article from Brown. She comes across as straightforward and matter-of-fact. (Honestly I have not watched Project Greenlight beyond the first episode so if you’re following it please feel free to comment.) I’ve quit jobs over similar issues, particularly with men, where my hands were tied and I was being prevented from simply doing the tasks I was hired to do. This reminds me so much of Jennifer Lawrence’s essay yesterday, in which she said that she was done being “nice.” Here is a woman hired to keep a film under budget who faced backlash and even being portrayed negatively on a reality show just for doing her job. The more I cover these stories, the more I realize how unfairly women are characterized for being candid and efficient when those same management skills are lauded in men.
Also, I’m impressed that Ben Affleck is the one who took Brown’s side and tried to smooth things over for her with his douchebro co-producers. Maybe I’ll watch the rest of this season as I want to see how that all played out.