Whether it’s a small indie flick or a summer blockbuster, making a movie isn’t easy. First you need an idea, then a script, money, and lots and lots of people to fill all the roles—both on camera and off. In its first original unscripted series, Starz gives viewers a front-row seat to this complicated world in The Chair.
The premise is simple enough: Two aspiring filmmakers are given the chance to make their first feature film with the help of executive producer Chris Moore, who you might remember also produced the late Project Greenlight. What makes The Chair different is that both films have to be made from the same original screenplay (written by Dan Schoffer) and filmed entirely in and around Pittsburgh. Throughout the 10-part docuseries, the audience will watch the creation, marketing, and theatrical release of both films before voting on which director deserves the $250,000 prize at the end.
And it is a competition—although that competitive aspect is rarely talked about by the pair of directors—recent NYU film grad Anna Martemucci and YouTube sensation Shane Dawson. The two directors fall on different ends of the cinematic spectrum, which makes their personal interpretations of Schoffer’s coming-of-age dramedy much more distinct and interesting to watch. Dawson could probably find another way to make a movie if he really wanted to; his current videos are already seen by 10 million subscribers and have more than 1 billion views. Martemucci, on the other hand, is a writer trying her hand behind the camera, which of course means she has some trouble accepting that she can only adapt, not write, the screenplay that will eventually become her first film.
Of course, there are a lot more problems that occur in just the premiere than a little bruise of the ego. Most notably, Martemucci struggles with the decision to bring her husband along to Pennsylvania (or not) while Shane can’t determine how extreme (i.e. dumb) he wants his comedy to go just yet. The best part for the audience (though probably the worst part for the directors) is the gripping meta world created as the filmmakers are suddenly the ones being filmed. Both directors constantly break the fourth wall when they’re not supposed to and are open to talking about the challenges of not only creating your first movie, but having to do it with the added pressure of having each decision and step watched and critiqued before the actual work is even done.
In addition to Moore, Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto serves as a mentor to both directors. First he must give full disclosure that he knew Martemucci prior through her husband and other work she had done—which basically resulted in this opportunity. Considering her competitor has a billion people watching him on YouTube, that small advantage still seems fair. And Quinto’s involvement isn’t just for added marquee value; through late night phone calls and emotional freak outs, Quinto is there for personal (and financial) support every step of the way. The premiere gives a preview at some of the other players likely to get involved in the unique chaos, including Dawson’s much more down-to-earth producer and the female director of photography Martemucci is desperate to have on her team.
Win or lose, both films will still air on Starz and be released in theaters in the fall. The Chair is the perfect show for any cinephile with a guilty pleasure for reality TV. Lights, camera… drama!