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Cheers and jeers for Pete Jones at Sundance

"You're the 'Project Greenlight' guy" ... "You're an idiot!"

Pete Jones -- better known for the HBO show about the making of his film,
Pete Jones -- better known for the HBO show about the making of his film, "Stolen Summer," than for the film itself -- is at Sundance, where the movie has had a screening.  

By Anne Hubbell
Special to CNN

PARK CITY, Utah (CNN) -- The chilly twilight of Saturday evening finds Sundance Film Festivalgoers getting ready for this year's awards ceremony. But among those who already have drawn perhaps more than their share of recognition is Pete Jones.

As the subject of the HBO series "Project Greenlight" series, neophyte filmmaker Jones comes off as bumbling, demanding, and whiny.

Jones says that HBO didn't share the whole story of the creation his first feature film, "Stolen Summer," which has made its premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

"Project Greenlight" is the brainchild of actor-writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and producer Chris Moore ("American Pie"). They created an online script contest, promising the winner a chance to make his film with a $1 million budget and theatrical distribution courtesy of Miramax. The only catch was that an HBO crew would follow every aspect of the contest and filmmaking process for a reality-TV show.

Would you say HBO's show "Project Greenlight" would make you biased about the film itself, if you were at Sundance to see it?

Yes (I've seen the show).
No (I've seen the show).
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Jones says, "I had no clue. I was naive. I bought into the idea that they were going to do a documentary about filmmaking, not 'Survivor' on a movie set."

Set in 1970s suburban Chicago, Jones' film is about an Irish Catholic boy who embarks on a quest to help a young Jewish friend get into heaven.

'Until I saw the edited version'

As seen on HBO, the production was problematic, to say the least. Poor planning, no leadership on the set and temper tantrums are documented in each weekly episode. "We felt like we were doing something pretty good." Jones laments, "The whole experience was great until I saw the edited version."

Jones' Opie Taylor looks belie a more complex man than may be apparent: The series alleges that he uses his "aw, shucks" innocence only when it serves him.

"I think there is an opinion in Hollywood that being a good guy, being true to your self and being tough and ambitious can't all go together," he says. "I disagree with that, I don't understand why that is.

"I was going from a contest winner who was trying to please everyone and prove myself to being a director and making tough decisions. They painted that as if only one of these guys is true. But I'm not just this one-dimensional character."

In the end, he says, he has a positive perspective on his experience: "I got a little bit burned, but it was the opportunity I had, so I really can't complain about it.

"The best part about Sundance is that finally I have a chance for it (the experience) to be about the movie. Meeting the other filmmakers who are all so supportive has been great," he says.

'Set low expectations'

Knowing the difficulties of making low-budget movies, the independent film community has indeed been sympathetic to his plight. Whether they've been following "Project Greenlight" or have just heard about the about the production, festivalgoers agree that Jones was thrown into a no-win situation.

But although he may have sympathy from fellow filmmakers, stories of the many production failures coupled with the syrupy material set low expectations for the film here at Sundance.

"It's the new hype machine -- set low expectations," Jones acknowledges, "We concentrated on not making it melodramatic. It's tough subject matter. Anytime you make a movie with kids religion and death, it is a recipe for an After School Special."

Still, Jones says he has been getting plenty of pats on the back.

"I'm shocked at how warmly it has been received. Sundance to me was not the audience for this film. (Sundance) is jaded, cynical filmmakers. But people like the film. At least that's what they say to my face. Who knows what goes on behind my back?"

Jones is a fish out of water amid the throngs of hip industry pros in Park City.

"I lack cynicism. I look at the glass as half-full. I wish I could grow a goatee, put on a beret and be that edgy guy, but that's just not me."

Still he has become something of a celebrity.

"People have been recognizing me on the street. They say, 'Hey, you're the "Project Greenlight" guy,' 'You're the HBO guy' -- 'You're an idiot!'"


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