- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2003

Chris Moore claims to be leery of “the ‘local boy makes good’ thing,” but the local angle does tend to predominate during the early stages of a conversation at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Mr. Moore, who grew up in Easton, Md., and now shares a film production partnership with two guys from Boston — Ben Affleck and Matt Damon — is conducting interviews on behalf of “The Battle of Shaker Heights,” the second debut feature whose production conflicts and woes were showcased on the HBO documentary series “Project Greenlight.”

As the official emissary of stellar participants Mr. Affleck and Mr. Damon, Mr. Moore, 36, has been a conspicuous presence in the behind-the-scenes camaraderie and argumentation that have become staples of the “Greenlight” soap opera. Although a graduate of Harvard University, where he played varsity lacrosse, Mr. Moore has been seen wearing enough Terps gear to be confused with a graduate of the University of Maryland.

He is discovered at the laptop. Already busily at work reading submissions for the next edition of “Project Greenlight,” perhaps? No, Mr. Moore must tear himself away from the Washington Redskins Web site. He has been a devoted fan of both the Redskins and the Terrapins since boyhood.

The more one learns about Mr. Moore’s background and susceptibilities, the odder it seems that he became a young movie producer rather than a young sports broadcasting executive.

“I was sort of interested in entertainment, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in college,” he says. “It took me awhile to get used to Boston, and to be honest, I was sort of a screw-up… I thought I’d end up working professionally in sports broadcasting.”

Mr. Moore became something of a laggard academically before he dropped out as a sophomore and spent several months traveling in the Caribbean, financing his early sabbatical as a crew member on charter boats. When he returned to Harvard, he completed junior and senior year courses but still had a handful of sophomore credits to make up. He chose to polish off those obligations in the spring semester that followed the graduation of his class.

“It was the lacrosse season, and I still had some eligibility,” Mr. Moore says. “Plus, winter-to-spring in Cambridge is a much nicer proposition than fall-to-winter. So I took four pass-fail courses, played a final season and had a ball. We came in fifth nationally that year, which was a very big deal for Harvard lacrosse.”

The layover period before Mr. Moore began his concluding semester cried out for some kind of activity. He had friends who were successfully launched as financial managers in the Los Angeles business world, so he moved into their beachfront residence and enrolled in a trainee program at a talent agency, InterTalent. He liked the firm, and they liked him. A job was waiting after he said farewell to Harvard, but as long as he happened to be in Cambridge, the management also wanted him to cultivate the acquaintance of two promising young actors, a Harvard freshman named Matt Damon and a Boston College undergrad named Chris O’Donnell.

“Matt was living in the same dorm with a couple of lacrosse players I knew,” Mr. Moore recalls. “I had one foot in Hollywood, and I think he had just done ‘School Ties.’ He was already thinking of quitting school but confided that his mother would freak if he did drop out. As a matter of fact, he did not long after that. I think his mom is fine with things now, but I know the issue still comes up. We had a few beers together. That was really the extent of the acquaintance at that time. Later, when we were both in Los Angeles, I introduced Matt to a colleague at InterTalent who became his agent. And still is.”

Mr. Moore was employed on the literary side of the company rather than the performing side. The supervisors of those divisions had a falling out. After a formal split, the divisions were bought by rival talent agencies. The literary group ended up with the top dog of the late 1980s and early 1990s, International Creative Management (ICM). Finding it far too big and corporate for his taste, Mr. Moore decided to try his luck as an independent producer.

“I had watched all these guys taking advantage of material I had found for them,” Mr. Moore says. “It didn’t look that difficult. I had saved a lot of money while I was working at ICM, mainly because I had nothing to spend it on. Now I’m married and we have a little baby daughter. I gave myself two years to raise at least $1 million and get a feature made.

“I approached Matt about this script I had optioned called ‘Glory Days.’ He couldn’t do it, but he recommended a friend from Boston he thought would be perfect. That was Ben. He came in and did an awesome audition.

“The movie kind of disappeared, but a lot of bonding goes on when you make a low-budget film together. Ben and Matt had been working on the script for ‘Good Will Hunting’ off and on. I read a pretty early draft and loved it. So we partnered on that, and Harvey Weinstein [co-chairman, producer] at Miramax saved our lives when he purchased the whole project from a group of people we couldn’t work with. I guess the rest is history.”

That history has incorporated the “Project Greenlight” series for the past two years. Mr. Moore admits that some revamping might be necessary. No one anticipated that the series would overshadow the movies whose eventual theatrical release was supposed to benefit from advance publicity on a film business “reality” series.

The first project, “Stolen Summer,” had a dismal theatrical run last year. If the same thing happens with “Shaker Heights,” which opened Friday, adjustments may be in order for the third project.

“We’re trying this weird combination,” Mr. Moore says. “A big national cable TV audience knows about the films. But do the films themselves really justify a major release? As you saw this season, ‘Shaker Heights’ almost went direct to video, because it didn’t test well.

“Honestly, it never occurred to us that it might be a problem to reveal all the behind-the-scenes drama beforehand… It’s sad that while the TV show exploded, the first movie stayed just where you’d expect a little $2 million first feature to be. And could Miramax really market these $2 million ventures without ‘Greenlight’? Nobody knows.

“HBO is the partner that’s winning. They’re not paying me or Matt or Ben or anyone else a thing for appearing in the series. Miramax’s TV division gets a small fee, but not a cent comes back to amortize the cost of the movies, which still have to pay for themselves.

“That won’t happen in a timely way unless they catch on with theater audiences,” he says.

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