this morning's Wall Street Journal -- no mention of Clive but some
notes on the film's troubles." ChrisR
Spy Movie's Off-screen Chaos Is Real Thriller of Summer; `Paranoid' Director in Paris ---- By Tom King The Wall Street Journal
TITANIC BATTLES over the script. Screaming matches over shooting locations. A fight over a farmhouse. And four different release dates.
While "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars" are getting all the hype, in the category of the Summer's Biggest Filmmaking Nightmare, the award might just go to "The Bourne Identity." The $60 million spy thriller starring Matt Damon will open, finally, next month -- nine months later than planned and smack dab in the middle of perhaps the most competitive summer in history.
Why the drama? All fingers point to Doug Liman, the picture's inexperienced, idiosyncratic and self-proclaimed "paranoid" director, who at age 29 rocked the independent-film world with 1996's "Swingers," which cost just $250,000.
The situation points up a huge issue confronting studios these days: Faced with hostile audiences tired of the same old thing, studios are working to hire new directors with fresh voices to stir things up. But in handing expensive big-studio movies to filmmakers who made their name with low-budget indie films, the risks are stratospheric; for every Peter Jackson, whose "Heavenly Creatures" was followed by the blockbuster "Lord of the Rings," there is a Billy Bob Thornton, whose "Sling Blade" was followed by "All the Pretty Horses," a costly bomb.
In the case of "Bourne Identity," Universal Pictures hired Mr. Liman because it figured he would turn out an action film with an edgier look than most slick studio fare. Plus, it was his idea: Having read the old Robert Ludlum novel as a kid, Mr. Liman was passionate about turning the story -- about an amnesiac on the run from assassins -- into a feature, even though it had already been made into a TV movie in the 1980s.
"I was intrigued by the pairing of an independent-minded filmmaker with a familiar studio genre," says Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Pictures. "Look, I'm a moviegoer and I'm bored. I'm getting tired of movies that all look the same."
But Ms. Snider and her team couldn't have imagined the contentious drama that would follow its decision to hand Mr. Liman the reins to such an ambitious movie. (It was shot in seven different countries.) By his own admission, he was "flippant," difficult and suspicious of anything the studio did or said. For example, when Universal, concerned about the costs and logistics of shooting in Paris, asked him to film the movie in Montreal instead, Mr. Liman balked.
"I was like, `What are they talking about? Because they speak French in Montreal, it's going to look like Paris? Like, nothing looks like Paris,' " remembers Mr. Liman. (He won that battle.) Further, he thought the idea of hiring a crew that didn't speak English would be cool. "I'll practice my collegiate French," he said.
It wasn't cool. From the minute Mr. Liman landed in France, things went haywire. For starters, Mr. Damon showed up and didn't like some of the changes that had been made to the script he had signed off on. After listening to Mr. Damon's complaints -- he liked the character-driven elements of the script, some of which had been nixed in favor of bigger action pieces -- Mr. Liman agreed, and began ripping up the schedule. Changing course is easy on an independent film, but much trickier with a major-studio film, where minutes cost millions.
Within days, Richard Gladstein, the film's producer who had just come off of "The Cider House Rules," left the production and went back to the U.S. because his wife was having a difficult pregnancy. Universal panicked. Now it had an untested, auteur director working unsupervised on the other side of the ocean. So much for a "locked" script: Screenwriter Tony Gilroy, working out of his office in New York, began faxing new scenes -- with the cameras already rolling -- to Mr. Liman in Europe.
The studio then enlisted the help of Frank Marshall, a veteran producer of such films as "E.T." and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "They said, `We need a producer in Paris and can you leave in five days?' " Mr. Marshall recalls. (He was a deft choice because he had known Mr. Liman since he was a child; Mr. Liman's late father, Arthur, was a prominent New York lawyer with many contacts in the entertainment industry.)
"We want to be daring, we want to take risks," Ms. Snider says. "But you can't just say, `Let's be bold and daring' without any parameters. Then bold and daring becomes reckless." Mr. Marshall, she says, provided the studio with a much-needed insurance policy that the film would get done on time and on budget.
Well, sort of. Messrs. Liman and Marshall were soon warring over a scene Mr. Liman desperately wanted put back in the movie. The director and the star believed the scene, set at a farmhouse outside Paris, was key to establishing the "humanity" of Mr. Damon's character.
"I said, `Doug, we can't do the farmhouse scene. We're in downtown Paris. We don't have a farmhouse. It's not in the schedule'," Mr. Marshall remembers telling him. Reinstating the scene also created a big script problem: "How do we get these characters out of Paris and down to a farmhouse and then get them back to Paris for the finale?" Mr. Marshall asked. But the badgering proved unrelenting; Mr. Marshall finally dialed the studio back in California and got the OK for a little more time and money to go shoot the scene. (In all, the film, budgeted at about $52 million, went over by about $8 million, and took two weeks longer than scheduled to shoot.)
Mr. Liman, now 35, had one final fit to pitch -- this time after the movie was shown to a test audience. While the crowd gave the picture generally good marks, they wanted more action near the end. Uh-oh, Mr. Liman thought, nervous that the studio would force him to tack on a mindless scene in which Jason Bourne, Mr. Damon's character, would blow up a building or kill people for no reason. It was "my point of biggest paranoia," Mr. Liman says. "I feared it would undermine all of the work I had put into the film."
After an exasperating exchange with the studio, the writer and filmmakers devised an action sequence -- involving a shoot-out and a really big fall -- on which they could all agree. "No one said, `You must shoot this, you can't include that,' " Ms. Snider says. "But Doug came from a world where he had a lot more independence." Universal, which had already moved the film's release date from September 2001 to February 2002, pushed it back once again, to May 31, so that Mr. Liman could return to Paris to shoot the new scene. More recently, the studio switched the release date for "Bourne" a third time, to June 14.
Mr. Liman admits he had difficulty delegating tasks he had done himself on "Swingers," and on his last project, "Go," a $7 million movie he made for Columbia in 1999. He was "often surprised" at how hard it was to make a big-budget film, he says, and repeatedly refers to the shooting of "Bourne" as a "[expletive deleted] nightmare."
But would he ever make a major-studio film again? He says: "I'd love to."