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Alec Baldwin and Doug Liman Discuss Larcenous Directing
« on: April 26, 2011, 11:17:41 pm »
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At Tribeca: Alec Baldwin and Doug Liman Discuss Larcenous Directing and the Problem With Studios
   
Why did the Tribeca Film Festival pair Alec Baldwin with director Doug Liman as part of their 10th anniversary Tribeca Talks Directors Series when the two had never worked together? “They share the fact that they’re both New Yorkers,” said festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal before the event. “They’re both passionate, they’re political, they’re provocative, they’re proactive — they really take matters into their own hands. They’re very professional. […] They’re great.” Translation: Why not?

Which is not to say that the unlikely twosome wasn’t totally entertaining. Baldwin and Liman arrived at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in Chelsea about ten minutes late, but the jokes started flying almost immediately (said Baldwin: “I love Tribeca; I love the film festival, because it’s so downtown — even though we’re in Chelsea”). After that, Baldwin got Liman (Swingers, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) to open up about his early work, his constant hustle to get the necessary shots, and his clashes on the set of The Bourne Identity, among many other things. Here are some of the highlights.

Good directors don’t grow on trees.
“For me, good directors and really, really smart people who choose to go into film directing, and who work until their careers get some traction — there aren’t enough of them,” Baldwin said during his introduction of Liman. “I work in this business and there are a lot of good actors — they may not have as fizzy a career as they’d like, or they toil in the theater often, and don’t really make it in film and television. There’s a lot of good actors — this is just my opinion — and there’s a lot of good writers, there’s a lot of great unproduced scripts. But there’s not a lot of good directors. There’s a lot of people who are competent in some aspect, but people who can bring it all together the way great directors do. It’s tough.” Note to parents: Encourage your kids to be directors, like you might encourage them to play catcher or pitch left-handed.


Doug Liman will steal a shot or ten, if you let him.
One of the running themes of the night — one that Liman comically bristled against toward the end — was that he uses any means necessary to make his films, including “stealing shots” by filming without permits. “That’s why The Bourne Identity has that sort of shaky style, because for the most part, Matt Damon and I were sneaking around Paris and shooting where we didn’t have permits. […] I’ve basically never been busted.”

Quipped Baldwin: “So your school of directing is really more about theft than art. Pulling some sh*t over on people rather than [doing it properly].”


In fact, he structured the Swingers shooting schedule to include time for possible incarceration.
For scenes in moving cars, a police escort is needed to film legally. Only Liman couldn’t afford such an extravagance while making Swingers. “On that film, I had a driving scene — driving to Vegas. We got this special rig — it was from U-Haul for towing cars — and it specifically said, in huge letters, ‘Do not put people in the car you’re towing.’ So, we hooked the car up to this rig and towed it behind a pick-up truck, and I literally picked the highway in LA that was least likely to have police,” Liman said as Baldwin choked back laughter. “The 118. I had never been on the 118 in my entire life. I didn’t know anyone who had ever been on that highway, so I figured there’s probably not going to be as many police. There weren’t, we didn’t get arrested. The whole shooting schedule of Swingers was actually organized by the things most likely to get us arrested, which were put at the end. This was the very last thing we shot, because this was the day I thought for sure would land us in jail.”


Speaking of Swingers, it was likely picked up because Harvey Weinstein got into a fight.
Fun fact: Swingers didn’t get into the Sundance Film Festival, which left Liman and Jon Favreau a bit “heartbroken.” No matter, though: Harvey Weinstein was there after Sundance to purchase Swingers, an event that might not had happened if not for Harvey’s temper. “It turns out that was the Sundance where Harvey Weinstein got into a fist fight with somebody from New Line over a film, and Harvey had left Sundance sort of wanting. He left Sundance wanting to win and get another movie, and we happened to be showing our movie right into that environment. He aggressively pursued us and, at the time, it was the most profitable sale of an independent movie.”


Liman wanted to make The Bourne Identity after Swingers, but was offered Heartbreakers instead.
Following Swingers, Liman spoke with Warner Bros. about making The Bourne Identity, but studio wasn’t interested. “They said no.” Repeatedly, apparently. “I was like 0-for-5 [in pitches].” Unable to get Bourne off the ground, he made Go against the wishes of his agent. “There was a film called Heartbreakers with Cher and Alicia Silverstone. It was a comedy, set in Palm Beach. They were like, ‘You should go make that movie!’” Heartbreakers wound up starring Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt; meanwhile, Go is the film Liman said “he’s most proud of.” Good decision, Doug!



 When he finally got to direct The Bourne Identity, Liman ran into some trouble with Universal.
It’s no secret that Liman had some major clashes with Universal executives while making The Bourne Identity. Here’s the story of just one! “It was a very, very tough shoot. For the first time I actually had a fancy studio line producer, and the first thing he did was tell me all the things we couldn’t do,” said Liman. “It would get really ugly on the set. I wanted to reshoot a scene we had done the day before. I said, ‘Before we move on, I don’t have this scene, I want to re-do it.’ They were like, ‘You can’t re-do it.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, just give me an hour at the beginning of the morning, and we’ll just do it.’ […] But it was just always about the no.”

Liman decided to take matters into his own hands, and he re-shot the scene — which happened to be when Clive Owen’s character dies in the film — without the approval of Universal. “There’s 400 feet of film in the camera — that’s four minutes — and the scene is a minute-and-a-half. I said, ‘I’m going to shoot Matt Damon’s side first, and instead of calling cut — because if I call cut, they’re going to take the camera away from me — I’m going to call reset, and Clive will come back alive, and I’m going to quickly run around with the camera, point it at Clive and re-do the scene. With the last minute of film, I’m going to jump back, and you guys are going to do the beginning of the scene and the end of the scene.’”

“And that’s the scene that’s in the film — it’s like my most proud piece of dailies, because it’s a four-minute piece of film that’s the entire scene in the final film. It was all done in one take.”

Said Baldwin after the story of deceit: “Stealing footage from studios! He’s got to steal another take.”


Sex scenes aren’t fun for anyone.
Directing a sex scene is sometimes just as awkward as watching one. “I’m always envious of the actors because at least you have the other actor, whereas the director, you just feel like a pervert,” said Liman. Though as Baldwin retorted that isn’t necessarily true. “Sometimes you don’t have the other actor either.”


Liman wasn’t a big fan of the Groupon ticket deal for The Lincoln Lawyer in March.
Asked what he finds different about working on television (where he’s had success as a producer on The O.C., and more recently Covert Affairs), Liman didn’t hold back with his contempt of how things are marketed. “The thing about TV is it’s a meritocracy. I love that aspect of it — and I’ve had shows that have gone on the air and been canceled. I’ve seen the good and the bad of it. On a film, you can basically buy an opening weekend. In fact, this spring, one studio did a deal with Groupon and literally bought the opening weekend. Sold the tickets for a dollar and they paid the $9 themselves.”


Don’t expect to see Warner Bros. release a Doug Liman-directed drama anytime soon.
While talking about the success of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Liman took a moment to bemoan the lack of non-blockbusters released by studios here in 2011. “What they don’t make are serious dramas. Almost every drama today is made by an independent company. I heard a story that Leonardo DiCaprio was pitching a film at Warner Bros. — and, y’know, he’s a big deal at Warner Bros. — and they cut him off halfway through the pitch and said, ‘Is this a drama? Because we don’t make dramas anymore. You might as well just save your breath.’”

That story stirred up a memory for Baldwin: “When I was going to do the movie The Fugitive, they came to me years ago — a million years ago, when I was younger. I’ll never forget, this really wonderful executive. He was great, he was a great guy. This guy Bob Brassel. He was a lovely guy, a young guy. He was funny, because he was up front about how studio-esque he was. We were talking about the Gerard character, and the Richard Kimble character. He says, ‘Well, I don’t want the movie to just be, hide, seek, hide, seek. We gotta get the female character. We want him to have a love interest. We want him to be hide, f*ck, seek. Hide, f*ck, seek.’ The director and I sat there and we were like, ‘Wow, man.’ That was Warner Bros.”