Director Doug Liman – Exclusive Interview – JUMPER

     February 13, 2008



I normally don’t agree to do phone interviews, but I’m extremely happy that I signed up for this one. You see, normally a phone interview sucks. It’s completely impersonal and I’ve found them to lack any spice. You get these safe, standard answers, and it’s over by the time you blink. But as I said in the first sentence, I’m so happy that I agreed to do this one.



While the interview started a bit slow, after the first two questions it picked up and never stopped. Of course Doug and I discussed the making of “Jumper” and all the challenges of filming around the world. But we also talked about digital filmmaking, 3D filmmaking, sequels, what he has coming up and a lot more. It’s actually one of the best interviews I’ve ever done with a director, and it’s definitely one worth reading. Here are a few highlights to tempt the taste buds:



When I asked about sequels, he said, “I actually have a ton of ideas for the sequel because this is whole new arena for me and so my mind was in overdrive the whole time and most of the ideas I came up with we either could tease or just save it for a sequel and so it’s…this power can be used to leave this planet, this power can be used ultimately to go back in time, this power can be used if you go and work for the government you’d be the ultimate Jason Bourne.



About his upcoming projects:



Doug: I have 2 projects I’m currently developing. One of them is with Jake Gyllenhaal about a private expedition to go to the moon present day. And I think when the United States of America put a man on the moon in 1969 that was one of the greatest accomplishments mankind has ever done. And rather than tell that as a historic movie I was like can I make this relevant to a modern audience, can I have modern characters today follow the blueprint of Apollo and re-create the Apollo mission today using parts stolen from the Smithsonian Museum. And so it’s kind of an action-adventure on the surface of the moon, and the 2nd film is the story of Valerie Plame, you may know as the CIA officer whom the Bush administration exposed her identity. And that’s with Nicole Kidman. And that project sounds straightforward except that I have a take on the material that if I go do it would be the most radical and revolutionary move of my career.



Some of the other highlights include him saying he’ll probably be moving to digital cameras for his future movies and explaining why they’re easier and faster to shoot with.



But since a few of you might not know Doug’s name, here’s some info. Doug Liman started his career by directing “Swingers,” which starred Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. From there he made the great indie film “Go,” and after that he moved into the big Hollywood arena by directing the first “Bourne” movie. After a few years he came back and directed the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and now he’s back with “Jumper.” The movie stars Hayden Christensen, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson and Samuel L. Jackson.



The premise is that Hayden plays someone with the ability to teleport. It ends up that certain people have been born with this gift for many years. However, there is a group – called the Paladins – that is determined to hunt down and kill anyone with this power. So while Hayden just wants to live a life of leisure and pursue his own selfish dreams, once the Paladins notice him, everything changes and he’s forced to fight.



I’m trying to be kind of vague and not give it all away, but all you need to know is that it’s a solid popcorn movie and one that has great effects, amazing locations, and a ton of action. But I think my favorite part of the movie is that Hayden’s character isn’t a hero. He doesn’t want to use his gifts to save mankind or better humanity. He just wants to get laid, not work, and surf where the waves are high. It’s a nice change from every comic book movie where the main character is a superman.



Anyway, here’s the great interview with Doug. As always, if you’d like to listen to the audio click here. It’s an MP3 and easily put on a portable device for listening later. And if you want to watch some movie clips from “Jumper,” click here.



Of course a big thank you to Fox for setting us this interview, and a big thank you to Doug for giving me way more than my allotted time.





Collider: How are you doing today?



Doug Liman: Good, how are you doing?



Collider: Pretty good. Enough press for you?



Doug Liman: You know, I actually like it. I don’t know why.



Collider: Okay, I’m glad you do. So, I guess let me jump right in and say that I really actually enjoyed the movie and I wanted to know how important was it for you to keep the film as real as possible?



Doug: It was really important to me because I was very interested from a character perspective and what would someone really do if they had this power, and like you could never do an honest character exploration in the world of Spiderman or Superman or Batman, because those worlds are not at all like our world. Like Jason Bourne, who’s set very much very in my world, meeting people like that I know, and like every character in Bourne Identity outside of Matt Damon is based on a real person that I know. And even the crazy people like Julia Styles character is based on a woman that I met when I lived in Paris who worked for the CIA. And so, I wanted to sort of apply the same logic to Jumper and have somebody who could teleport in our world. It was important for me because I fell in love with the character of David Rice in the book in sort of the same way that I fell in love with Vince Vaughn’s character in Jon Favreau’s script. You know, there’s a…I’m very attracted to what I consider to be like truly honest characters. I think I’m going to be judged harshly by many people for the morality of this movie, the same way that Brad and Angie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith express no remorse whatsoever over killing people for a living. David Rice does not exactly make a great role model, especially because a lot of young people are going to see this movie, but in the hands of a sort of more traditional filmmaker the obvious story to tell is selfish superhero ultimately decides to save the world and become selfless.



Collider: See that’s a question I had for you. There was a scene in the movie where you see him watching the news with the people on the river and the announcer is saying something to the effect of “who can save these people. It’s going to take a miracle”. Did you ever shoot anything that had him doing a reaction to that or was that just a throwaway?



Doug: I had an extra moment where he turned the TV off, but it was never even a possibility that he was going to go do it. And I love that it wasn’t even a possibility. There’s something…I don’t know what it says about me that I love him for the fact that like it doesn’t even occur to him that he should go save those people. I don’t think I’m all that twisted in my life. I’m not like some tattooed filmmaker who you know hangs out on the lower east side and is part of some satanic cult or something. I’m like a nice Jewish boy from the Upper West Side, but for some reason I really fell in love with this David Rice and I wanted to go as far as I possibly could with it. The scene with the TV is not in the book. The scene with him using the power to have one-night stands all over the globe and then teleport away as opposed to having the awkward morning scene—not in the book. Faced with a heroic moment in the Coliseum where Jason Bourne would stand his ground and instead David Rice chooses to abuse his power to run away—not in the book, but I wanted to see…for me there was something heroic about all of that and it may be that David Rice is just doing things that the rest of us would think about doing but would never admit to it. And so in some crazy way he’s just being a little bit more honest.



Collider: And you mentioned the Roman Coliseum. I actually wanted to talk to you about the fact that the film does take place all around the globe and I think that’s something that’s so important to add to why the film to me was so good is that you see these people all around the globe. How much of a challenge was that to actually film in Rome, in Tokyo and you know all the locations you had?



Doug: I can’t believe we actually accomplished shooting this film where we did, given that every location—if I told you you could just pick anyone of those locations and I can tell you what the restrictions were on us. And like anyone of them you’d be like okay that sounds impossible, but hopefully that was the hardest of them all. Just pick one of those and I’ll tell you what the restrictions are.



Collider: Let’s talk about the Roman Coliseum because that blew me away.



Doug: Okay, Roman Coliseum, we were only allowed to shoot 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes at the end of the day—total.



Collider: So what did you do in between the morning and the end of the day?



Doug: I would shoot…first of all we would start prepping at 3 in the morning so that when our 45-minute window started we were ready. And then we would go shoot other things during the middle of the day, you know not much and then we would start prepping an hour or two before our 45-minute window opened again, because you don’t have a second to waste, like you need all the cameras loaded, you need everybody knowing exactly what they’re doing, you need the actors to have rehearsed their performances. Then we shot the Pantheon; we would go shoot the hotel. We’d grab other pieces.



Collider: This is interesting because I know that you’re famous for shooting and then re-shooting.



Doug: That option is not open to me on the Coliseum.



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Collider: I was going to say to you, how did that affect you as a filmmaker? Did you …?



Doug: I’m basically like I’ll shoot and re-shoot if I that option is available to me, but on “Swingers” I couldn’t re-shoot anything, so I just got it right the first time. So I’ll kind of…in my gut I know what the restrictions are so in the case of the Coliseum I knew it was a one-shot deal, so we did more rehearsals to get it right the first time, whereas maybe if I had the ability to go back I’d rather not over-rehearse it to take a chance at getting something truly fresh and original, but knowing that also I may have to go back and re-shoot because we’re not rehearsing.



Collider: So I actually wanted to ask you, the film has a running time of around 90 something minutes I believe. I wanted to know are there any key scenes—did you have a lot of deleted scenes on this or was it all on the screen?



Doug: It’s basically all on the…there’s like 2 deleted scenes. Basically it’s that we paced the movie up…it went from being 2 hours to 90 minutes and that’s without taking anything out of it….I wanted to apply…hopefully this will make sense to you…when you first edit a movie, the characters…the first thing you do is you cut out what is called the shoe leather, so anything where someone walks into a room or walks out of a room, anything that gets a character from point A to point B that’s not necessary—you just try to cut to all the good stuff and get rid of anything that’s not important in between. That’s called cutting out the shoe leather and that’s how you usually get a movie from 2-1/2 hours to 2 hours—your standard movie. In this movie, the characters themselves are cutting out the shoe leather because they’re teleporters. Why wouldn’t they cut just to the good part of the scene? So, you’re already starting with a movie where the characters themselves are going to be living at a pace equivalent to sort of a tightly edited movie. Then what’s the role of the editor in the case where the actor’s are sort of doing the editing in the first place where the characters are already their own lives before you even get a chance to start as a film editor? So, I toyed with both sort of keeping it in the actors pace and I really felt we should pace it up and try to communicate the speed with which somebody who could teleport would live their life. And when the film starts and David Rice tells us how many places he visited that morning alone, you know, the rest of the film was an attempt to try to communicate the feeling of what that really would be like. So for an older audience, the ending may move so fast that they may not even know all the places that the finale action sequence takes place in, but you know it was really important for me to try to communicate the emotion of what that would feel like.



Collider: I think actually you did a really good job with that. I wanted to know—you seem to really like this character and this universe. Assuming that the film does pretty well at the box office, would you just right back in and do a sequel and do you have any ideas for a sequel?



I actually have a ton of ideas for the sequel because this is whole new arena for me and so my mind was in overdrive the whole time and most of the ideas I came up with we either could tease or just save it for a sequel and so it’s…this power can be used to leave this planet, this power can be used ultimately to go back in time, this power can be used if you go and work for the government you’d be the ultimate Jason Bourne.



Collider: See now…in the movie you mentioned time travel, did you drop any hints of that in the film? Did I miss this?



Doug: No, but there’s one massive hint in the film for the ultimate twist that would take place in the sequel, which is…I guess people will read the 2nd book so they’ll know, but Rachel Bilson’s character learns how to teleport in the 2nd book.



Collider: So you’re saying that these powers can be taught to other people?



Doug: In this case they are taught and it’s, you know, one of the things that may sort of…things we toyed with on this movie is do we actually need to do the obligatory rule scene, where you lay out everything the power can and can’t do. We ultimately decided to say we’re changing so many other sort of aspects of this genre like let’s not do the rule scene because the rules don’t ultimately…the limitations of this power aren’t ultimately…don’t factor into the finale, so we skipped the obligatory rules thing and also because this film is set in the real world and David Rice is not a physicist. He is not going to understand why he can teleport. He will never understand that, you know, different movie if you’ve got an MIT quantum physicist who discovers they can teleport. That guy will spend the movie conducting experiments on himself to understand it and understand how it’s happening and what his limitations are. David Rice—not going to understand his ability to teleport the way Jason Bourne will never understand his amnesia.



Collider: If I’m doing one more question, I might as well ask you so what is your next project? I read online that you might be doing something…a moon project?



Doug: I have 2 projects I’m currently developing. One of them is with Jake Gyllenhaal about a private expedition to go to the moon present day. And I think when the United States of America put a man on the moon in 1969 that was one of the greatest accomplishments mankind has ever done. And rather than tell that as a historic movie I was like can I make this relevant to a modern audience, can I have modern characters today follow the blueprint of Apollo and re-create the Apollo mission today using parts stolen from the Smithsonian Museum.



Collider: Okay.



Doug: And so it’s kind of an action-adventure on the surface of the moon, and the 2nd film is the story of Valerie Plame, you may know as the CIA officer whom the Bush administration exposed her identity.



Collider: I totally know.



Doug: And that’s with Nicole Kidman. And that project sounds straightforward except that I have a take on the material that if I go do it would be the most radical and revolutionary move of my career.



Collider: Well then you…I’m sorry to ask, but you need to tell me a little bit more than that, please?



Doug: Yeah, it’s so outrageous that the way I look at it, I’m taking material that could be, you know, just a docu-drama and I’m making it into art. I’d be doing you know ultimately what a filmmaker should do which is not just tell a story but push the boundaries of story-telling.



Collider: Absolutely. Do you feel like one of those might win out over the other? Or it’s just which script comes together first?



Doug: It’s which script comes together first. You know it’s…I’m feeling a lot of kind of family pressure to sort of tackle more serious subject matter like basically it’s kind of a…my mom feeling like I should grow up. So, but I can’t help it. The idea of transporting an audience to the surface of the moon and trying to give them the experience that Neil Armstrong had.



Collider: Well, you’re also in the very rare position that you can make these big movies; that the studios believe in you as a filmmaker and you have that again…it’s like you’ve won the lottery, so of course you should do whatever you want to do.



Doug: It doesn’t feel like having won the lottery like I know sort of this you step back because like it doesn’t get any easier. Somehow I feel like if you’d win the lottery it would be easier, like in either of these cases like I still have to toil on these scripts the way I had to toil way back when like it didn’t….like that aspect like the movies don’t get easier to make.



Well, I’m sure you feel even more pressure with the inflated budget which leads me back to would you ever make a film that would premier again at Sundance, you know? Or…



Doug: Yes.



You know because that might make your mom happy.



Doug: My favorite parts of the shooting of Jumper were the ones where we were back to a Swingers style production and because Hayden Christianson like Matt Damon was on Bourne, these actors were willing to run around with me with just a camera and basically the look and feel of Bourne Identity stem mostly from the fact that I was running off and shooting with Matt with no permissions and therefore the camera was like hidden under my arm and you know we were worried about getting busted and we’d have to move really quickly and that ended up becoming a style for the whole franchise and you know on Jumper I wanted…you know we shot in 17 different cities and only in about 7 of them I could actually afford a real crew. And in 10 of them I was going, you know, guerilla.



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Collider: So do you think the Bourne movie helped you with Jumper? With that ability to guerilla-style it?



Doug: Yeah, I don’t think if I had done…without Swingers I never could have done Bourne, and without Bourne I never could have possibly conceived of going guerilla in as many countries as we did in this movie. And ultimately sort of you know having kind of having a sort of a real desire to experience life and so I was not afraid of getting arrested during the production of this film. In fact, if anything, I left Tokyo a little disappointed that with the number of laws we broke in that country, I didn’t get to experience what it’s like to be in a Tokyo jail.



Collider: Do you think the government though was happy that you were having these stars and making a big movie there though?



Doug: No. I mean, they were…I might yet have that jail experience when I go back to Tokyo for the Tokyo premiere, for the Japan premiere, because when they see the footage and they’re like okay, you didn’t have permission….like I know….the police chased us while we were shooting that film on a number of occasions when we were shooting in Tokyo, and we just always got away which is why none of us ended up in jail. So somewhere, someone’s like they’re still looking for that Mercedes convertible. Like somewhere someone must have a record that the Mercedes convertible got away and they’re you know, they have the license plate and they’re looking.



Collider: When you’re shooting that sequence did you have just one camera, did you have a crew, was it guerilla?



Doug: It was guerilla but it was like big-budget guerilla. We had a camera bike—a motorcycle with a remote control gyro-stabilized 35mm camera attached to it and a microwave link to a follow van where the camera operator was and where we were and then there’s the Mercedes being driven by a stunt driver and we’re going through the streets of Tokyo at 80 mph.



Collider: And you didn’t have permits?



Doug: No, they wouldn’t let us…we got to Tokyo and there were like ‘oh, sorry everything we told you you could do here, you can’t do any of it. A Mercedes coming out of a dealership—sorry.’ What do you mean sorry we’re in Tokyo because we planned these things and you said when we got here we could shoot them and they’re like ‘yeah, we’re wrong can’t do it. Can’t put a camera on the street.’ ‘What do you mean can’t put a camera on the street?’ ‘Yeah, you’re not allowed to put a camera on the street in Tokyo. You have to shoot on a sound stage if you want to come.’ We didn’t come all the way to Tokyo to shoot on a sound stage.



Collider: Well, on top of that Lost in Translation shot there on the streets.



Doug: We stole everything they did but that’s people talking on the street. I’ve got a car coming flying out of a dealership that’s got to land in the middle of an intersection. They’re like yeah, no. Yeah, for sure you can’t do that. So we just did it.



Collider: That’s absolutely crazy. I actually have one other question as a filmmaker, you mentioned you were shooting on 35, do you ever think that you’ll go digital or are you always going to be a film person?



Doug: Well, we did shoot most of the movie on 35 but towards the very end I started using the red camera—are you familiar with that?



Collider: I’m not familiar with the red. I’m familiar with the Genesis.



Doug: We tested the Genesis but it was too difficult. The red camera was developed by the guy who started Oakley Sunglasses and so we were the first movie at Fox to shoot with this camera. It was a proto-type but you’ll see it on the website for the film some behind the scenes like the surfing scene where I’m shooting with the red and you’ll see I have like a hood over my head because there wasn’t even a view-finder for the camera yet. I had to use a monitor, but its…I fell in love with it and the same way that I love the Aaton which is a very small 35mm camera, the red gives me that same level of flexibility and so it seems unlikely that my next film would be shot on 35mm.



Collider: And with that red camera, can you shoot with super low light and…?



Doug: No, and you know nothing shoot low light better than film. People are always like oh, digital you can go lower light, it’s not really true. 35mm film is actually remarkable and it’s you know…I shot Swingers all on available light in 35mm and film stock has gotten significantly better in the last 10 years so you don’t get any advantage there, but 35mm film stock is basically so good that you don’t really need movie lights.



Collider: So then what’s the advantage of the red camera? What is the added value that you as a filmmaker find you know, why you’d move to the digital realm?



Doug: You can re-load in about 10 seconds, so it’s really hard to compete with that. You have momentum on the set and suddenly you have to stop to re-load and everybody suddenly the actors are in the bathroom and you have to get everybody back so just the speed with which you can shoot when you can re-load in 10 seconds. The camera’s smaller, which just gives you more flexibility. You can get it into more interesting places without having to cut holes in cars and sets. And for me, personally, since I operate myself, the notion that somebody else can be reviewing what I’m doing and telling me whether it’s all in focus as opposed to having to wait until the next day when it’s too late to fix it. I mean that’s obviously very specific to me because most directors don’t operate or if they can operate they’re better at keeping focused that I am. So for all those reasons it’s just, you know, I’m an easy convert to digital.



Collider: I know you probably have to go and I so appreciate you giving me your time but I also wanted to ask you about 3D filmmaking and if that’s something that you would ever consider for any of your future projects?



Doug: Yeah, no the guys that did the U2 film had me come look at their technology and it’s a little cumbersome and I’m still not sure from an emotional point of view like how I would use it but it’s something that definitely intrigues me because it’s I also like a good challenge and it’s like it would be a whole new arena for me. So, it’s very likely that at some point, possibly even the moon project, I’ll not only try to tackle a new arena; I’ll throw in 3D just for the hell of it. The same way that doing Bourne Identity it wasn’t enough for me to jump from Swingers to a big studio action film, I also had to shoot it in France with an entirely French crew and teach myself French to be able to communicate to direct that movie. Like 3D sort of feels like that similar kind of like gotta learn a new language.



Collider: My last question for you—I don’t know if I actually got an answer from you about you explaining the time travel aspect of Jumper. I think you were talking to me about how in the next movie Rachel might learn how to jump, but I don’t know if you actually told me about the time travel thing. I kind of wanted to follow up on that.



Doug: Well, you know the kind of jumping that we’re showing in the movie which is a kind of worm hole jump which is why those scars are left behind, if you can travel through space through a worm hole from a scientific Einstein point of view, you could also travel through time. So you know that’s not quantum teleportation which is featured in the film, so I’m very specific to show those scars and to show that you’re leaving a worm hole and in fact that’s what Rachel Bilson gets pulled through in the end, so it’s….I’ve left myself open…I’ve left the door open to time travel because of the specific kind of teleportation that I chose to portray in this film.



Collider: Doug, I so appreciate your giving me your time and have a great day and I hope the movie does very well.



Doug: It’s been really nice talking to you.



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