Now playing in theaters and IMAX is director Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Based on the Tom Clancy character, the original story follows Jack Ryan (played by Chris Pine) as he uncovers a financial terrorist plot. Starring alongside Pine is Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley with Branagh as the film’s antagonist.
A few days ago I landed an exclusive interview with producers Lorenzo di Bonaventure and Mace Neufeld. They talked about how making movies has changed over the past few years, the Jack Ryan test screening and how it possibly influenced the final release, who they invite to friends and family screenings, the title Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and if they had any alternate titles that were almost used, filming in London, the casting process, and future projects like The Equalizer, G.I. Joe 3 and Red 3. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
We talked on set and I don’t want to ask the same questions again and again. So I definitely want to start with- how have things changed in terms of making a movie over the last few years? Has it gotten any different? Has it gotten any easier? I’m just curious how it’s been for both of you.
MACE NEUFELD: Its different. The biggest change that I’ve seen, two things over the years, are the difference between foreign box office receipts and domestic. It used to be 60-70% domestic 30-40% foreign now it’s 70% foreign and 30% domestic, so you have to keep the foreign markets in mind, which the marketing people keep in mind all the time. The second thing is the marketing. In the old days, and I’m going back to when I went with Paramount in 1989 we made a movie and then we handed it to marketing and said “You guys sell it.” That’s not how it works now. Marketing is right next to production because of the nature of the marketplace. Marketing will read the script right up front and say “we think this could do so much overseas,” they’ll go to their computers, “so much domestically. This is what the budget should be.” At that point you may loose your movie or you may start on the difficult journey of trying to get your script made at the budget that marketing and production want you to. I think those are two major changes.
LORENZO DI BONAVENTURA: Yeah, I think the audience has changed a lot. I think starting with HBO and then going to DVD and going to digital, the amount of accessibility to watching movies- I think the average audience member has seen so many more hours of entertainment that the challenge to impress them, awe them, trick them, surprise them has gotten really significantly difficult. That puts a lot of pressure on. When you look at an action sequence, they’ve seen every single action sequence and they’ve a lot, and they’ve watched it in slow motion sometimes. So it really forces you to ask yourself the question “Is this really good enough?” So much more now than ten years ago and really more than twenty years ago. Looking back at twenty years ago, you could trick the audience into not seeing something coming much more easily than you can now, because they’ve seen so many tricks. So as a filmmaker you have to keep asking yourself the question are we really going to impress them either by the wow factor, the intelligence factor, the I didn’t see that coming factor? To me that’s been the hardest thing that’s putting pressure on us. When you couple that with the sort of economic pressure that they’re putting on each movie now. That was different then, you’re being asked to do it with less resources than you would have before. So it’s a very tricky balance to do lie, okay ware going to do it better with less money.
NEUFELD: And they’re doing fewer. When I came to paramount in 89 they were doing 25 or 26 movies a year and now they’re doing if you’re lucky 10. So getting a movie made is really much harder…for me at least. Not for Lorenzo.
NEUFELD: He does one after the other.
DI BONAVENTURA: [Laughs] It is hard.
I’m definitely curious about the test screen process on this film and how it possibly influenced the final release.
DI BONAVENTURA: The ending got affected in a good way. We originally had a different ending. It was perhaps more philosophical and more about the everyman coming to the very end of his rope and barely getting through. When we showed it to the audience they really wanted the good guy to kill the bad guy and get the bomb out. it forced us into a different equation at the end. So I think that was probably the most dramatic part of the equation. What was also interesting was that we had been arguing very strongly that the sophistication of the material would play. There was some debate about that, and when you saw a scene like when Chris’s character first meets Ken’s character and they talk about, “You Americans and such and such” or “You Russians think you’re poets, but you’re just touchy.” The audience really responded, which means that they were really paying attention, because it is a somewhat sophisticated. They got the joke and they were in the moment. that was a really good moment for us. When that scene played the way it played with a big audience was when you knew that the notion that we could try to have an intelligent larger economic argument going on as a bad guy plot was going to work.
You mentioned that the ending got adjusted, was this one of these things where you did some additional shooting?
DI BONAVENTURA: Yes. Yeah, we did and that was partly economic. Originally we had a bigger ending and we had to fit a budget down, and when we got there fortunately Paramount made the decision to put some more money in and give us a bigger ending.
I have to say, and I’m not going to reveal anything because this is going to run before the movie comes out, I think you guys have a great last scene. It’s so important to have a great beginning and a great ending because that’s what people will remember. Was there a lot of debate on that last scene? Did that come together in the additional shooting?
DI BONAVENTURA: When you say last scene, what’s the last scene for you?
I don’t want to reveal anything, but it’s them about to go into a room.
DI BONAVENTURA: No that was in the original script.
NEUFELD: That was in the original script.
DI BONAVENTURA: That was in the original script. the debate was really were you going to see the person that they were going to meet? That was the debate. It’s interesting, Ken really made the choice that’s in the movie and it’s fascinating- there’s no right answer but the answer that was chosen and it seems to play pretty well.
I think it’s always better to leave people’s imagination to do most of the work. its always better than what you can show.
DI BONAVENTURA: Yeah.
Maybe I’m wrong though.
DI BONAVENTURA: It’s hard. It’s hard to. It’s hard to pull that off.
I’m curious about friends and family screenings for both of you. Obviously you do friends and family screenings, who are the people that you always want to have in that room for that first screening that you trust?
NEUFELD: My family. My family and a few of the people who work for me. I don’t like inviting people who are in the movie business.
DI BONAVENTURA: It’s funny I have the exact opposite thing. My family roots for me so they’re completely worthless in the process. I tend to have five or ten really close friends, most of whom are writers or directors, who I know are going to be combative and be very tough on what they see. And also I like them there because they’re really smart people so they’re going to give me a solution. It’s a great way of getting- you look for different things in these kind of screenings, too. I’m not looking for is the audience going to like it or not? I want to hear somebody try to poke a hole in it. I want to hear why they saw the logic was flawed or why that scene was not believable. We’ll let the larger audience decide. Those screenings are to really be very judgmental and very sharp, pointed. I had one person in one screening though,[ laughs] I thought our director was going to kill himself. Right after the- I won’t name names, but right after the screening I turn to this Academy Award winning writer and I say, “So what did you think?” And the answer was, “I don’t believe the premise of the movie.” [Laughs] I looked over and I saw the director, who had never done one of these before, his face just like “What?” [Laughs]. It was pretty funny. I mean, that is not helpful. There is nothing you can do with that. Like, oh the whole movie doesn’t work? Okay, well.
I’m curious about the title Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Was that always the one you were aiming for? Did you have a lot of alternate ones? And was there one that came really close to making it to the release?
DI BONAVENTURA: Yeah we wanted Jack Ryan. Just simply Jack Ryan.
NEUFELD: Yeah, then tested other titles. We kept saying Jack Ryan.
DI BONAVENTURA: The filmmakers, we were united behind Jack Ryan.
NEUFELD: And then they added-
DI BONAVENTURA: They added Shadow Recruit.
NEUFELD: Shadow Recruit.
Isn’t that also maybe a sign to sort of say- because obviously everyone at the studio and I’m sure you guys want to make more Jack Ryan movies. So by sort of having that Shadow Recruit you’re sort of setting it up in case you’re going to do another one.
DI BONAVENTURA: I guess so. I don’t know if that’s what they were thinking. I think that they were just trying to give as much information or intrigue to the title as they could. By saying Shadow Recruit- what is that? Where is that? You know? It was trying to give it a different slant. We always believed in the title Jack Ryan.
You guys filmed in London. When you have Kenneth Branagh as your director and your filming in London can you literally do anything and the government will say yes.
DI BONAVENTURA: No [laughs]. No they’re like every major city, right?
NEUFELD: But it’s easier. Crew, crew-wise it’s easier.
DI BONAVENTURA: Actor-wise.
NEUFELD: Actor-wise it’s easier. They want to work with Kenneth. The one glitch we had is we had to have a 10:30 shooting call instead of an 8:30 shooting call because Kenneth had to go to Buckingham Palace and be knighted [laughs].
I have two questions because I’ve got to wrap. So I was going to ask about the casting process. Obviously you mentioned early about the importance of foreign revenue, foreign box office. Was this one of these things where you guys had this cast picked out and then it worked with the marketing people and the studio? How much was the back and forth with you guys?
DI BONAVENTURA: It was a lot of back and forth. After Chris there was a lot of back and forth.
DI BONAVENTURA: And the studio was very pro-Kevin because they felt he would bring a lot and we were very pro-Kevin because we felt he would bring a lot of what we were hoping from him, which is that sort of leading man quality that he has. Because I think one of the things when they talk about this mentor thing, I think Kevin pointed out and he’s right, he’s not the traditional mentor. He’s out there shooting people.
NEUFELD: Yeah he’s got a rifle.
DI BONAVENTURA: See what I mean? So you need to believe a leading man in that moment. You believe “Oh yeah, it’s Kevin Costner, he’s got the gun so everything’s going to work.” So I think creatively and financially that worked. And Ken obviously has a big audience, especially in Europe so it’s a good combination.
I definitely have to ask what’s coming up for both of you. Obviously G.I. Joe 3, possibly Red 3. I’m curious if you have an update. And also I heard you guys did a screening of Equalizer and it tested incredibly high.
So that’s true?
DI BONAVENTURA: Way to go Mace.
NEUFELD: Yeah, it did great. It’s a very exciting movie. So we’re not doing any more test screenings [laughs].
NEUFELD: Yeah that’s it.
DI BONAVENTURA: That’s fantastic, way to go Mace. That’s great. Next: G.I. Joe 3 hopefully. We’re trying to, I would say that. Red 3 is a possibility.
NEUFELD: Maybe another Jack Ryan.
DI BONAVENTURA: Yeah hopefully, you never know about that.
NEUFELD: Depends on the weekend.
DI BONAVENTURA: We’ll have to find out about that.
Thanks a lot for your time.