Now playing is writer/director Tony Gilroy’s The Bourne Legacy. For those unfamiliar with the franchise reboot, this time around, a government task force led by Edward Norton‘s character is assassinating all their genetically-modified assets to prevent another Bourne situation. However, one member of the program, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), manages to escape with a scientist (Rachel Weisz), and the two go on the run for their lives. The film also stars Oscar Isaac, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Stacy Keach, Scott Glenn, Corey Stoll, and Donna Murphy. For more on the film, here are five clips and all our previous coverage.
During the recent Los Angeles press day, I did an exclusive interview with Tony Gilroy. During our extended conversation we talked about the making of Bourne Legacy, sequels, his writing process, creating new and exciting action scenes, IMAX, 3D, deleted scenes, what will be on the Blu-ray, whether the next sequel would still have “Bourne” in the title, if he has scripts ready to shoot, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
TONY GILROY: I have been doing a lot of press over the last ten days, yes.
Is it a process that you enjoy? Some directors want to let the movie speak for itself, but at the same time, you have to promote.
GILROY: Yes, to that. Yes. Would I prefer to do less of it? Yeah. Some of it’s fun. When it’s switched on and smart, it’s engaging. And sometimes it’s like being in a dairy farm. If you did it all the time, I think it would be a grind. I’ve only done it…this is the third time I’ve done it. It’s still vaguely a novelty.
Jumping into why I actually get to talk to you today, one of the things that I learned by talking to producers Frank Marshall and Ben Smith, is that this film, this Bourne was…you could say a little bit different than the making of the third film, which was a little bit more chaotic and nerve-wracking. I heard this one went very smoothly.
GILROY: I wasn’t involved…my involvement with Ultimatum really ended when I turned in the script and went to work on Michael Clayton, so I couldn’t have been more outside the stadium when they were making that. I worked for a lot of directors. I had a big advantage, I worked for a lot of different directors over almost thirty years as a writer, 25 years as a writer. So, I got to see a lot of directors over the years and work on a lot of shows and I did a lot of production work. I knew what I liked. I like things to be really organized and I like things to be really rational and I knew…if you’re the writer, in some way you’re a department head and I knew what made me work best and I like to run a really happy organized show. So I can’t speak to how anybody else does it.
Obviously Universal has had great success with the Bourne franchise and they’re hoping that Jeremy Renner can take the mantle and turn this into a new franchise obviously with Renner leading the way. When you’re writing this, knowing that Universal’s clearly hoping to reboot the franchise in a new direction, did you come up with a bible in terms of where it can go from now on? How much are you laying out to make sure that you still had story, if you will, for when Universal might want to do another?
GILROY: The bible was really much more in the beginning and it was really building the mythology of this larger conspiracy and the mythology of the origin story of this entire franchise. We’re really saying that Edward Norton has been there for the whole 13 years and sitting beside you in the theater watching this all go on. A lot of the work that would let you go forward was done then, so it’s more like tending the whole landscape at first. We wanted to be in the position where…look, it was extremely important to me, when I came on, I didn’t come on until the rules were that Matt [Damon] was gone, Matt and Paul [Greengrass] were gone, there was no Jason Bourne. That was the given when I had the first conversation about this. So it was very important to me, extremely important to me, that everything that had happened before be well preserved and be enhanced if possible by what we’re doing now. I think we’re in a good place where we can go in a whole bunch of different directions, and hopefully not in a way where you’re cheesily asking the audience for another ticket on the way out as the movie’s over. I’ve seen some movies that do that and it’s sort of irritating. We don’t to be that, but we want to leave ourselves in a good position to have a whole variety of ways of going forward.
I’m curious about your writing process. Some writers I speak to, they punch a clock like 9-to-5, and others talk about a “golden time,” when they first wake up, they put in a good four hours and then they need to stop. How are you as a writer?
GILROY: I used to be, when I was young, I used to be extremely regular and very organized. I think what I’ve recognized over the years is that I’m very, very bingey, extremely bingey when it comes to writing. But there’s no way of calculating when those binges are going to arrive, so there’s a huge amount of “ass in chair” that’s wasted time, but I really…what I don’t do is, if I get on a run, if I get hot, I play the hot hand. It’s sort of like gambling; if things are running right, I don’t want to let go. I spend a lot of time wasting time waiting for something to happen or making it…[laughs] it’s more painful not to write than it is to write. It’s kind of a mixed bag. But what I didn’t recognize when I was much younger was this sort of…when you’re on, when you’re really on, go at it.
The Bourne franchise is known for action set pieces and great intimate action scenes. I’m curious about the challenge of coming up with new action set pieces that have not been done and new ways of filming it, new ways of showing it. Was that daunting to you or was that sort of exciting?
GILROY: No, it’s exciting. But it starts with exactly that, if you say what you just said to me, to yourself, and that’s your starting point, and then you say, “Okay, well I know that’s what we want to do. Here’s where the bar’s been set. We know what everybody else has done, not only in the previous three films, but everybody in the marketplace has done.” I’ve only seen, you know, 50,000 movies, so you start with that as your North Star that you’re going to navigate towards. For me, what works is, I go to real places. You go to Manila and walk around for ten days and see what’s there and you go, “Wow!” You go back to your hotel and you write it up and you think about it and you have a drink and you go back the next day and you look around. It’s like being six years old; you want to make it fun. The invention of it needs to be fun. It loses all of its fun in the middle, but the inception of it and hopefully the end result are fun; everything in the middle is a big pain in the ass. But you gotta get really excited and just start by thinking, “What’s fresh?”
I’m a huge fan of the IMAX format; not so much 3D. Did you ever have any thought to filming anything in IMAX? Or is that something that maybe you’d think about in the future for a Bourne film or another project that you’re involved with?
GILROY: Because of the sort of fabric of these, the integrity was really kind of baked in all along the way and that’s always been the cornerstone of the whole thing, it never really came up. It might have been in one conversation for about one minute and everybody said, “No, no, no, no. We want to be old school.” We’re old school in a lot of ways; we’re shooting film. I’m not shooting in IMAX, but I just found out last Friday that we’re making an IMAX print. I’m actually going to go check a reel, tomorrow, of it for foreign. There’s a foreign window and there will be foreign IMAX. Now, it’s not shot in IMAX but it’s supposed to look fantastic, so I’m going to see a reel of it tomorrow. I don’t know if it’ll ever be exhibited in the United States, but I think overseas it’ll show.
It’s interesting, I just interviewed Len Wiseman for Total Recall and he told me the exact same thing that his DI, I forget the technical term, but he was saying to me that he checked it over…when they do their conversion at IMAX, it looks fantastic. He was saying to me that, for the foreign market, they’re going to be releasing Recall in IMAX.
GILROY: I’d love to see the whole thing. I don’t know if I’m ever going to have the chance to see it. One of the markets is China and so if we do actually firm it all up and that does happen, Jeremy and I may go, at the end of September, to China to do that. Like I said, they have one reel ready for me to go look at tomorrow, so I’ll see one reel to see what it looks like. I’d love to see the whole film in IMAX. I love IMAX when it works right. I don’t know how the…if you don’t shoot on…what’d they shoot on? Did they shoot on Alexa or RED cam?
They did digital. I forget if it was the RED or the Alexa. It was one of those two cameras.
GILROY: I wonder how that translates…I don’t know if they get that much information on the screen. Film is…this has moved to a level of geekdom that I can’t fully… I’m going to go over there tomorrow and have a little tutorial, so I’m a little in advance of this particular conversation. But we are striking an IMAX print.
We’re really off on a tangent… I will just say, when you look at Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, I saw that in IMAX at the AMC Burbank and it looked unbelievable. He did not film in IMAX. Their conversion process has gotten much better.
GILROY: You have to tweak your DI a little bit because the screen is so much brighter, and anything you do to protect yourself against shitty projection around the rest of the world you don’t have to do in IMAX. So you don’t have to add the little extra that you might add to protect yourself against faulty bulbs and stuff like that. And the screen is really bright, so we have to do a little bit of tweaking, we have to make sure that we’re in the sweet spot there.
Your movie is I believe two hours, give or take. I’m curious, how long was your first cut?
GILROY: Which first cut? The first time we showed it to an audience or the director’s cut or…
Your first cut in the editing room that had all your loose threads and everything.
GILROY: I think the first thing that Johnny [Gilroy, editor] put up for me when I came back from Manilla was 2 hours 35 minutes, 2 hours 40 minutes. But you know, 10-15 minutes comes out in a week, and then the rest of it gets very molecular after that. That goes back to your earlier question, there’s a lot of directors and a lot of great films have been made—and it’s a totally legitimate filmmaking style—where you shoot like crazy and you find the movie in the editing room, and there’s just brilliant movies that have been made that way. We don’t work that way; I don’t want to find the movie in the editing room, we’re building the movie all the way through. So our process at the end is a little more streamlined.
Well I was curious about your thoughts on director’s cuts or extended cuts on Blu-ray. I’m curious if some of the deleted scenes that you took out will be in a longer cut eventually on Blu-ray?
GILROY: I won’t put them in the cut. It’s actually really interesting, there are three deleted scenes—we just mixed them and color corrected them—and you probably know a lot more about this than I do, but what I like about it is all three scenes happen in the movie. One of them’s referred to and they’re completely legitimate parts of our story, they absolutely happen in our film, we just didn’t have time to show them to you so there’s nothing off to the side. I think they’ll be on the straight-up DVD. I won’t go back and put them in the cut, I’m not a big fan of that. I think it doesn’t work as often as it works; I can name a couple pictures where the director’s cut just doesn’t match what the studio cut was.
I do think that sometimes, for example Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, the director’s cut is much better than the theatrical.
GILROY: Apparently so, I was just put on to that a couple weeks ago. The amazing dudes who did all our sound, that came up anecdotally about what an amazing long version of the film that is and how that film got really raped in the cut.
That’s actually one of the best films of that year, the director’s cut.
GILROY: It’s on my long list of things to do when I’m wasting time, when I get some free time.
It’s an amazing movie. I spoke to Frank Marshall and he mentioned that one of the deleted scenes was Renner talking to the cop. I’m curious about the other two deleted scenes, do you mind revealing what you cut?
GILROY: One of ‘em’s definitely a spoiler.
Yeah let’s not talk about that one then. Is the other one not a spoiler?
GILROY: There’s one that’s just really fun and informative about the Outcome program and it sort of tells you more about the Outcome program than the film does. One of them is a spoiler, and one of them’s a really remarkable scene with Jeremy and a state trooper that pulled him over when he’s driving to go meet Rachel Weisz. It’s just a really interesting character scene. When we were shooting the scene we thought it was [so great], then you get to the end of it and you go, “Did we really think this would ever make the film?” (laughs). But it’s definitely something that happened to him along the way.
Obviously you’ve been working on Bourne for a while now and you’ve been with the Bourne series for a long time. Assuming the opening weekend does great box office, do you think that that’d be something you’d want to go back to ASAP or do you need to get another film in you to sort of get a new taste in the mouth?
GILROY: I have no idea whatsoever what I’m gonna do next. The only people that they really need to come back are the actors, I mean let’s be honest. I have absolutely no plan what I’m gonna do, I just literally finished 10 days ago. I feel like my skin is off, it’s been a two-year experience, I’m gonna rest my eyes and clear my head and maybe get to a desk and try to figure out what’s exciting to do next. You just try to find something that interests you, and particular something that interests you that’s gonna consume you the way that these big movies just really eat you up; I mean it’s two years of a lot of hard work and travel. I really don’t know.
All the Bourne movies have “Bourne” in the title. I would imagine that the next movie would focus on Jeremy Renner’s character and it might not be Bourne related, do you think Universal can get away from the name “Bourne” in the title or do you think people sort of expect that to sell it?
GILROY: Gah, I have no idea. I don’t really know. All the talking that I’m doing, that kind of question can only be answered by the audience. The next couple months the audience is gonna speak, we’re gonna shut up and the movie’s gonna be out there and the audience is gonna tells us what they want and how they want it, and then you move on from there. That’s an interesting question. I guess it depends on the audience.
I’m a big fan of Michael Clayton, Duplicity, State of Play. I’m curious if you’re the type of person that has a bunch of screenplays sitting in the desk? How much is sitting around that you’d like to go back to?
GILROY: I have a couple things that fell off the truck along the way. I wish I had something that I felt was fresh enough. There’s one or two things that I worked on that were very important to me that have become dated, I think, by circumstances and time. There’s a couple things that I’ve done that maybe I spent too much time with and sat with them too long and they’re not as fresh to me as they used to be. It isn’t like when I finished Clayton and I had Duplicity sitting there and I was like, “God I really wanna get this off right away.” I don’t have another one like that.
When you’re reading someone else’s screenplay, how quickly do you know “this is really good?”
GILROY: I can tell in 10 minutes if it’s worth reading. It’s such an embarrassing thing because it makes you sound like—I was at someone’s house the other night and there was a script there and they’re thinking about doing this script, and it’s from a very, very good writer, and it was just lying there and I was waiting for them to make me a drink and I’m flipping through it, and I bet I looked at it for three minutes and I could tell it was great. I could tell that I really wanted to read it. You can have the opposite experience of that, but you can tell if something’s really good; you just can open it in a bunch of different places and go, “Wow this really has authority, this really has something going on.” I hate that idea, I hate that that’s possible, but I am guilty of it.
The Bourne Legacy is now in theaters.