At Tribeca: Alec Baldwin and Doug Liman Discuss Stealing Shots 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 shit over on people rather than [doing it properly]."
In fact, he structured the Swingers shooting schedule to include time for possible incarceration.
To film scenes shot in moving cars legally, a special rig must be built and a police escort is needed. Only Liman couldn't afford such extravagances 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 alleged 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 independently 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!
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