As a long time collaborator of Steven Spielberg, producer Frank Marshall has been there from the beginning of some of the biggest film franchises of the ’80s including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future, both which continue to find new viewers decades later.
In 2001, Marshall was able to start his own film franchise legacy when called upon to co-produce The Bourne Identity. Six years and two movies later, the “Bourne” trilogy is one of the most respected and successful spy thriller franchises next to a certain British secret agent who has found himself trying to play catch up to the quality filmmaking found in the “Bourne” movies
ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk with Mr. Marshall about the third installment of the series The Bourne Ultimatum, which has not only been the most financially successful of the films but also was the best received by critics, leaving hopes there’ll be more movies starring Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne someday. Sadly, we didn’t have nearly as much time to prepare for this interview and couldn’t get nearly as much into Marshall’s many future projects as we would have liked, but he gives an interesting perspective on the making of the popular films and hope for the future of the franchise.
ComingSoon.net: The “Bourne” series is an amazing phenomenon, the fact that each sequel is more successful than the last is rare, and that each one is even better than the last installment is unheard of. How did you first get involved with this series?
Frank Marshall: I was first contacted by Universal about six months before the project started. Doug Liman was directing it, and they felt it was a big project, and Doug had only done a couple of small movies before, so they thought it might be a good idea to have two producers on the film to help and support Doug through the process, one being more of a production guy and the other being more on the creative side. I didn’t really want to go to Europe for nine months, so I had passed, and six months later, the producer they had chosen, Richard Gladstein, had a family emergency and had to leave Paris, sort of on a moment’s notice and I got the call again and they said, “Well how about three months in Paris rather than nine?” so I said, “okay.” I came on, I left three days later and I went and Pat Crowley and I produced the movie, and actually produced all three movies now. It’s been a fabulous experience obviously.
CS: As I said, it’s amazing that each movie has gotten better than the last, since that rarely happens with summer blockbusters. What has been key in terms of working with Tony Gilroy and the people who make the movies to make each one better than the last?
Marshall: Well, I think we’ve just always tried to ratchet it up another level, and we have this great character, and we’re trying to do things that are unexpected and different than the normal action movie or spy thriller. I mean, when do you get the opportunity to kill off your leading actress in the first ten minutes? People don’t expect that so it kind of comes out of left field, and then going into this movies, Tony came up with this idea of, “Well, wouldn’t it be cool if we showed the audience what happened between when we left the young woman in Moscow, when he was all beat-up until that moment he gets to make the phone call to Landy in New York, and then what happens beyond?” If you know the other two movies, you’re going, “Wow, that’s that phone call. It really means something different than it did in the second movie, even though it’s the same phone call. So we’re just trying to do things that are unusual and different that make it more fun for the audience. When you look at it, like you said, it’s a summer popcorn movie, so we’re out there to have fun, and that’s the challenge.
CS: I know there was a lot of talk when the first movie came out that it was like the original Bond movies, and some people say that the latest Bond movie looked towards the Bourne movies for its direction.
Marshall: Certainly the last one did, yeah, ’cause it’s more of a thinking man’s character. None of our action is just for action’s sake. It’s all story-driven, and I think that’s really important. We don’t have a formula where we say, “Every ten minutes there has to be a fight.” So yeah, we were sort of creating a new action genre, a new fresh one that didn’t have any cliches. We used to say, “We don’t want any stormtroopers with bad aim in the movie,” because you’ve seen these movies where people are firing guns everywhere and nobody ever gets hit. We just wanted to work against those conventions.
CS: One of the biggest things that happened while you were making the first movie was 9/11, and there was all this fear of things going on in the world. Did you feel you had to change a lot with the sequels while trying to keep them in line with the first movie?
Marshall: Yeah, well it was interesting, because we really obviously took it very seriously, the change in the world. Where the Treadstone Program, which was a Black Ops in the basement with wires hanging down in somebody’s office, was totally secret and under the radar before 9/11, now it’s a program that people want. They want this above board Blackwater kind of operation that takes out these bad guys. It was interesting that the world and the CIA and all of the intelligence community went from being under the radar to above board, so we just dealt with that with the listening stations and all the things that are happening now that are now elements in our movie. Everybody’s listening, everybody’s watching. Being in London with more cameras than any other city in the world, looking everywhere. In fact, in Waterloo Station, we just plugged into their (camera) system and used that footage in our control room.
CS: One of the things that upped the ante on “The Bourne Conspiracy” was Paul Greengrass coming on board as director. Before that, he had done some smaller movies and this was his jump to bigger movies. Can you talk about how he was brought on and how he developed as a director between the second and third films?
Marshall: It was really a phone call from Tony Gilroy. We were trying to decide Doug Liman was not available. He was going off to do “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and we were trying to find a director that came from the same neighborhood that Doug did, which was independent filmmaking, and Tony called and said, “Have you seen ‘Bloody Sunday’?” And we all rushed out and got it, and it was like, “Wow! That’s our guy!” It was political, it was intense and energetic and different and had a real guile to it, and then we met Paul, and it turns out he had written a book about spies. It was just a perfect fit for us. Then he came onto the team, he learned the ropes, and then he really rose way above and put us on a whole new level in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” basically because he had now learned how a big movie works, and he was able to take us to new levels on the third one.
CS: The third movie is fairly global in that Bourne goes all over the world, so what was the biggest challenge as a producer in terms of finding locations?
Marshall: It was really twice as many countries as we had gone to in the second movie, from 3 to 6, and that’s a huge logistical challenge obviously, that you’re out there, particularly in today’s world, just getting through customs is a big deal in all these different countries. Trying to get our equipment and all of that was just a lot harder this time, particularly going down to Morocco and to Africa. We have these tremendous difficulties and challenges, and you have Waterloo Station with hundreds of thousands of people going through there every day, but we like to shoot in the real locations. I think it’s one of the things that makes us different. We don’t go to Montreal for Paris, we go to Paris. We didn’t go to a closed-down station for Waterloo, we went to Waterloo, and it makes it a little bit more difficult for us, but I kind of like the challenge and Pat Crowley, my co-producer who handles the production side of things loves the challenge, so it’s, “Okay, what can you throw at us that we can figure out this time?”
CS: I wouldn’t be too surprised if the next Bond movie looks at “Ultimatum” and again tries to replicate it.
Marshall: Well, I heard a rumor that there’s a rooftop chase already. (laughs)
CS: Obviously, with the success of this last movie, you must be getting bugged by Universal every day to try to convince Matt to come back and do more. What’s the logistics of that happening? You obviously had a very good closing for the last movie…
Marshall: Yeah, and there were only three books written. I know they’ve written a fourth but it wasn’t written by Ludlum, but look, we would love to continue the franchise. We just need a great story, and we’re not going to do it unless we have a great story. We are working on coming up with one, and Matt said to me, “Look, you hand me a great script, I’m in.” Unfortunately, we’re not able to do any writing at the moment, but we’re all thinking about it.
CS: I’ve talked to a lot of writers in the past few weeks, so how is the strike affecting your angle of it. Is it just a little bit quieter right now for you in terms of new projects?
Marshall: Yeah, I’m fortunate enough to be in post on three different movies, so I’m not too worried about what I’m doing right now, but you know, come next summer, hopefully it’s over by then and we’ll be back on track, and then take our ideas and find a writer and get started on “Bourne.”
CS: The books have steered away from the Ludlum books anyway, so it’s not a matter of needing a book to base the movie on it, I’d imagine.
Marshall: Yeah, yeah, so we’re really on our own to come up with a new idea and that’s the challenge.
CS: You have a bunch of movies coming out next year, including Wayne Kramer’s next movie, which looks interesting.
Marshall: Yeah, “Crossing Over.” It got a little crowded here at the end of the year, so we’re going to save that for probably next spring or summer, and that’s a very interesting, obviously very topical subject about immigration. We have “The Spiderwick Chronicles” coming out in February, that’s finished, and then we have “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the David Fincher movie, that’s really fantastic, and that’s for next Christmas.
CS: Yeah, I remember talking to Eric Roth about that last year while he was doing press for “The Good Shepherd” and it sounded interesting.
Marshall: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, David Fincher and Eric Roth together is pretty amazing.
CS: My nephew’s been reading the Spiderwick books and he’s very excited about that movie as well.
Marshall: Yeah, it’s a great series of books, so hopefully this first one will kick that franchise off.
CS: Is Amblin still a viable company? It doesn’t seem like there have been any new productions from it in some time.
Marshall: We still have some Amblin projects, and Amblin is sort of part of DreamWorks right now, so yeah, Steven’s kept Amblin alive, so every once in a while, like “Jurassic” for example, and we have a couple of other projects that were bought during that time, so Amblin is still viable.
CS: Is “Jurassic Park 4” something we might see soon?
Marshall: Well, you know, again, working on the script.
The Bourne Ultimatum is available on DVD tomorrow, December 11. You can order your copy of the widescreen version on Amazon.com and also read what Mr. Marshall said about some of the other movies on his slate like the next “Indiana Jones” right here.