Exclusive: The Town Producer Basil Iwanyk

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Ben Affleck’s sophomore effort as a director, The Town, returns him to familiar Boston territory as it looks at the lives of local bank robbers, particularly the one played by Affleck, Doug MacRay, leader of a crew of lifelong criminals who falls for the hostage of one of their bank jobs, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). This doesn’t go over well with Doug’s best friend and partner in crime, the hotheaded Jem, played by Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker, and with the FBI closing in on them in the form of Jon Hamm’s Agent Frawley, he needs to make sure that Doug has his priorities straight.

Based on the book “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan, who had originally adapted the book into a screenplay before Affleck and his collaborator Aaron Scockhard took over, it’s a movie that blends the drama of Affleck’s first movie Gone Baby Gone with the type of action you might see in a Michael Mann movie, and Affleck has rounded out the cast with a number of impressive like Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper.

ComingSoon.net sat down with producer Basil Iwanyk, who worked closely with Affleck throughout the production.

ComingSoon.net: Someone at the press conference mentioned this was a project that kind of was in development for a while before Ben. Were you involved that long?
Basil Iwanyk: I came right around when Ben came on actually. Graham King bought the rights early on. I don’t want to say he decided not to be involved in it, but it was one of those situations where Warners really believed in Ben, but they were worried. They were trying to figure out, “How is he going to be able to pull this off as a writer and as a director?” They had me meet Ben and after reading the script, with the idea of they needed somebody that’s similar to him in temperament to be able to have conversations with him on set and be there every day. So, I got involved, yeah, right around the time that Ben got involved because I think the studio thought our personalities would be a good match, and they were. He’s become a good friend and is a great guy.

CS: Had they already started putting the cast together?
Iwanyk: No, Rebecca was the only one involved and then we were in the process of getting Jon, Jeremy, Blake, everybody.

CS: Ben was always gonna star in it and that was the plan, as far as you know?
Iwanyk: Yeah, he was. Do I think that he was completely set on what role to play? I don’t think so. I think he actually thought about Frawley for a bit. I don’t know if that was him just talking out loud or him just actually seriously entertaining it, but he really wanted the movie to get made, and he wanted to have a great role as an actor. I think he thought both roles were fantastic. I know he thought, that perhaps there may have been another name that would get the studio to greenlight the movie and he would play Frawley. Ultimately, we approached the studio and said, “Ben wants to play it. We’ll keep the budget down, blah, blah, blah.” We asked and they said yes, but it definitely wasn’t like–at least not publicly, maybe in his heart–“I’m gonna write this movie for myself to star and to be Doug MacRay.” He was gonna play one of the roles and one of the major roles, but not necessarily Doug.

CS: I assume Graham already set it up with Warner Bros. beforehand?
Iwanyk: Yeah, Graham had it set up at Warner Bros. for him.

CS: When you’re a producer, usually one of your jobs is to get the filmmaker whatever they need, but Ben has a pretty big name in Boston so I think he can get pretty much anything he wants there.
Iwanyk: Oh yeah, anything, anything.

CS: Can you talk about how that worked in terms of being a producer and how he could often get things being who he is rather than relying on you?
Iwanyk: I think we had two great advantages: One, having an actor, especially a charming actor, be a director. Oftentimes, directors are not the most social creatures or they’re not the most charming of people. Ben is such a charmer and he’s a movie star, so from the studio side, every time he would go into meetings, he’d be Ben Affleck the movie star charmer and he would move mountains. It’d be shocking. Alan Horn, the chairman of the studio, he’s known Ben forever and everyone loves Ben, so on the studio side, he put on his movie star charm. On the Boston side, he is beloved there. I mean, you gotta understand that not only does he have a long, very well documented history, but he’s still very involved in Boston civically, in terms of fundraising, in terms of the Jimmy Fund, which is a big thing. So yeah, people will do anything for Ben in Boston. It’s actually real nice, it actually is. It’s one of those things where it’s not just the girls see him and scream, guys like you and I would see him and they’d like give him a high five, or they’d give him a fist. Older people, couples in their 60’s would look at him like he was the good boy that came back. There was just so much affection for him. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.

CS: Obviously at a press conference, journalists will ask actors all the questions, and then maybe the director will jump in once or twice, but he has such a presence as a filmmaker talking about his own film.
Iwanyk: That’s exactly right. You saw exactly why if you have a director who’s an actor you touch a lot of boxes and that charisma that usually makes you a movie star or a good actor carries over as a director and you get your point across.

CS: How did that work on set? One of the questions every actor gets when he’s directing and acting is about how to separate the two, something that must be hard when you’re in every scene I would think.
Iwanyk: Can I tell you something? I had separate conversations with almost everybody on that panel before the movie started where they asked me, “How is this gonna work?” Frankly, I anticipated issues because the director needs to be the most accessible person on the set. The director has to answer questions from crew members, from other cast members, has to direct scenes. There’s so many things on his or her mind, so how is that person gonna be the same person that’s acting in these really intense scenes? We talked about it all the time and I talked about it individually with certain crew, with the studio, with the actors, with Ben. It was never a problem. It was never an issue. When the camera ran, he just turned it on, and I think it was because he was so well-prepared. I think he thought of every beat and every moment. I guess that’s when you’re also the writer, he owned every word in that screenplay, so by the time he actually got in front of the camera, it was about execution more than it was about devising what he wanted to do. Listen, we all have this joy in working together from a process, but I gotta tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it. He showed patience and generosity and decency to everybody. Adding to the fact that he is the Pope of Boston on top of all this other stuff. He never broke, and I’ve been with him almost every day for the last year and he never broke. He’s great.

CS: I want to ask about filming at Fenway Park because that must have been the hardest thing to manage. How many days did you end up having there?
Iwanyk: I think we were there about 13 days.

CS: In the off-season I assume.
Iwanyk: No, it was during the season. It was when the Red Sox were out of town. Actually, we came back when the season was over, but the majority of our shooting was during the season when they left. Now, when I say 13 days, I also meant like on the street right outside Fenway, so inside Fenway’s probably about seven or eight days. It was very difficult because Major League Baseball, more so than Fenway, has very strict guidelines about violence and stuff. So, for us, we had to explain to them about the blood count, explain to them what we would see and assure them that we wouldn’t see like, exploding heads or anything like that. That one scene where [SPOILER] is shot, we had to really, really look at that closely because if it was too bloody we wouldn’t have gotten permission. We had to show them the footage afterwards to make sure they would sign off on it. Yeah, so it was difficult. Once we were there, the crazy part is people get married at Fenway Park and it’s a tourist attraction even when the Boston Red Sox aren’t there, so people were showing up and hearing gun fire and machines and people screaming and cars screeching. People were like very confused at what the hell was going on.

CS: I remember when Clint Eastwood did “Mystic River,” he had a lot of trouble getting financing since it was more of a straight drama. This one has more action at least, but there’s a lot of drama. What’s the hard part in balancing those two things? People who are going for action want the action, but you also have to build the character and obviously Ben was going to make something which was more character driven than these movies normally are I would think.
Iwanyk: Well, it’s funny. I made a mistake with a movie, “Brooklyn’s Finest.” that I produced.

CS: I loved “Brooklyn’s Finest.”
Iwanyk: I did too, I loved it. At the end of the day, we didn’t have action in it, so they didn’t know how to sell it. It was very hard for them to sell it. Going into “The Town,” the studio said to us, “Listen, we’ll let you make the movie you guys want to make, just give us some cool action so we can sell it as an action movie.” What we did–and this is where Ben’s great too–we got Chris Rouse to cut all the action. He won the Oscar for the “Bourne” movies. He cuts all the “Bourne” stuff. We had Alexander Witt, one of the best second unit action guys helped us with all our action. We had great stunt guys. We bought the best of the best. We decided, when we have action, we want it to f*cking rock. It was, again, a lotta detail, a lotta pieces, six or seven cameras going. The idea, just like “Heat,” was that it’s amazing what a great action sequence will do. You forgive a lot of the drama before and after. Also, I think this is really important, is Ben wanted to make a commercial movie. Ben wants to be a commercial filmmaker and wants to be an actor that’s in commercial movies. “Gone Baby Gone,” I thought was fantastic, but he didn’t want to make another movie that was a very small movie. He wanted to make a movie that people would go see. So he fully embraced the action of it all and it was a lot, it was an enormous amount of fun. Frankly, if you look at the TV spots now, they sell it as an action movie. If you looked at the football game last night, it looks like “Heat.” That was our hope. He used Michael Mann as a touchstone. When action happens in “Collateral” or in “Heat,” it rocks, and boy, it allows action fans like you and I, we’re a lot more forgiving for the drama before and after.

CS: It’s great because the critics are also embracing the movie, which is not always the case.
Iwanyk: Yes, yeah.

CS: I know that you have a lot of other projects in development. I know you’re working on the “Oz” movie. Is that anywhere closer to happening?
Iwanyk: No, I had about 20 things in development at Warners and elsewhere, mostly at Warners. The “Oz” thing has been a pain in the ass honestly. It’s like there are so many other ones and we couldn’t get the script right. It’s still in active development. We’re trying to figure out like, who’s making what movie? What’s going on with “Wicked?” What’s going on with the Sam Raimi movie?

CS: Oh you’re not working on the Sam Raimi movie?
Iwanyk: No, the one we’re working on is Josh Olson who wrote “A History of Violence.” The Sam Raimi movie is just like the prequel with the wizard. Our movie has Dorothy, our movie has all the characters in place. It’s just been frustrating because we had this project five years ago. We couldn’t get the script right. We couldn’t drum up enough enthusiasm. So, of course what happens, five years go by and now there’s like, four others, so as a producer you’re hitting your head against the wall saying, “Well, we could’ve been right outta the gate, the first right outta the gate and now we’re jockeying for a position which is frustrating.”

Also, you can also read what Iwanyk said about sequels to Clash of the Titans and The Expendables here.

The Town opens nationwide on Friday, September 17.

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