Doug Liman Blog: Less Money? Be More Clever. If You Can’t Blow It Up, What’s The Next Best Thing?

Posted on: June 19th, 2010 by Doug Liman 2 Comments

Now that I don’t have to spend as much time on Fair Game and while I’m getting my next film lined up (which I can’t talk about very much) I’m also turning my attention back to Covert Affairs, the TV show that we are producing for USA Networks which premieres on Tuesday, July 13 at 10pm (shameless plug). The show is in pre-production, production and post-production for 3 different episodes at any given time so I can make a one-day trip extremely efficient by weighing in on 3 different episodes every time I’m there. I’ve been trying to visit each director before they shoot, mostly going through the action sequences, meet with the writers about the scripts and screening edits as well.
Last week I flew up and overlapped with the director Alex Chapple, who was on his last day of prep (he starts shooting his episode today). We went over all of the scenes and then traveled to the location, with the stunt coordinator and team, where the finale action sequence takes place. We all discussed what the plan was and I gave feedback. It’s similar to giving notes to a writer on a script except that you’re giving notes to the director on how they are going to implement a sequence. You know, I do think I have an aptitude for when it comes to action so this process has been really fun for me.  The sequence we reviewed took place at a boathouse outside Toronto. We’ve only shot 3 episodes so far which means that we’re still defining the look and feel of the action so prep’s extremely important.
Alex’s episode is what we call a seven-day episode. Most of the episodes are shot in 8 days but his episode has fewer days to shoot and was written with only one big action sequence instead of Covert’s more standard two to four action sequences. We don’t do every episode exactly the same, otherwise it would become predictable plus the shorter shooting schedule also allows us to allocate more funds to a more outrageous and fun, end of the season finale. As a result, this episode was written with more suspense and intrigue in it and it’s actually one of my favorites. The fewer action sequences force the writers to replace the action with suspense and write with more discipline. The characters are fun and the action they’ve written is great because we had fewer resources and they had to be really clever. I had a similar experience on Bourne where we didn’t have the money to do the action in an obvious way. I feel like the less money you have the smarter you have to be. If you take some money away from me, I immediately go to “OK, how do we make this more clever and smart?” If you can’t blow it up, what’s the next best thing? Maybe that turns out to be the better thing because the more brutal and honest the action is, the scarier it is. The fireworks are fun to watch but they don’t necessarily make you care and worry about the characters as much.

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2 Responses

  1. nate chapamn says:

    I TOTALLY AGREE!!!! If you don’t care about the characters, you won’t care if they’re getting engulfed by a fireball. That’s why Transformers 2 sucks and Leon is Great! There isn’t enough suspense in action films today. Suspense is everything. That’s what hitchcock preached. If you just see a table blow up, that’s 2 seconds of drama. If you see the timebomb under the table and hear the people talking, that’s minutes of drama! Look at the climax of Die Hard. They cross cut between John McClane getting people off the roof, Hans Gruber down below, and the FBI agents in the helicopter. It all comes to a head when Hans blows the roof, John Mcclane jumps off with a firehose, and the helicopter blows up. And it’s awesome because you care about John McClane and you hate the FBI agents in that movie!

  2. JROC-PENNEGAN says:

    This is a good read, I appreciate it. “I feel like the less money you have the smarter you have to be. If you take some money away from me, I immediately go to “OK, how do we make this more clever and smart?””
    this is great advice definitely going to keep it in mind.

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