It’s Wide Open: Frank Marshall on Bourne Legacy, Indiana Jones and Gremlins
Frank Marshall has had a hand in most of my beloved movies from childhood. As a producer, he’s worked with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment on the Indiana Jones, Gremlins, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park series, as well as one offs Goonies, Innerspace, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Joe Versus the Volcano. As director he gave us Arachnophobia and Alive. This generation can thank him for The Sixth Sense, Signs and the Bourne franchise. We got to speak with him for the latest installment, The Bourne Legacy. Oh, spoilers for The Bourne Supremacy in case you haven’t caught up yet.
CraveOnline: I believed after Ultimatum you were still trying to come up with a fourth film for Matt Damon. Is that correct?
Frank Marshall: Yeah, well we were always looking for a fourth story. And if it could involve Matt that was great and what would that be? Because his character knew who he was, didn’t really want to be an agent anymore and we had answered all the questions of the first three movies, it was really hard to do.
Ultimatum happens within Supremacy and now Legacy happens within Ultimatum. Will the next one take place somewhere within this one?
[Laughs] Well, we’ll have to see. It’s wide open. Now we’ve set the table to go in any direction we want to go because we know about these new programs. We know there are other agents out there. We know there are sort of 2.0 versions of Bourne and Bourne is still out there. So we can go in any direction we want. We have new characters. Jeremy’s character wants to do what he’s doing. So he’s a patriot and he’s not questioning where he’s coming from. So it enables us to do a lot of different things now.
Does it become sort of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exercise to keep stories within other stories?
Absolutely. Absolutely, and I think Tony will talk about that but what I loved about this particular movie is in the previous movies we’ve always kind of done something unique. In the second movie, we killed off the heroine in the first 10 minutes. Nobody does that and you don’t get that opportunity. In the last movie, we started back where the second movie left off and filled in that void between Russia and New York. So we’re kind of doing different things, and in this one we make a phone call from the last movie into this movie. So that was cool.
What made this the right entry to give Tony Gilroy the director’s chair?
Well, he’s done a couple movies before and I think it was sort of a natural progression of events. He had an idea and then he started writing it and it became a really strong idea, and then he said, “You know, I think I’d actually like to direct this one.” For me it was great because I always knew he was going to be a director, since the first movie.
You called it?
Yeah, I said to him, “You were so involved in the putting together of Identity.” It was a long process as you probably know, and he was always thinking, in my opinion, like a director. His solutions were director solutions, so I wasn’t surprised when he did Michael Clayton and he did such a good job with it.
What do you mean by director’s solution?
Well, a director thinks about all of the things that are a challenge in fixing a scene, not just what the characters are saying, which a writer might look at, but where are you, what are the consequences, what’s the shot? He thinks visually too and he doesn’t just think of the words.
After two Paul Greengrass movies was it time for a somewhat steadier hand in the camerawork?
I think all three of our directors have had a visual style that’s unique to themselves. That was certainly Paul’s style and Tony has his own style but all of them are connected because there’s a handheld camera in all four movies. So they have some semblance of each other, but I think this movie was much more grounded for the last two.
I always wondered why the Greengrass style became so identified with Bourne because the first one wasn’t shaky.
No, no, it wasn’t. I think this movie is much more like the first one. But Paul, coming from the documentary background that he came from, that’s the way he shot. He was run and gun and that became the visual style for at least those two, certainly not the first one or this one.
But even when other filmmakers apply that style, they call it Bourne style. Why is that Bourne style?
I think it’s probably because they remember the last two.
And Tony gets more aggressive with the camera in the climax.
Yeah, it’s really more a stylistic choice, and he and his cameraman, it’s the third movie he’s done with Robert [Elswit] so they have an established style. If you look at the visual style of this movie, it’s different than Michael Clayton or Duplicity so they ramped it up a bit.
Are you ever frustrated that some of the expensive spectacle is hard to see with that kind of camerawork?
No, because as long as it’s in service to the story, that’s the most important thing for me in all of the movies. We’ve never had an action sequence that didn’t further the story. We don’t just every 10 minutes have an action sequence. There’s no formula. It has to further the story so however it’s shot and cut, as long as the story’s moving forward, I’m happy.
You’ve had a few franchises now. What are the differences between Bourne and Indy and Back to the Future?
I think what you have to do when you start off, you have to start off knowing that you’re going to make three movies. We did that on Indy. George said, “We’re going to make three of these” so we were cognizant of where we were going. The same with Bourne. With Back to the Future, we didn’t know we were going to make II and III. That was a whole nother thing. I really think it’s important to think about where the next movies might go and that’s different than when you just make one movie.
We hear George Lucas is writing a fifth Indiana Jones movie. If a fifth movie gets going, will it be helpful to have gotten the fourth one out of the way and all of the baggage that came with doing Crystal Skull after 20 years?
On Indy? As far as I know he’s not writing a fifth Indy.
Really? That’s been news since after Crystal Skull. Even Harrison Ford said, “George is working on it.”
Well, I think he’s thinking about ideas but he’s certainly not writing one. Everybody, we’d love to keep the series going but again, it’s got to be a really good story.
I just think there should have been five in between 3 and 4. There should’ve been a new adventure every few years.
Yeah, well, they’re hard to do.
Is at least one good thing about the mixed reaction to Crystal Skull that at least people stop hating on Temple of Doom?
Yeah, I mean, if you look at the movies, if you look at Star Wars and you look at Indy, that second movie is always the darkest. That’s sort of the mythology that George and then Steven were creating. I look back at Temple of Doom, there’s a lot of great stuff in Temple of Doom.
It’s the silver lining. I’ve always wanted to ask Spielberg that because I know all the good things that happened to him on Temple of Doom.
Yeah, it happened to me on Raiders. It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? On Raiders I met my wife and on Temple of Doom he met his.
I know Robert Zemeckis wants to keep Back to the Future closed, but wouldn’t the best reason to do a Back to the Future IV be in 2015 to have a kid go back to 1985?
That’d be fun, yeah. That’d be very fun. You know the shoes we did last year, the power laces? We’re going to have real power laces in 2015 so we can at least have that.
I look back at Gremlins 2, and I always loved it but now it seems so ahead of its time in the meta. They stop the film, and they have Leonard Maltin reviewing Gremlins 1. Now that meta is a big thing with “Community” and other movies, was Gremlins 2 ahead of its time?
I think so. Again, we got to do something that you really always want to do and people were completely thrown by it. When the film stopped and everything, they thought something had happened to the film. We always groan when we see that thing happen and then the film goes like this, we go, “Oh no.” For it to be part of the movie was really cool. Yeah, that movie was ahead of its time a bit.
I guess with everything moving to digital, that effect wouldn’t happen anymore.
No, now what happens is it just stops. I actually had that happen to me. I did this little documentary for ESPN called “Right to Play.” I was at the Mountain Film Festival and I had three screenings. In two of them, there was a power outage and it stopped right in the middle of the movie. So that’s the new burning of the film or breaking film situation.
What do you think of Hollywood’s move to digital? Is it a bit extreme to have to move everything to digital? We can’t have both anymore?
No, I’d love to have both. I love film and I love seeing movies on film. There’s just something about it and I think there’s room for both. I’d love to see both but I’m afraid that it’s going to be the art houses that are going to be showing film and the rest of the world’s going to be digital pretty soon.
As a producer is there an advantage to the costs of digital?
Not really. They say it’s cheaper. It’s all relative on how you make the movie. You may go faster but there are glitches that can happen in digital too. Shots can get lost and even though you’re going faster, there are more costs with uploading it. It’s pretty even in my opinion.
That’s what worries me. Some people think digital fixed all the problems with film, but it just created new problems.
Yeah, there are all kinds of glitches that can happen. Digital hasn’t really been tested in extreme temperatures for example. When I made Eight Below, they wanted me to shoot digital and I didn’t want to do it because that’s just what I need, to get a great series of takes and then find out the camera was frozen. On film, they’ve been tested and they had heaters in the film and we got great stuff.
On Gremlins, did no one still want to jump on a Gremlins 3?
You know, we’ve had people call us about it but I think that’s another one that’s kind of now left to be its own. It’s like doing Goonies 2 or E.T. 2. I think it’s another time, it’s another era and they should just rest where they are.
Is there a danger that at this point they’ll try to remake Gremlins?
No, I don’t think so. I think by now we have something in our contracts, or at least Amblin does, where it can’t be remade without Steven’s permission.
Oh, that’s good. I don’t want to see CGI gremlins.
Yeah, see, that wouldn’t work in my opinion.
How do you look back on The Last Airbender?
I look back on it as a good attempt but really a failed realization of what it could’ve been. I think that we all were on the same page with what the movie should be and sometimes you miss.
Is Jurassic Park IV dead?
No, no, it’s in development. It’s got new life. It’s got new life. I can tell you that that is moving forward.
It seems to have leaked that there’s an idea for weaponized dinosaurs with gun mounts and armor?
No, no, that’s another rumor. That’s not it.
So when we hear about Jurassic Park IV there’ll still be a surprise.
What’s going on with The Talisman?
Still on the backburner.
Are you doing a Wikileaks movie for HBO?
Yes, yes, doing it with Charles Ferguson, a documentary filmmaker. That’s in development and we’re developing Secret Life of Houdini for Summit and also Tell No One for Warner Brothers.
HBO movies have handled a lot of topical events like Game Change and Too Big to Fail. Does Wikileaks fall in line with those?
Yeah, I think so. We did one for them called The Special Relationship, which was kind of the sequel to The Queen and that was a political movie. I think they’re right in with the times and relevant subjects and that’s where Wikileaks will fit in.