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Tuesday afternoon, the 30 Rock ‘alpha male’ Alec Baldwin had Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity and Mr. And Mrs. Smith, pinned down in a tongue-in-cheek discussion about the filmmaker’s career. Doug Liman barged into Hollywood as the independent director of Swingers and has since worked his way into blockbuster nirvana – a path which the discussion revealed was not always straight.
Joining Liman on stage was Alec Baldwin, casually dressed (sporting a mature 5 o’clock shadow) and firing off the talk with charismatic sarcasm – one that entertained the audience with several self-inflicted zingers throughout the session. His first question to the filmmaker was what made him want to become a director.
Liman took us back to when he, as a child, picked up an unwanted present to his father, a camera, and started shooting – his first movie was named ‘The Mummy’ and starred his dad. When asked by Baldwin if his choice of career had been purely out of convenience, Liman admitted a profound love for film and seemed to share an interest that moved beyond the traditional rites of moviemaking. As much as he enjoyed the process and challenges of cinema, however, he has never been in one of his own films and at this point, he admitted being a little superstitious as to whether he ever should.
Baldwin made sure to keep the talk ‘interesting’, grilling Liman on such subject as filming sex scenes. The director admitted to one movie with sex in, to try it out and Baldwin cheekily asked for its name and if it was available online – to the amusement of the audience. However, Liman revealed that the experience had been overall uncomfortable – made him feel like a pervert.
We learned that Liman’s directional debut prompted his departure from USC; a school he told the audience he hated because of its rigidness. After trying to follow the rules, the director realized that working within them was against his nature. When he started developing Swingers, the budget was set at $500.000 – but he could only raise $200.000. He explained the defining moment; where other productions would go into stalemate, he came to the conclusion that if you don’t have enough money to do it properly, you shouldn’t even pretend to do it that way. Instead, you should take the fact that you don’t have enough money and turn it to your advantage.
This became Liman’s style – not too concerned with the restrictions of moviemaking, the director has repeatedly filmed without permits and gone against studio orders. He contributed the rough style of The Bourne Identity to the fact that he had to sneak around the streets of Paris with his camera to avoid being caught.
Baldwin then asked about the post-Swingers experience. Liman explained that Swingers made him the ‘flavor of the month’. When asked back then what he wanted to do next, he already knew: Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity. But the studio disagreed, so Liman explained spending a lot of time chasing the movie rights. Some of his unorthodox methods of persuasion included crashing a wedding and eventually, flying solo to Ludlum’s private home to secure the rights. Ludlum nicknamed him ‘Hollywood’ and agreed.
The final subject was Fair Game and Liman’s observation that the US is very good at forgetting things. With a father who was the chief counsel for the US Senate Iran-Contra hearings, Liman wanted to prove that it’s possible to get people to care about politics – even when they don’t want to.
Baldwin was snappy throughout the talks, adding his personal experiences more or less discriminately. There were moments where the brash Baldwin seemed unable to contain himself and unintentionally mowed over the soft voice of Liman. In such instances, Liman patiently waited with a shy calm that made a great contrast to the loud and unapologetic Baldwin. The contradiction was most blatant when Baldwin repeatedly used the f-word, leaving Liman momentarily lost for any.
The bonus was some insightful facts about Hollywood; For example, that Warner Brothers don’t make dramas. It proves a connection between the fondness of drama in independent cinema and the fact that big budgets can buy emotions with extravagant set pieces and special effects. That Doug Liman’s mind seems to move at a different plane than others goes to show, as so vigorously emphasized by the verbose Mr. Baldwin, that the director is in a league of his own.