Though Doug Liman has directed and produced Hollywood hits like “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” as well as the new political thriller “Fair Game,” he did not cast filmmaking in a glamorous light during a Tuesday Master’s Tea in Davenport College.
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With anecdotes from his own career, Liman described the difficulties of making movies that are both meaningful and commercially successful, and warned aspiring filmmakers about the countless mundane decisions that go into directing. He also spoke about the deep interest in political topics that motivated him to direct and produce “Fair Game,” which is based on the CIA leak scandal of 2003 and features Naomi Watts as covert agent Valerie Plame.
Directing movies is a “blue-collar job,” Liman said.
“When you’re making a film, it’s very hands-on,” he said. “You’re in the trenches, you’re never wearing a suit. You’re wearing jeans and they’re usually filthy because you’re lying down on the ground looking at a shot.”
The audience of about 40 students laughed when Liman mentioned an unsanitary episode early in his career. He was shooting a stunt scene in an alleyway of Los Angeles that local homeless people had begun to use as a public toilet, and he and his crew had to decide whether to seek a new location, or shoot the scene “with poop.”
Liman also spoke on weightier topics, such as his frustration with modern American politics, and his mission to get his American audiences thinking about current events by making exciting movies based on political realities.
Although American politics are deeply partisan, Liman said, he does not want to alienate or bore his audiences by advancing one side or the other in his films. Rather, Liman said, he tries to focus on irrefutable evidence and facts to build his stories.
“I chucked my politics out the door when I started making this film,” he said of “Fair Game.” “There’s no ‘he said, she said’ when you look at the facts.”
The talk began 15 minutes later than expected because Liman received a call from one of his writers and needed to work out some disagreements regarding a script for his next movie.
Several of the students who attended said they were interested in entering the film industry themselves.
Aspiring actress Isabel Siragusa ’11 said she was impressed that Liman used film as a vehicle to express important political viewpoints in a way she rarely sees.
Other students described Liman as refreshingly frank in his depiction of his work and career path.
Adam Payne ’11, who hopes to direct and produce, said Liman’s description of “blue-collar filmmaking” seemed similar to the student and independent filmmaking with which he is familiar.
“The big glamorous Hollywood filmmaking doesn’t seem that far out of reach,” he said.
Liman also produces Covert Affairs, a USA Network television series about a female spy starring Piper Perabo.