Frank Marshall, best known for producing some of cinema’s most memorable franchises such as “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future,” hasn’t slowed down by any means over the course of his 40-year career. This year alone, he has produced/executive produced five feature films, including “Sully,” “The BFG” and “The Girl on the Train.”
Marshall, 70, also produced the fifth installment of the Jason Bourne franchise, “Jason Bourne.” The film reunites actor Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass after the two took a break from the fourth film, “The Bourne Legacy.” “Jason Bourne” was released on DVD/Blu-ray Dec. 6.
During an interview with Marshall a couple weeks ago, we talked about how much longer he thinks the “Bourne” franchise can go, what it was like to destroy 170 cars during a pivot action scene in the film, and how he feels as a producer spending over $100 million to make a movie. We also discussed the release of “The Other Side of the Wind,” an unfinished Orson Wells film from the 70s that Marshall helped complete.
What makes someone like Matt Damon such an interesting action star in comparison to some of the more conventional types like Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham?
Well, I think he’s empathetic. The reason he’s so good as a spy is because he looks like your college roommate. People identify with his dilemma and try to put themselves in his shoes and say, “How would I feel if I woke up and had two bullet holes in my back and I could do all these things but didn’t know my name.” It’s an interesting dilemma to be in. I think people are fascinated about where he’s going to go.
Back in 2002 when this franchise first started, did you have any idea that it could go on for this long?
No, I really didn’t. It was hard enough to make the first movie. We did know there were two more titles. As you know, we took the basic premise of “The Bourne Identity” and created our own story. We just took the titles from the next two stories and took Jason Bourne on our own journey. I thought if we could do that, we could certainly go on after that. But I wasn’t thinking like that in 2002. It was hard enough to get that first movie finished.
Could you see Jason Bourne going the way of the James Bond character and having a different actor portray him ever 10-12 years?
No, I don’t think so because one of the things we use in the movies are flashbacks. I think it would be very odd for a different person to flashback and be with Marie (Franka Potente’s character), for example, or with Nicky (Julia Stiles’ character). I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think if there is anything, we would stay in the world like we did with “The Bourne Legacy” and have another agent in that world.
So, how long do you think this franchise can go?
Well, it’s all about the story. It took us a while to figure out this last one, so hopefully we’ll crack it for the next one. On these, we’re going one story at a time.
Were you on set for the Las Vegas car chase scene and, if you were, as a producer, what’s going on in your head as you see 170 cars get totaled?
Oh, yeah. (Laughs) I just thought about how cool it was. I love being on the set. I love doing things for real. I think it’s one of the best parts of the “Bourne” movies. They’re gritty and real and not CG. For almost 10 days we were shooting 24 hours a day. The first unit would go from 7am to 7pm and then we would switch out to the second unit on the strip from 7pm to 7am. It was pretty exciting all the time. It was a lot of planning. Las Vegas officials were very generous and their hospitality was great. They were flexible, so we were able to do a lot of things when we ran into a problem.
It doesn’t sound like you’re the type of producer who is asking, “Why are we blowing up 170 cars? Can’t we get the same effect with 160?”
(Laughs) Well, yeah, it is my job to do that, but if we’ve budgeted for 170 we should have 170! I also have to look at my stunt coordinators and the second-unit director and [director] Paul Greengrass and say, “OK, where is the high point of this chase? That’s where we’ll spend the money.” It’s all a coordinated effort.
On that note, when compared to other “Bourne” movies, “Jason Bourne” was less expensive to make. How were you able to accomplish that and still make the movie you wanted?
I think we’re very familiar with another element that makes the “Bourne” movies special, which is going to these real places. We’ve got that down. We’ve got travel down. We’re a really efficient group now when we go out and shoot. I do think that’s how we’ve been able to keep the cost of the last couple of movies the same.
Twenty years ago, it was insane to think about spending $100 million to make a movie. Now, if you’re making a blockbuster, it’s basically a given that you’ll spend at least that much. Does it worry you as a producer that spending can get out of hand sometimes?
You’re right, it is insane. If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be making movies that cost more than $100 million I would’ve laughed at you. It is the world we live in now where these movies have to top each other. The costs are going up and up and up. When you’re trying to deliver “bigger and better,” the way to do that is spend more money. My challenge that I relish is not doing that and trying to figure out a way not to have the movie be more expensive. I like that challenge.
You’ve been in this business for 40 years and have produced dozens of movies. Is it still as fun now as it was in the 70s and 80s?
Certainly things have changed a lot. I mean, when I look back on the movies that I made in the 70s and 80s, there were less names on the poster. We all got to be a part of a very small unit. Now, the credits go on for 10 minutes at the end of a movie. So, I do miss that. It was a lot more like an intimate family experience. I wouldn’t say I’m burnt out on [my job]. I still love what I do. It’s not work for me. I like entertaining the audience. The most satisfying moment for me is when I’m sitting there with an audience for the first time and we’re telling them a story they respond to.
In these last 40 years, I’m sure you’ve made a lot of relationships. With that said, can you say no to someone like director Steven Spielberg? I mean, you’ve made around 10 films with him, so if he came to you with a pitch and you didn’t like it, would you tell him?
I think we have enough respect for each other that it’s OK to say no. In order to work on a movie now, I have to be really inspired by it. Making movies is hard. I want to be spending my time on a story that I’m really attached to and with filmmakers I’d like to work with. Certainly, I like working with Steven. If he came to me with a movie that I like, I would do it. And if I didn’t, I certainly would say, “Eh, I don’t know if I want to go down that road at this point in my career.” I do have a lot of great friends in the business and I, unfortunately, have to turn some of them down because I’m busy. I’d like to be there all the time. I’m hands on and like to be on the set. Also, I might have something already in production. That’s part of the problem, too.
Can you give me an update on Orsen Wells’ “The Other Side of the Wind?” When will the masses get a chance to see the completed film?
Well, I’m hoping very soon. I’m hoping we’ll have something to show everybody next year.
Why did you want to bring this film back to life? There have been plenty of films in the past left unfinished. Why save this particular one?
For me, it’s because I worked on it and I was there. It’s the last movie Orsen directed, so just for film history I think we should finish it and make it available for the world to see.
You are, of course, known for producing some major blockbusters like the “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future” franchises. Is there something on a smaller scale that you would point audiences to that you produced that you are particularly proud of that they might’ve missed?
A movie I was a part of that I think is a wonderful, small, independent movie is called “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” I would also point to a movie we made with Steven called “Empire of the Sun.” It’s not a small movie, but a lot people didn’t see it. We made it back in the 80s and it stars Christian Bale. It’s a wonderful story. What I’m most proud of about that movie is that it’s way before CG, so all of the action in it is real—real planes and real explosions. It’s pretty cool.