Greengrass at the Bourne Ultimatum premiere at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California on 25 July 2007
13 August 1955 |
Cheam, Surrey, England, UK
|Alma mater||Queens’ College, Cambridge|
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, producer|
|Board member of||Directors UK (president)|
Speaking personally as a filmmaker, I think encoded in Bond are a series of values about Britain, about the world, about masculinity, about power, about the empire that I don't share. Quite the reverse. Whereas in Bourne, I think encoded is much more scepticism. There's an us and a them, and Bourne is an us, whereas Bond is working for them.
Acting is many things. Acting is playing lines, of course, but it's much more profound than that. Acting is truth-telling and trying to find the truth in a human situation, which will be sketched out by a screenwriter with all the skill that a screenwriter can do; but in the end, that's just the map of the journey.
The one mistake you must never make is to agree to make a film or sign on to film that you don't believe in. Most importantly because it's unfair on that. It's not about you; it's just not fair on that project because you're doing it a profound disservice because you're not serving it – you're uncommitted, ultimately.
One of the things that makes the Bourne movies so exciting, I think, is you do get to go on a journey. Generally, through the franchise, that journey is in Europe.
With a franchise movie, it's got to turn the wheels of the industry, and the studio has to have them. So you start with a release date. They say we're going to make a new 'Bourne' film, and it comes out summer of X. Then they start on a script, and invariably, the script is not ready in time.
No one person is the author of a Bourne film. The truth is it's a coalition of people who share the same vision for Bourne and his world, and we… its remarkably collaborative and collective.
In my little imperfect way, what I'm trying to do is understand the world. As a filmmaker, you realize as you get older that each film is part of a dialogue you're having with yourself. That started when I was working in documentaries. And in a way, I've never deviated from it.
Remembering is painful, it's difficult, but it can be inspiring and it can give wisdom.
Action is only really compelling when it reveals character – character revealed through action, and not action for its own sake.
Deep down, all directors feel like frauds – because it's built into the nature of the job. You're the jack of all trades and the master of none. The cameraman knows the camera, the sound man knows the sound equipment – and you? You can't do anything: You can't do the acting, you can't dress the set, you don't record the sound or shoot the images.
I am interested in seeing if you can create on film pieces that feel contemporary and urgent.
It's funny: when you make a film, you always look back, and there are always crucial decisions that get made. You look back, and at the time they don't seem like it, but you look back, and you see they were absolutely fundamental.
I spent my 20s making film after film, often in very adverse conditions. You'd fly back from somewhere – Beirut, the Falklands, South Africa – on Saturday, and you'd have 24 hours to cut your film, and it would go out on Monday night.
I prize something that feels authentic. It's an undefinable thing, but I know it when I see it, and I think audiences do, too. One of the reasons why 'Bloody Sunday' and 'United 93' work is because they felt real, felt truthful.
I don't storyboard like some. I mean, all directors are different. I plan meticulously – really meticulously.
Why are people saying it's too soon? Like the people on that flight, we need to agree about what to do about terrorism. And I think we need to have that conversation now.
I just don't get on with institutions. I need simple relationships with people who believe in me.
The most important thing as a filmmaker, the hardest journey you'll have, is to find your point of view.
All directors make films in individual ways. But the classical kind of view of filmmaking is that you have a script, and it's very linear. There's a script, then you're going to shoot the script ,and then you cut that, and then that's the end of the film. And that's never really been how I've seen it.
Acting is many things, and one is an exercise of will. In any given scene, you're trying to find where the drama and conflict is and then deploy the actors to play at that point of conflict with precision, control, and complete will.
Ultimately, if you look at all my films from 'Bloody Sunday' on, they're steeped in a post-9/11 atmosphere. 'United 93' is directly about 9/11, of course, but every one of the movies deals with paranoia, mistrust, and fear.
Making a film, every film, is a big gamble, large or small. The more that you do it, the more you're aware of that.
Making movies is both entirely ludicrous and incredibly hard. It's a preposterous way to spend your time. You give up a lot for the privilege of doing it, and one of the things you get are relationships of immense trust that you see forged in situations of immense stress.
Some filmmakers are more eclectic than others. I'm not one of those! I'm interested in what I'm interested in, which is films about the world, about what's going on. I started in TV documentaries with 'World in Action,' and those interests feed into the films I make now.
I'd always suspected my face wouldn't fit in drama departments. And it never did!
When you think of the Cold War, there are various places where you imagine espionage. Espionage crossroads of the Cold War bring you to the backstreets of Berlin, or Vienna.
I think there's something about a character facing the huge problems and challenges of the contemporary world and meeting them with – head on with courage, allowing for darkness and mistake, but ultimately always moral. That's incredibly, incredibly inspiring, and that's honestly what I think.
I've seen a lot of political violence in my life. I know what it looks like. I know what it smells like. I know what motivates young men to do it. I've talked to them about it. I know what victims feel like, you know? I know the abominable effect it has on politics. I know how intractable it is.
To make a film is eighteen months of your life. It's seven days a week. It's twenty hours a day.
It's a circus life, the movies. It's a lot of travelling, a lot of antisocial hours; there's a lot of it that's about escaping from life.
The best crime stories are always about the crime and its consequences – you know, 'Crime And Punishment' is the classic. Where you have the crime, and its consequences are the story, but considering the crime and the consequences makes you think about the society in which the crime takes place, if you see what I mean.
What attracts me to Bourne's world is that is a real world, and I think I'm most comfortable there. But I come to a Bourne movie to have fun as a filmmaker, to strut my stuff, and that's part of the fun of franchise filmmaking.
It's no good in a scene to have one actor lie down because the scene says it's the other actor's moment. Each actor has to believe that with extra will, the outcome of a scene can be different. An actor can win the scene if he exerts the most powerful will in that moment.
I always tell young film-makers, 'Find the song that only you can sing.' It doesn't just come to you. It's trial and error and disappointment before you find, slowly but surely, the confidence to express your film-making identity.
With the dramatic canvas, I found you could still operate with the documentarist's observational eye.
I'm British; I live here, and I've always made my films here. And we're on a journey in British filmmaking right now. We're attracting big films again. 'Star Wars' filming here will employ thousands of people. We're world-class in so many of the craft elements, and the vibrancy of our filmmaking is strong.
In the end, it's acting, it's not real. But every director will tell you that you have to create conditions that create tension, because tension is what makes drama feel real.
Whatever your style or subject matter, in the end, film-making is about searching for authenticity – that is what the audience will divine.
Studio people are bright. Empowering. They don't want to have to interfere creatively. That's their horror story, too.
Very few people do bad things because they're bad. They generally do bad things because they think they're the right thing to do, but they're misplaced.
Directing is all tied up with childhood loneliness. It's such an odd thing to end up doing.
I don't want to feel what I'm creating on film has an outcome that is preordained. I don't think of the world as a place with a divinity that shapes our end. What you try to do with film is create, as far as you possibly can, an unfolding present – a theatre in which an outcome happens and is tested.
My films express me, my sense of rhythm, my sense of impact, my sense of kinetic energy. I like films to move, but I like also clear storytelling and characters, and most of all, I like authentic emotion.
Finding where to put the camera is probably the most important thing you have to learn when you're a young director, and it's something that's a mixture of instinct and technique.