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Doug Liman walked through his illustrious career with Jason Hirschhorn, CEO of digital content curation company ReDef Group, for a crowd of 2021 Tribeca film festival attendees on Tuesday evening — but not before being approached by a group of devoted, film poster-carrying fans outside of Manhattan’s Spring Studios, where he had been standing alongside ticketholders until one admirer assured him that he definitely didn’t need to wait in line.
On his way in, Liman marveled at the opportunity to have these interactions again. “This is my first time back,” the director told The Hollywood Reporter. “You forget how much you missed in person. It’s the reason I make movies. Because I love the idea of people going to a theater and communally watching stuff together.”
“It’s my favorite thing in life, to sit in a movie theater — a regular movie theater, not a premiere, but a regular movie theater with an audience — watching a movie,” Liman added.
The directors series chat with Hirschhorn kicked off on an equally exhilarating note, with Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal acknowledging Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to lift all COVID-19 restrictions now that 70 percent of adult New Yorkers have received the first dose of the vaccine: “It’s a reason to celebrate!”
What followed Rosenthal’s introduction was a 60-minute conversation about the age of streaming, Hollywood’s obsession with reboots, remakes and revivals, and what it all means for the Oscars in 2022 when, for the second year in a row, the Academy will allow films to skip a theatrical release and still be eligible due to the pandemic’s ongoing impact on theaters.
“People have been gaming the system for years and, you know, they’ll continue to do that if nothing changes,” Liman expressed. “You put the movie in a theater for a week and now it’s had its theatrical release. And then it goes on the streaming service.”
He continued, “Then again, now Netflix is choosing which movies get attention, but I guess that’s really no different than how it is now because it’s not really like the best films being picked for the Oscars. … There’s a layer in between, which is, there’s a huge marketing campaign that goes into getting award contention and usually the marketing goes behind the films that are the best films…but it’s sort of a representative democracy instead of a pure democracy.”
The Tribeca chat also dove into Liman’s filmography, from The Bourne Identity to his small-screen work as a director and executive producer and consultant on The O.C., the latter of which he tried (and failed) to slightly politicize.
“In the middle of the first year, I thought, you know, we’ve got like 10 million people watching the show and they’re mostly young. Like, why don’t we have the housekeeper arrested on immigration charges, and start to like put a little bit of substance into this teen soap?” Liman recalled. “And Warner Bros. Television is like, ‘We’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars riding on the show. This is not your political agenda. Like, no f-ing way are you doing that.'”
Liman was ultimately able to incorporate heavier subjects into his own projects, one of which was announced in 2010 — a film based on the 1971 Attica state prison uprising — and that’s still in the works.
“That’s a script that I’ve been working on for a while,” Liman told the crowd, noting that he has a personal connection to the events that left 43 people dead: His father, high-powered trial lawyer Arthur L. Liman, headed the New York State Commission on the uprising.
Liman didn’t divulge any additional details about the film, but the brief mention provided context for a larger point he was trying to make in response to a question Hirschhorn posed about making films that may offend people.
“Just the fact that I, as a white filmmaker, might tell a story that is a very significant African-American moment in this country because [there] was so much racism happening — and continuing to happen, not only in our country but specifically in our prison system — but, you know, I have this unique perspective of my father having run the investigation into that uprising,” Liman explained. “And the screenwriter I’m working with right now has the unique perspective of his stepfather was in Attica for seven years as a prisoner. So I’m like, we have a very personal connection to the story, but because we’re dealing with racial issues, I’m sort of intentionally going close to the line.”
Hirschhorn’s question led the pair to also discuss whether or not films like Animal House or Bad News Bears could be made in today’s cultural climate. The conversation and general idea of viewing past movies through the often unforgiving lens of today is certainly nothing new — Seth Rogen has stated that he couldn’t and wouldn’t write Superbad today; American Pie director Chris Weitz noted that he’d “be very surprised if a movie like this were released nowadays;” and while a Revenge of the Nerds reboot is in the works, the new iteration will reportedly not be a retelling of the film and its more problematic scenes (see: lead character Lewis seducing his crush in a manner that’s been described as rape by deception) — but according to Liman, he’s less likely to retroactively consider the social impact of his films because he does exactly that while making them.
There is one thing he regrets, though.
“I had smoking in Swingers, and then a reporter for Time magazine called me up…he said, ‘We’re doing a whole thing on smoking and movies, and did you know that when people show smoking in films it encourages kids to smoke? And you show all the smoking in Swingers. How do you feel about that?'” Liman recalled. “And I said, ‘I didn’t know that and I feel awful.’ To be honest, I would never have done that.”
Added the director, “I was like, ‘I’m just not gonna show smoking anymore.’ And, I mean, you look at Bourne Identity, it takes place in France—there’s not one cigarette in that movie!”
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