Oliver Stone Reveals Details About His 'Snowden' Biopic

Open Road Films
Joseph Gordon Levitt in 'Snowden'

The real Edward Snowden consulted on the script and advised on the correct CIA and NSA lingo and procedures.

The highly anticipated Snowden is not a political film, said Oliver Stone in an onstage interview at Cannes Lions. The director called it an "intellectual thriller" that tells the journey of the former NSA officer over a decade from his military service through his decision to reveal the NSA's widespread surveillance programs in the press. 

"The issues will hopefully emerge but they are not much discussed in the movie,” he said. He cast the title as closest in spirit to his Oscar-winning Born on the Fourth of July.

Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the former CIA and NSA programmer.

“It’s a ten year story starting in the military and going to the point where he releases the stories,” he said. “The [computer] screens were made realistically, his slides were incorporated as well as other slides from the NSA. Obviously it is a drama and we have to simplify and condense to some degree, but we feel we are in the ballpark and it’s very realistic."

Snowden consulted on the script and advised on the correct CIA and NSA lingo and procedures. “He gave us very good advice and sometimes very specific advice,” said Stone. Snowden has given the final film his “thumbs up.”

He also says Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills, who is portrayed by Shailene Woodley in the film, plays “a very significant role.”

The director expressed his initial reticence to get involved in the project because of the subject matter, but jumped in when he received a call from Snowden’s lawyer. Columbia Pictures already had the rights to journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book on the case, and after several meetings with Snowden in Russia they solidified a deal for the former CIA and NSA programmer’s life story.

He co-wrote the script with The Homesman writer Kieran Fitzgerald.

The team had to get funding from Germany and France and shot the film in Germany as a German production. “We did not get financing from any of the US majors. They all turned it down on the basis of the subject,” he said. “Essentially we got it made by the skin of our teeth.”

He said there are distribution deals in 20 territories around the world.

Stone is disappointed by the reaction or lack thereof to the revelations, saying the U.S. government has only made “cosmetic” reforms, and any moves by private corporations to add encryption is only because of consumer backlash and not privacy concerns.

The outspoken filmmaker also expressed his own disappointment in Obama — “I don’t know that he’s a man of conviction,” he said — and that Snowden’s revelations are not a campaign issue.

“In this election it’s not mentioned in the debates, no one is talking about it. Both [Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump] want more of it, it seems,” he said, calling the military and surveillance buildup Orwellian. He also said there is a clip of Trump where he calls for Snowden’s execution in the film.

When asked about his opinion on tomorrow's Brexit vote in the U.K. the director said he didn't feel comfortable giving his opinion, but that both France and England are essentially controlled by the U.S. "To me I look at it in the military way and I see a union bound by your subservience to the United States and that concerns me," he said.

The Oscar-winner said that Hollywood tends to criticize his films in advance. “Nixon was too sympathetic; I wasn’t hard enough on Bush.”

“When I make a film I think about it scene by scene,” he said. “I’ve never thought about it as just a movie. I take responsibility.”