Filmmaking: Ed Zwick — <i>Jack Reacher: Never Go Back</i>
Issue: October 1, 2016

Filmmaking: Ed Zwick — Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

On October 21st, Tom Cruise returns to the big screen as Jack Reacher, reprising his role from the thriller franchise’s 2012 film in which he delivers his own form of justice. Based on author Lee Child’s books, the new Paramount Pictures film, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, also stars Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany and Robert Knepper.

Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Siege, Blood Diamond) directed the new film, reuniting with Cruise, having directed 2003’s The Last Samurai. This project marks the first time Zwick worked on a sequel, but the director says the opportunity afforded him room to put his own stamp on the franchise. Having recently completed post production, Zwick took some time in mid-September to speak with Post about the challenges he faced making the film. Here, he details his experience in production and post, as well as the ‘new normal’ in which non-visual effects films contain hundreds of VFX shots.

What attracted you to this film? Was it your past work with Tom Cruise?

“Actually, there are several different answers. He did call and say, ‘Would I take a look at this?’ I was surprised in that I’ve never done sequel or anything in a franchise before. He said, ‘Well just read it,’ and what I realized once I began to read it was that it was an opportunity to do something that was indeed my own. And he was very interested in seeing what I’d like to do with this character and this genre. The nature of what this franchise is, is that it’s almost like an anthology. No characters are reoccurring, except him. He’s in very different circumstances, a different place, different kinds of stories. I thought that it was an opportunity to a go a bit deeper into the character and do a different kind of movie than the first one, no matter how good the first one might have been. I’ve never worked in this genre before, [though] I’ve done movies that have action in them.”

What stage of post production are you at?

“We’re done. We finished a couple of weeks ago.”

Were there any particular challenges in production?

“Well, there are always things to talk about. The film takes place on the road in Oklahoma, then goes to Washington, DC, then goes to New Orleans, so creating those three different places within one place — which was New Orleans — was a challenge. That’s always a challenge, in terms of using different locations, playing with extensions, set decorations, all of the things that one uses now in the bag of tricks to try to make these movies work. That was certainly part of the challenge.”

Did you choose Louisiana based on tax incentives?

“It had a number of advantages in terms of locations, but the tax incentives are one of the many things that one is dealing with, obviously, these days.”

Did you shoot digitally or on film?

“We shot on film. There is something about this movie that tries to give a nod to certain 1970s movies — to Bullitt and Two Days of the Condor, and some of the John Frankenheimer movies. And we felt that that was the way to do it. There was a certain quality we felt that film might have for this, that we thought would be appropriate. So Tom and I both agreed that we would shoot on film.

“Oliver Wood — who is a wonderful DP — he’s shot in all different mediums, and he was interested in doing the same thing. Like all things in filmmaking, it’s a collaborative decision.”

Who handled the visual effects work?

“Alan Monroe from Moving Target was the supervisor and they did most of the work. It’s funny, it used to be when you did a speed up or a slow down or a split or any of those things, those were opticals. Those are now visual effects, so those are counted in your movie and they add up. Even if you do a push-in our re-po, those are also visual effects. And then there are set extensions and wire removals. I think when all is said and done, there were close to a couple hundred shots in the movie, but believe it or not, this movie is not in any way effects-driven. In fact, the effects will be invisible. And yet in the end, there were a good number of them because that’s what movies have become.”

Are VFX used to drive the story?

“No. It’s very important to me and very important to Tom. We’re doing our work with the same kind of authenticity that these films I described earlier had. We really wanted to be faithful to the laws of physics. There’s are a couple of moments where we did a lot of things on rooftops, and you might have had an actor wearing a safety belt, which is obviously a thing you would have to do, but that being said, nothing that was the creation of the stunt.”

Do you have a go-to editor that you like to work with?

“The funny thing is, I have only worked with one editor in the 15 movies, even since film school — Steve Rosenblum —  and it turned out he wasn’t available to me. So I said to Steve, ‘Who’s the one editor that I can hire that can make you jealous — make you feel threatened that I’d want to work with him again?’ And he said, ‘There’s only one editor who I love more than anything and that’s Billy Weber.’ So of course I called Billy and we got along really well. Billy is a legend among editors, having done everything from Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run to all of Terry Mallick’s movies, Warren Beatty’s movies. He’s a fantastic editor and a great collaborator. We had a great time and that was actually Steve’s recommendation.”

How soon after shooting are you seeing rough cuts?

“He’s very fast. Editors are generally very fast until you get to a sequence where you’ve got multiple cameras and many days of shooting, and the pieces can’t be put together — a chase sequence or an action sequence. That often takes sometimes a week, sometimes more to put together. If it’s just a scene where you’ve shot one camera or two with just dialogue, I’ll be able to take a look at that two days later.”
Was editor Billy Weber on-set?

“He was in Louisiana. It’s wonderful to have the editor nearby if you can. Billy works on an Avid.”
How did you address music and sound effects?

“James Newton Howard, who I have worked with so many times, wasn’t available, so I listened to a lot of film music and I ended up hiring Henry Jackman, who is very, very talented. He did a score that I liked a lot, which was Captain Phillips. He also worked a lot with Hans Zimmer as a young composer and Hans is someone I’ve worked with too. I talked to Hans about it and Hans couldn’t have recommended him more highly. We met and got along, and so we began to work together on this one.

“The movie has certain conventional aspects, having to do with thrillers, which you want to solve in a juicy way if you can, but it also has also aspects that were different. There is a certain emotional component and a relational element, so I wanted someone who had great versatility and sophistication, as well as just having wonderful themes and melodies and such. I very much enjoyed working with him.

“For the post on the movie, I worked with Mark Stoeckinger, who I’ve worked with before as the supervisor. We did [The Last] Samurai together and others. Andy Nelson did the mix. I think I have done 10 movies with him. He’s I think the very best out there.  

“Mark Stoeckinger was the sound designer and Andy Nelson was the re-recording engineer — the mixer. We worked at Fox. Andy has a stage at Fox and even though it was a Paramount movie, they were nice enough to let us do the sound there.”

Looking back, did the film come turn out as you initially anticipated?

“No movie is exactly as you expect because it’s an organic process, where at a certain point, the movie begins to tell you what it wants to be. I know there are certain directors who storyboard every shot and are determined — or over-determined — to make a movie be exactly a certain way. But I really enjoy the process of discovery and seeing what I haven’t expected. There are always things. I think Tom’s performance was a real surprise. And working with him to find this character was very interesting and how it could depart from some of the characters he had played before. 

“I think Cobie Smulders — who had done a certain kind of work before, and never done anything like this — to see her really transform herself both physically and emotionally into this character, that’s the most wonderful kind of surprise. That’s the kind of surprise you hope will happen. And once you see it, it leaves you to want to do other kinds of things with her.”