Doug Liman is a renowned filmmaker behind an array of hit blockbusters from “The Bourne Identity” to “Edge of Tomorrow.” During his director series at the Tribeca Festival 2021, which was moderated by Jason Hirschhorn on Tuesday night, Liman revealed that he created his first film at the age of six. It was a short documentary about dogs in Central Park, which Liman’s older sister was quick to criticize.
“She was like, ‘it’s just dog shitting, who’s gonna want to watch that?’” Liman recalled. “The reality is, I was six years old with a camera. It’s very hard to track a dog that’s running in a park, you really have to wait for them to stop running. And it turns out, the only time they weren’t running was when they were pooping. So I had a whole movie of dogs pooping.”
Liman said that he likes to surround himself with very critical people because “at the end of the day, the audiences and critics are gonna be critical.” He went on to say that he’s known to be “pretty harsh” back, but assumes it’s a safe space.
“If we’re working together, we respect each other,” Liman said. “We established that, now let’s just get to the hard work of making a film.”
Liman said he’s “getting ready to do a third” film with Tom Cruise, who he previously worked with on 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow” and 2017’s “American Made.” The filmmaker said he typically tries to be positive with actors “because they have to look good on camera,” which is where one of his techniques comes into play.
“No matter how bad [the take] was, you call cut and you say, ‘Okay, that was, fill in compliment,’” Liman said. “Now you say, ‘Let’s go again, and let’s try something.’”
After 20 takes, however, Liman said one scene with Cruise wasn’t working, and he was running out of compliments to hand out.
“And I’m like, ‘Tom, that was, uh…’ and Tom goes, ‘Terrible?’” Liman recalled. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, that was terrible.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I could tell it was terrible. I was doing it.’ And I’m like, ‘To be honest, it was like, awful.’”
Liman said he and Cruise went back and forth about how bad these takes were, which was Liman’s way of reiterating the importance of finding actors and producers with whom “you can be honest with when something’s not working.”
When making a new film, Liman revealed that he strives to “do the opposite” of what he had just done before.
“For better or worse, I treat making films like it’s an adventure,” Liman said. “I don’t necessarily want to know how it’s gonna work out when I go into it.”
The best indicator of a great filmmaker, according to Liman, is the ability to tell captivating stories.
“All of this is the same as telling stories by the campfire, film is just one way to do that,” Liman said. “At a dinner party, there are the people who are like, ‘Let me tell you about my day,’ and it’s like boring as hell — that person probably shouldn’t be making movies.”