To say that Tony Gilroy has had a bumpy relationship with the Jason Bourne franchise would be an understatement. He has never been happy with what what Doug Liman did on “The Bourne Identity” (“Those works were never meant to be filmed,” he said dismissively about the Robert Ludlum books. “They weren’t about human behavior. They were about running to airports”) and was even less impressed by Paul Greengrass‘ work on “The Bourne Supremacy” (“It was sort of like a crime against the gods of storytelling,” he said). But the films made money. Lots of money. And moreover, Universal didn’t want to jinx their luck by trying to get new writers to take on the franchise for “The Bourne Ultimatum,” so they essentially gave Gilroy everything he wanted to write the third movie. Gilroy got a shit-ton of money and added stipulations that he just had to turn in one draft, he would take no notes nor would anyone be allowed to oversee what he was doing. Prime working conditions for any writer, but according to Matt Damon, that was massive mistake.
“It’s really the studio’s fault for putting themselves in that position,” Damon candidly told GQ in a recent profile. “I don’t blame Tony for taking a boatload of money and handing in what he handed in. It’s just that it was unreadable. This is a career-ender. I mean, I could put this thing up on eBay and it would be game over for that dude. It’s terrible. It’s really embarrassing. He was having a go, basically, and he took his money and left.”
“We had a start date. Like, ‘It’s coming out August of next year.’ We’re like, ‘Hang on, we’ve got to figure out what the script is,'” Damon continued. In the end, Scott Z. Burns (who would later write “The Informant!” which also starred Damon) and George Nofli (who penned “The Adjustment Bureau” as well as a draft of the aborted “Bourne 4“) were brought in at the zero hour to get the movie into shape. And here’s where the tale gets even more interesting.
As anyone who has followed the saga of Jason Bourne movies knows, each production has been fraught right from the start with shooting woes pushing “The Bourne Identity” from a September 2001 release date to June 2002, and going $8 million over budget. And according to Damon, Gilroy was worried.
“The word on ‘Bourne’ was that it was supposed to be a turkey,” Damon said. “It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good. So Tony Gilroy arbitrated against himself to not be the writer with sole credit.” He would wind up sharing credit with some guy named William Blake Herron (though another account suggests Herron fought for credit, but either way, Gilroy didn’t want to be alone to sink the ship).
The irony is that when it came to ‘Ultimatum,’ despite work by both Nolfi and Burns, Gilroy wanted only this name to appear. “Before the movie came out, he arbitrated to get sole credit,” Damon told the magazine, apparently “disgusted.” In the end, the WGA gave credit to all three.
Yet, despite all of this, Damon is rooting for Gilroy (who he also calls a “great director”), Jeremy Renner and “The Bourne Legacy” if only for his own self-interest. He says that the franchise allows him the freedom to do whatever he wants, knowing that he has a successful series he can always return to.
“It feels like I can swing freely, like a baseball player—just be relaxed and really do the things that I want to do and not worry, because I know there’s another one out there,” he said.
After all the beef about Gilroy he actually followed up with GQ and amended his criticism saying, “If I didn’t respect him and appreciate his talent, then I really wouldn’t have cared…My feelings were hurt. That’s all. And that’s exactly why I shouldn’t have said anything. This is between me and him. So saying anything publicly is fucking stupid and unprofessional and just kind of douchey of me.”
“The Bourne Legacy” — written by Tony and Dan Gilroy — arrives on August 3, 2012. And should Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon ever get together for another Bourne, we don’t expect Gilroy will be writing it.