While the works of Robert Ludlum inspired a handful of movies through the '70s, '80s and '90s, it was the 'Bourne' series of films that truly brought his books to life on the big screen in a vital way. Jason Bourne has already become the basis for a certain kind of hero or thriller, and the trilogy of films starring Matt Damon have made an indelible mark on the action movie landscape. However, when Universal, Greengrass and Damon parted ways during the development of a planned 'Bourne 4,' the future of the franchise was a question mark. Enter Ben Smith. A former agent who represented the Ludlum estate, and a producer at Captivate Entertainment, he helped get 'Bourne' back on its feet, and the result is Tony Gilroy's upcoming "The Bourne Legacy" starring Jeremy Renner. The film arrives later this summer, adding a new chapter to the series Ludlum birthed.
We recently had a chance to ask Ben Smith some questions over email about 'Bourne,' some of the other Ludlum projects that are brewing and what else the very busy producer has on the horizon.
When the fourth 'Bourne' movie with Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon fell apart, did you immediately think the franchise was over?
Absolutely not. That’s not to say that we weren’t incredibly disappointed at the time when the version with Matt and Paul didn’t come together. However, the world created by Robert Ludlum, and all of the filmmakers who have worked on the 'Bourne' films, was way too rich and immersive not to continue one way or another. Our partners at Universal, especially Donna Langley, Peter Cramer and Jimmy Horowitz, remained steadfast with us in our commitment to carry on the franchise in an exciting way.
Tony Gilroy has previously expressed his dissatisfaction with the way his scripts were directed. And as Damon mentioned in GQ recently, his script for “The Bourne Ultimatum” was one draft and then he washed his hands clean of it. How did you convince him to return to the 'Bourne' series?
My partner at Captivate Jeffrey Weiner, who is also the Executor of the Ludlum Estate, and I met with Tony one morning at the Mandarin Hotel in NYC and asked him to think about what he would do for the next film. We really had no expectations at that point that he would have an interest in returning to the franchise, but we personally wanted to approach him directly as he had previously rebuffed inquiries from others on the subject before. He agreed to think about it and within a couple of weeks he called and relayed, “I have an idea”. We were thrilled when we heard what he was thinking.
At one point Josh Zetumer wrote a draft for 'Bourne 4' and now he's penned a spy franchise that you will produce with Universal. Was that project borne out of working on 'Bourne'? (Forgive the pun)
I very much enjoyed the process of working with Josh. He is an incredibly talented writer and we kept in contact. He came up with an original idea I loved, and when his dance card finally became available we put the pitch together and brought it into Universal. It was a no brainer for the studio and us to get him going on the screenplay asap.
What's the status of the return of Jason Bourne? Matt Damon said he hopes to return to the role one day.
We love Matt Damon’s embodiment of Jason Bourne. The character he brought to life in the films has raised the standard across the entire genre. While a character can be great on the page, it takes a brilliant actor to bring them to life the way Matt did with Bourne. We really look forward to working with him again — hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
If "The Bourne Legacy" begets its own trilogy, could Jason Bourne appear in that series?
We are really focused right now on "The Bourne Legacy." The work that Jeremy Renner has done in creating a new exciting character in the 'Bourne' pantheon has exceeded all of our expectations. It’s way too premature to discuss where all of these stories will go.
Is there an "ultimate goal" for the 'Bourne' franchise(s) moving forward? Is there a dream scenario?
There are a few dream scenarios I suppose but the biggest one is that we continue to keep the bar high creatively going forward and to meet, or rather exceed, the audiences expectations.
Brian Kirk recently signed on to direct "The Osterman Weekend." What makes him the right choice and how will the new version differ from Sam Peckinpah's film?
Brian was a great discovery for us. He has a concise and fundamental understanding of story on its most primary levels. His vision for the the film is inspired. It quickly brought Summit, Simon Kinberg, screenwriter Jesse Wigutow, and us into alignment. This version of 'Osterman' will be very different than the Peckinpah version, which was of a certain time and place. Of course we are still creating a very intense thriller…
At one time David Cronenberg was looking at "The Matarese Circle" with Tom Cruise. What happened, and is that project still developing?
"Matarese Circle" is a terrific book that we have definitely remained focused on. Stay tuned…
You're working with Chris Eigeman on the period film "Midnight Sun." How did your paths cross and how is that project developing?
Jesse Eisenberg turned me on to the project and I fell in love with its potential as a film. I met with Chris shortly thereafter and we hit it off. We are packaging this now.
How do you balance staying faithful to Ludlum's works and meeting fan expectations, while also meeting the criteria for a cinematic experience?
I believe that Ludlum was very aware of creating a thrilling experience for his readership while also exploring very compelling global-political ideas and arenas. As far as the cinematic experience, Ludlum’s books are fantastic to draw upon. The world has obviously changed since he wrote these stories, but the characters, the conspiracies, the themes, and the fundamental messages of his books are still incredibly relevant today. His books were seminal, kinetic, and exciting, and we seek to create the same experience with the films.
What's the status of "The Parsifal Mosaic," "The Janson Directive" and "The Sigma Protocol?"
We are very actively working with the incredibly talented Ron Howard who is attached to direct "The Parsifal Mosaic." David Self is in the process of adapting the book into a screenplay which we believe will expand the genre. We recently kicked off the development of "The Jason Directive" with the screenwriter John Hlavin and are very excited about his ideas for the character. Irwin Winkler is writing a draft of "The Sigma Protocol" and we are getting close to bringing this to the screen.
For "Pursuit," was that written by Dan Gilroy or Sheldon Turner or both?
Dan Gilroy is currently working on the project for us. Sheldon was never on it. Dan also co-wrote "The Bourne Legacy" with his brother Tony and we enjoy working with him very much.
And when do you actually sleep? :)
Not much… ;-)
"The Bourne Legacy" opens on August 3rd.