Are you a fan of the franchise itself?
On some level, I liked what Rupert [Wyatt] did with the first one and Rupert and I had a great time working on our script. And then Fox and Rupert parted ways, and as happens in Hollywood when the director goes, the writer is usually thrown out of the building shortly thereafter. So I don't know if they are going to use what Rupert and I did, but I hope they did because I think we were going in a good direction.
You kind of came out of nowhere with "The Bourne Ultimatum" to then you became Soderbergh’s go-to man. How did you land on his radar?
I got really lucky. I worked in advertising for a long time and then Peter Berg challenged me to come and work on his TV show. I learned what Final Draft was and how to write a script and I was driving around LA, listening to “This American Life” like I always did, and I heard the story of “The Informant.” I tracked down who had the rights to it and asked them if I could go and pitch it. Steven had just started Section 8 with George [Clooney] and a woman named Jennifer Fox was there. I pitched it to Jen and she initially passed, and then I begged for further considerations. And it came down to Steven or Sydney Pollock to direct the movie.
Not bad company.
And Sydney Pollock told me “Look, if you want to go with Steven, I wouldn’t blame you.” They were friends, and he said “Steven is as gifted a director and as classy a guy as you’re going to meet.” He trusted me and I had this idea to explore the inside of Mark Whitacre’s mind in a way that I hadn’t seen before. And I think he and I both like taking genres and subverting them and identifying what the constituent elements are that draw the audience in, then mess with their expectations. That shared desire is what made it so fruitful.
After that, it took eight years to get “The Informant” shot, and in the interceding time I directed a movie called “Pu-239” and Steven was the executive producer on that. Then he asked me for some help on “Oceans Twelve” and we finally got to make “The Informant.” When that was done he asked me “Well, what else do you have?” and I said, “I’ve always had this idea for a pandemic movie but I wanted it based on science.” He looked at me and said “I’m in.”
Then I had this play that I wrote, and it was the same thing. So I asked him, “This retirement thing, does it apply to theatre?” He said “No,” and I said, “Would you ever consider directing my play?” Then it took him about two and a half minutes, because he knew the play pretty well and he had come to meetings of it. So he said “I’m in.” Which is great for me because it would be heartbreaking if I thought that we weren’t going to work anymore. He makes me a better writer -- I would definitely be suffering a loss if he wasn’t a part of my life anymore.
Have you ever tried to dissuade him from his imminent retirement on the film side?
What I have always liked about Steven’s films is that he has always tried to do different things. Even when we were doing what we described as “popcorn movies,” he was trying to do them better, smarter and with more interesting things. There’s always something that he’s experimenting with and I think it's great that maybe these experiments will now be paintings, books or plays. I believe that he is so drawn to film that he will come back, and when he does it will be because he has something really exciting and new to say. Or he will have found something so exciting about one of those other mediums that he won’t come back, and he’ll be doing something amazing in those and that’ll be fine. So I think we are all going to be fine either way, but I’ll miss him too.
In some ways his transition mimics your own from advertising to screenwriting.
Yeah, maybe he’ll go do advertising.