Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's "Fuck you Money?" Matt Damon's GQ profile suggests Tony Gilroy knows

A GQ profile of Matt Damon had some interesting details about the writing of the Bourne movies.  I don't get to focus on the business of screenwriting - at least as it pertains to this kind of work - so I decided to reprint a few paragraphs here.

Writer Tony Gilroy basically wrote the first movie under duress, and he was never happy with the experience for various reasons.  When asked back for the sequels, he made sure the studio made it worth his while.  I'm curious how some of you assess the ethics of what he did, though.

Later, though, Damon will wonder if maybe he has become a little too relaxed. Because suddenly, as we sit on a bench in the afternoon sunshine, he takes a major swing at Gilroy. Damon says that back in 2001, when the first Bourne movie, The Bourne Identity, was still in postproduction, Gilroy saw a rough cut and got worried. "The word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey," Damon says. "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." 

Typically screenwriters use the Writers Guild's arbitration process when they feel they've been denied credit unfairly. This time, Gilroy wanted to share the credit (and the blame), Damon says, "to have another guy take the bullet with him." And so someone named William Blake Herron is now cashing residual checks on Bourne, just like Gilroy is. (Actually Damon may have gotten his chronology wrong—one source says Herron initiated the credit dispute, but that Gilroy didn't oppose sharing credit.) 

Gilroy wrote Bourne 2 as well: The Bourne Supremacy. Then, Damon says, for The Bourne Ultimatum, the third in the franchise, Gilroy struck a deal to write just one draft of the script, take no notes, do no rewrites, and get paid "an exorbitant amount of money." "It's really the studio's fault for putting themselves in that position," Damon says. "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." 

Gilroy's lackluster work left the production in chaos, Damon says. "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.' " In the end, the shooting script was written under extreme deadline pressure by George Nolfi and Scott Z. Burns, with input from Greengrass, Damon says. And then Gilroy raised another challenge. "Before the movie came out, he arbitrated to get sole credit," Damon says, disgusted. The WGA looked into it and turned Gilroy down. (He shares credit with Nolfi and Burns.) "That was just a little bit of justice, I have to say," Damon says.  

The rest of the profile can be found here.


  1. Mr. Gilroy is writing and directing BOURNE 4, so the studio forgave him, even if Mr. Damon didn't. Listen to Gilroy's DVD commentary on MICHAEL CLAYTON and you'll why he wasn't happy surrendering his scripts to someone else's vision. He has very specific ideas about the entire look and sound of the film, not just "the writer's job." I can sympathize.

    One annoying quirk in his writing is every verb is a gerund: "Bourne running down the street" instead of "Bourne runs down the street." The extra syllable in every sentence gets tiresome, and dilutes the impact of the gerund where it's really needed.

    So success is possible despite quirks and half-ass work. But I suspect BOURNE 4 will have to perform better than the over-duplicitous DUPLICITY to keep Mr. Gilroy on top.

  2. If Matt Damon knew an unreadable script when he read it, he wouldn't have starred in that awful soccer movie.

  3. Peter - so he - the writer - had a very specific vision of the look and sound of the film? Me too - always, for twenty years. Is that supposed to matter?

    I've only ever heard bad things about Gilroy and his ego - undeserved, in my opinion. And everything I've seen about Matt Damon (especially the way he operated on the Project Greenlight show) seems upstanding. Comments like the ones above don't happen by accident, so I'll have to assume Gilroy did even more than write a shitty script to piss Matt Damon off enough to speak so openly.

  4. Steve, your vision doesn't matter to most directors. If it matters to you, you must get lucky or direct your work yourself, like Gilroy does now.

  5. Peter, that's what I was saying. You said that Gilroy said, "he has very specific ideas about the entire look and sound of the film, not just 'the writer's job.'" - so if that's why he isn't happy with his role as writer of the Borne films or Michael Clayton, and that's the reason he's acting so unprofessionally, he's got even more of an ego problem than I'd heard.

  6. To clarify: Gilroy directed MICHAEL CLAYTON, and received an Oscar nomination for it. He did not say he has very specific ideas about directing. I did, based on his DVD commentary.

    So the man knows how to direct, and was unhappy with Doug Liman's bungled directing of BOURNE IDENTITY (four rounds of reshoots). Does that mean Gilroy has an ego problem?

    Maybe. Or maybe the common advice to screenwriters to eat shit and be satisfied is a problem. Rise up, o ye oppressed, and take control of your vision! TV writers have, and have created some of the finest dramas on any screen.

  7. Ah - you're right, I misread that. Thanks for clarifying.

    I still don't like him, though.

    And I agree - we also should do some shooting and editing.

  8. ooh I didn't realize there was so much beef between the camps. this dispute is interesting because damon's a good screenwriter and gilroy's a good director, so their opinions can't get dimissed so easily.
    I didn't realize bourne ultimatum - which in my opinion really was the only good bourne movie (and probably my favorite american action film of the decade) - had three writers. Gilroy in commentaries and interviews sounded like he was the only one. It's hard to imagine that someone of his calibre would just turn in one terrible draft though.

  9. The Hollywood Reporter gives another side to the story:

    "...though Damon bashed him for walking away after writing one (allegedly lousy) draft, several sources say Gilroy had made it clear that he would do only one draft and possibly a revision because he was committed to his directing debut, Michael Clayton.

    "Damon's allegation that the draft was "unreadable" is something that Snider and others dispute. Universal co-chairman Donna Langley says she was "thrilled with the script Tony submitted and greenlit the film based on that script." "

    Also, Mr. Damon now says he would like to do more Bourne films, but earlier he repeatedly said "we've ridden that horse as far as we can go." Well, Mr. Gilroy came up with a new saddle. Hooray for the writer!