The name of this post really could have been “Chris McQuarrie Explains How To Make A Blockbuster In 2015.” Because the process McQuarrie went through to make Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation a success (it’s now been No. 1 at the box office two weeks in a row) isn’t quite what you’d expect. At least, hearing how McQuarrie went to the marketing department to take a crash course in promotion and social-media strategy isn’t what we usually think about in terms of a director’s duties, but here we are.
A couple weeks ago, Tom Cruise revealed he had an idea for a sequel to Edge of Tomorrow, a story that made its way around the internet even though it was met with a hefty amount of skepticism, considering that the first movie wasn’t exactly a box-office blockbuster. But, as McQuarrie explains, yes, there is an idea for a sequel and, yes, a second movie is a real possibility and, yes, McQuarrie really likes this idea.
As explained with the first half of this interview, McQuarrie called late last week on pretty short notice, but what was supposed to be a 15-minute conversation stretched closer to an hour, so a lot of ground was covered, including why McQuarrie feels there’s been a recent shift in media coverage of movies – from something that was negative (at least from his experiences on Valkyrie) into something that’s at least starting to be more positive.
Were you surprised by the reaction to Rogue Nation?
I was stunned. I’m accustomed to making movies that really get discovered after they’ve been in theaters. If you look at all the films that I’ve made, going all the way back to The Usual Suspects, they sort of get discovered in their afterlife.
Jack Reacher is a good example of that.
There’s almost a weird tone of voice that you hear, where you hear, “Hey, I saw Valkyrie, and, you know what? It’s pretty good.” With that tone of voice of, “I thought it would be awful.”
It’s interesting you chose Valkyrie as your example. Looking back, that’s an interesting movie because no one quite knew what to expect from Tom Cruise…
It was his comeback movie.
I think people were disappointed that Valkyrie was not the failure they had been promised. There had been a year of speculation that the movie was in trouble, and we were having terrible test-screenings and we were doing lots of re-shoots and things like this – all of which were not true. And when the movie came out and the movie was OK, people sort of said, “Well, what do I get out of that?”
You saw a good movie, that’s what you get.
It’s an okay movie. Valkyrie is a good movie. It wasn’t a giant blockbuster and it wasn’t a total catastrophe. It’s very difficult nowadays with the buzz that gets built up around movies to know what to do with a movie that’s just “good.” People don’t really know where to put it. A movie either has to be great or be a catastrophe for it to be entertaining.
I interviewed Bryan Singer a couple of years ago, and he said that Valkyrie is the reason he’s so active on Twitter. So now he can cut off misreported stories at the source. You are active on Twitter…
Ironically, Bryan is the one who urged me to get on Twitter. I had avoided social media for a long, long time. And if you look at my Twitter feed, I do not self-promote. I’m not there saying, “Hey, go see my movie this weekend.” I will retweet articles that I think will be of interest to people who I think are interested in the movie… and it’s about responding to erroneous reports in the press. In between those reports, it’s about keeping people engaged.
During filming of Rogue Nation, an erroneous report popped up that we had shut down. I was able to respond within the hour from the set with photographs of us shooting. They had said we had shut down and it was a mixture of truths and untruths. We had shut down, but by the time they had the story, we were shooting again. We had shut down to prep for the ending, and the story that they made out of it was that we had shot an ending, and the studio had deemed that ending unsatisfactory and they had now asked us to re-shoot it, which is untrue. Any reporter who wants to get me can get me on social media. I’m right there. But they don’t want to reach out to you because all you’re going to do is refute that story – you’re going to refute it with the truth or you’re going to refute it with a lie. You’re not going to give then the answer they want, so they don’t ask.
I would argue that, if I had that story, I would not tweet at you. I would contact your publicist. If I tweet you about a story I’m working on, then every other reporter sees that I have this story.
I think that makes total sense, except that they did reach out to us. They reached out to Paramount and to Skydance, and we told them the truth. The fact is, the truth was not as sexy as the “the movie is in trouble.” And that’s the story they ultimately ran with, because they will take the truth as spin. And on Valkyrie, time and again, they went with the sexier story without any verification because the truth of the matter is they wanted see a bloodbath. They see blood in the water and they contributed to it. They want to be part of that disaster.
To counter that, I feel the press has been very happy about the success of Rogue Nation and happy it’s such a great movie. I hope you’re feeling that, because that’s what I’m seeing.
Yes, I don’t mean to sound… yes, I’m stunned. I’m stunned by the reaction. And stunned by the critical reaction to Edge of Tomorrow and how kind they were to that movie, and how much they embraced that movie. We were not only thrilled by that, but really shocked. I didn’t think that Edge would resonate with critics and audiences the way it did.
I was at a very early screening of that movie. The consensus was, “This is great. We have no idea if anyone will go see it.” But there’s a case of the press trying our best to get people to go see it.
Oh, it was amazing. And to see people writing reviews saying, “Go and see this movie,” and feeling the turnout not being what they wanted it to be and really championing that movie, I was really touched by that. But that, to me, is the rarer thing. And that, to me, is the thing that you would hope to see more of. I saw it with Whiplash, where a lot of people were like, “Goddammit, get up and go out and see this movie.”
It happened with Mad Max: Fury Road, too.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
And Rogue Nation.
Yes. And I feel like there’s been a shift. I feel less of a pig pile on bad movies now. What I’ve seen in the last year or two is less of a taking delight in the failure of a film, and it’s more about supporting and championing movies that are doing something slightly different than the status quo, whatever that is. And that I feel is really great. That’s what it should be. Movies are hard to make and nobody sets out to make a bad movie. And nothing is worse than when you’re in the midst of trying to make that movie and someone is there trying to make less of it before it’s already finished. So, we really appreciated all of the support we received.
Do you want to make another Mission: Impossible movie? A different director has made all five movies to this point each time.
We’ve certainly talked about it in the abstract. It’s a big, big question to have to contemplate [laughs]. First and foremost, as you pointed out, one of the things that people love about this series is that it’s a different director for every chapter. And they are very, very challenging movies to make and, with each movie, it becomes more challenging for the next person. And when I was watching Tom on the side of the A400, the first thing I said when he landed was, “Boy, I feel sorry for the next director.”
Brad Bird was probably saying the same thing when he put Tom Cruise on top of the Burj Khalifa.
Absolutely. And lucky for Brad Bird, he didn’t have to figure out how to live up to Brad Bird. I’ve got to say, that really was the mindset: It was not, “How do I top the previous movies?” It was, “How do I live up to the previous movies?”
To top Rogue Nation, in Mission: Impossible 6, Tom Cruise will need to go to space – literally go into space.
We have talked about what that would be and you don’t have to go to space. You don’t even have to go to Low Earth Orbit.
Now that’s a quote — “You don’t even have to go to Low Earth Orbit.”
[Laughs] And for Tom, this is the stuff he loves. And the minute we premiered the movie in Vienna and got on the plane to the next premiere, he was like, “Dude, I’ve got an idea.”
From the tone of your voice, you sound intrigued about the possibility of doing another one.
Well, here’s the thing: I love working with Tom. We’ve really clicked. And I’ve entered into a zone where I’m going from movie to movie – where, for years, I couldn’t get anything – and now just going from movie to movie without any real creative interference. There’s no noise, no bother. That is something that you can never take for granted, and you’d be a fool to walk away from.
At the same time, Edge of Tomorrow was so hard and was so draining. When we went out to dinner when we were making Mission and Tom said, “I have an idea for the sequel to Edge, and I said, “I don’t want to fucking hear it. I do not want to know!” And he pitched the idea to me and he finished pitching it, I was like, “Goddammit, why did you do that?”
When Tom mentioned Edge 2, it made some headlines, but how realistic is that?
It all comes down to Warner Bros. and Doug Liman and Emily Blunt saying yes. The idea is there. At worst, it’s the kernel of an idea – which is, on one hand, great, but on the other hand, I know what a nightmare that is. I know that I’ll be in the void trying to figure that out. And even then when it came out in the press after Tom had mentioned it, right away, there were people on social media saying, “Don’t do it, it should never have a sequel, etc., etc.” And I’m just laughing because I’m like, “You guys don’t even know what we are talking about! You have no idea!” Look, that was one of the best creative teams I’ve ever worked with as far as a team of rivals: Emily is one facet of that; Doug Liman is a completely different and opposing force; Tom Cruise is another. And there I am in the middle, just playing to these three really strong, really smart people.
I suspect a second one wouldn’t have the marketing hurdles of the first movie. People know what it’s about now.
What I’ve learned, having made Mission, is what I would write into the movie to make that movie an easier sell. Edge of Tomorrow was incredibly difficult to market. From the look of the film…
To the title…
To the title of the film, whatever the title was, whether it was All You Need is Kill or Edge of Tomorrow — and God help us figuring out what the title of the sequel is. The Edge of the Day After Tomorrow? I don’t know. But the humor in the film took a good 35 minutes to really dawn on you – the movie really sneaks up on you and takes this sudden left turn. The movie didn’t have the moments that a trailer needs to tell you, “This is the experience you’re going to have.” Jack Reacher was a really tough movie to market and we were constantly struggling.
Further truth: If people are talking about your movie on social media the weekend that it opens and telling each other to see the movie, you’re already fucked. It’s not a driver of getting people to go see a quality movie. You need to be building your social-media campaign a year before the movie comes out. The movie that’s doing it really well is Spectre — Spectre is doing a great job of getting you excited about Bond a full year before Bond is out. That’s how you do a long lead, whet their appetite, cover of magazines and social media to make it an event that people want to see. Edge of Tomorrow didn’t have a presence on social media until the weekend it came out, then people go, “Oh my God, it’s really good” … it was too little, too late. Jack Reacher was difficult thing to sell because it’s that $60 million, not a blockbuster — it ain’t Whiplash and it ain’t The Avengers.
And people either didn’t know who Jack Reacher was or, if they did, didn’t think Tom Cruise was the right fit.
Here’s what it comes down to: There are people who don’t know who Jack Reacher is and they say, “Who the hell is Jack Reacher?” And there are people who know who Jack Reacher is and they look at Tom Cruise and say, “That’s not Jack Reacher.” So, on Rogue Nation, I went to marketing right away and said, “Tell me what you need. Tell me how to make a Mission: Impossible and show me what goes into it and educate me. Teach me marketing so I can give you guys the material that you need.” And that is what you saw in the marketing campaign.
And one of the first things we saw was Tom Cruise taking off on the side of a plane. It’s impossible to not be interested in that.
We knew you needed that image. And, more importantly, we knew that image would be the image that is selling the movie, which is why we argued from the very beginning to make that the opening of the film and not the ending. We were being urged to please make it part of the big ending of the movie. And there were a lot of logistical reasons why that was complicated, but, more importantly, we knew no one will be surprised by this image at the end of the movie — and of course the response was, “But then how do you top it? If you’re leading with your biggest stunt, what do you do after that?” And we said, “Leave that for us.” That creates the pressure for us and we know we have to live up to it.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.