23.03.2011 20:20 • 36

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Neil, can you talk alittle bit about this film


Soyou know itskind ofacrazy story about aguy, um, you know, onasmart drug. And its, um, really, it, itstarted from abook called Dark Fields byAlan Glynn and then, um, uh, Leslie found itand she can tell you the story herself, um, and made itinto afantastic screenplay, which-I mean, dontsay this toAlan-but Ithink itsbetter than the book. So, and actually, what struck meabout itwhen Ifirst read itis, sort of, amore true depiction ofpower inNew York and Intelligence, and sort ofthe way the characters were depicted. The book isgreat. And the screenplay, the way Leslie did itwas, was even better. Thats what Iknow about Leslie.


Well, Iread the book for pleasure. Uh, Iwas soburned out reading bad thrillers and galleys that studios wanted toturn into movies, and Iwent into the Green Apple Bookstore inSan Francisco and asked the geeks who worked there, because they have read everything, what can Iread that wontsuck? Just give meit, you know, itdoesnthave tobeatthe highest intellectual plane, but itshould have some substance and Ishouldnt, itshouldntbeananvil toturn the pages, you know? They said, Wevegot it. Wevegot it. This isthe bomb. And they gave meThe Dark Fields. And Iwas not looking for ajob oranadaptation. Ijust wanted toread abook. But Igot about halfway through itand sat upinbed and went, This ismine. Imgoing toturn this into amovie. And there were pinwheels inmyeyes. And, uh, Iwas quickly brought down toearth because Harvey Weinstein owned the rights. Itwas alittle too good ofapremise. Iwasntthe first person who had noticed that, perhaps, ithad some commercial potential. Um, and sothat isanother story that Iperhaps wontsuck upthe oxygen inthis air telling you, but Isnaked him out ofthe rights tothe book, um, made away with them. Even though Iadmire him very much, Idid not want tomake the film atMiramax, which was, atthe time, imploding. And so, uh, Iended upsnaking him out ofthe rights and writing ascript and getting itset upand getting Neil, and the ball kind ofrolled from there. Um, Igot alittle help from Niccolo Machiavelli inhow Idid it. But ifyou want that story, Ican tell itquikly. Itsthe most evil thing Iveever done.

Please, dotell


The snaky tale is, Ihad alot of, admiration for Harvey Weinstein, but Iwanted towrite this script with noexecutive interference. Ijust wanted to, Ihad avision. Iwanted todoit. Ididntwant tohave meetings. Ididntwant tohave layers ofnotes. Ididntwant tobetold ithad tobePG-rated. Ijust had, Ijust wanted towrite itasifitwas aspec. So, that meant getting itout ofthere. So, itwas laying around. They werentdoing anything with it. And Iwrote Harvey aballsy, profane email, which Ithought might get his attention. And Isaid, listen. You hardly know me, but Ivewritten abunch ofmovies. Iwill write this script for you virtually for free. Um, actually, Iused the phrase, This will get you inyour Hassidic scrotum. Ireally was trying tobefunny, because Ihad nochance ofgetting his attention. And heisthe type ofguy that just thinks that sort ofstuff ishilarious. There was never any intent tooffend him, and every intent tojust play with him. Right? Because Ireally dorespect the guy. But Iknew the company was going togounder, and Ineeded toget itout ofthere. So, um, Isaid, Illwrite the script for free, with noexecutive interference ofany kind, and, and Illgive ittoyou. And ifyou like it, you can make, and ifyou dontlike it, uh, Iget the rights. And you have acertain amount oftime torespond in. But that was where the snaky part came in. Um, Iwas walking around achurch inItaly and Iput myhand onthe tomb ofNiccolo Machiavelli. Remember Isaid Igot some help from Machiavelli? And Isaid, Okay. What would you do? And Idontknow ifthis had anything todowith what happened, but back came this idea that Ishould put avery short time trigger onhow long they had between the time they read the script and the time that Igot the rights back. Well, Iturned itinduring Cannes. Iwaited until every executive was onaplane. And this, and nobody cared about this, anyway. Iwas doing itfor free. Itdidntreally, theydsort oflost faith initall and they werentpaying that much attention. Theyreall off inCannes buying movies, looking atmovies. Theyveforgotten all about me. Noone read it. Imserious. Noone read it. Ding! Meter went up. Igot the rights. Later they did read itand say, oh, you know, welike this. Imlike, tough. And thatshow Igot it.


Once wehad the ball rolling and once Bradley was involved, and asyou know, theresacharacter Carl Van Loon inthe story and wejust needed somebody who, kind of, tome, the, the storysabout intelligence and human potential, but very much about power. And power inNew York City, but just power ingeneral. And weneeded avery powerful character toplay Carl Van Loon. Somebody that was, sort of, you know, ifBradley Coopersonthis smart drug, weneeded somebody who was powerful just intheir own right. And, um, so, uh, you know, all ofusthought, Leslie, and Scott Kroopf, whosthe other producer, you know, who better than, than Robert DeNiro tobethat guy. And, um, and also itwas very important tohave somebody who offset, you know, if, ifBradley Cooperscharacter was taking ashortcut, asitwere, bytaking this drug, this was somebody whodput inthe hard work, put inthe time, paid his dues, and was just, sort of, strong and powerful inhis own. And weneeded somebody who just embodied that from, from the get-go. You took one look athim and you were, um, you know, impressed, intimidated, you know. You understood where hewas coming from and so, wewere lucky enough to, uh, get Bob.

This questions for Leslie. Um, why doesnt Van Loon at the end, when he discovers the drug, why did you choose that he does not take it?


Well, heshad some experience seeing what happens toyou when you stop. Ithink anyone who knows even the smallest bit about it, knows that atnopoint inthe movie isitclearer that ithas been perfected toapoint where there might not besome walloping side effect waiting for you around the corner. Van Loon isolder than Eddie. Look what happened toHank Atwood. Iwouldnttake itifIwere Van Loon. Idtry topuppeteer someone who did. Itried tomake the choice that Iwould really make ifIwas Van Loon.

This one isfor Neil. Are you concerned orexcited orworried that some people might think the message ofLimitless isTake drugs, get tobethe president.

NEIL BURGER (laughing)

Isnt- Thatsthe slogan onour poster, isntit?

Actually, weactually almost came upwith a, amarketing campaign where wehad people, like, you know, Michael Jordan orBarack Obama saying Powered byN.Z.T. orsomething like that. But, wedidntdothat. Anyway, soIthink that um look, the story isacautionary tale inaway. Obviously, there are horrible side effects tothe drugs. People want tokill you toget it. So, its you know, therestwo edges toit. Obviously, hehas this wonderful, kind of, wish fulfillment ofgetting, having these adventures and, you know, having these romances and things like that, you know, based onthe drug. But obviously theresareal downside toit. But tome, itsless about the drug and more about power and, um you know, this guy trying toempower himself. Theresalways that danger that somebody like, just But you could, that ina, you know, amovie about, uh you know, smoking and just like, the first third islike someone glamorously inanightclub holding acigarette, and the last two thirds theyrelike, just, rotting from lung cancer. And still people would come away, you know, wanting tolook like those people smoking cigarettes. So, you know, theresalways the danger ofthat. Imean, theresthat possibility but, you know, weresort offollowing the kind ofnarrative dictates ofthe story rather than just creating amorality tale, even though ithas that, that, uh, aspect toitaswell.

For Leslie Ihaventread the book, soIdontknow how the book ends. Myquestion isabout the ending. Why doyou think asmarter person would seek power instead oftrying toget asmuch isolated from power aspossible?


Toget away from power asopposed toseek it?.. Well, Ithink Ialways imagined that Eddie would gothrough several levels of, ofthinking. And obviously, the first thing, your first instinct asahuman is, because hesstill ahuman, even ifhesonthe exalted drug, istoget everything you possibly can and fortify yourself financially, socially, inevery way. Ilike tothink that hewould evolve past that atacertain point. The moviesnot long enough toshow that evolution, but atacertain point, you get the sense that whatever hesdoing isntquite enough, and theresalways something hesreaching for beyond that. Um, itcould easily gotoaspiritual place, you know, orsome other kind ofplace beyond what weshow atthe ending ofthis movie, and Ithink realistically itwould. But itsjust not quite asexciting asthugs trying todisembowel you toget the drug. Sowesort ofstopped the tale atthe moment that wedid. But that isnot toimply thatsall Eddie will ever do, orthat hewontevolve past feeling those feelings, because Ithink anyone who isarestless, driven person isalways onaquest for whatsnext and, and more meaning.

This isfor Mrs. Burger. Inthis film you have very successfully visually realized the evolution ofthis character and his search for power. Iwonder ifyou could speak abit about your choices, um, astohow you actually illustrated this evolution inimages


So, visually, Imean, theresacouple ofdifferent languages inthe movie, visually, and theyredirectly related to, you know, the different states that Eddie, Bradley Cooperscharacter, isgoing through. When hesregular Eddie, you know, itisone thing. And when heisonthe drug, itsanother. And then hesoff the drug, itseven adifferent thing, because, you know, hesbeen onit. Itsworse than when hewas just regular Eddie. So, you know, westarted out with, you know, sort ofagritty, itslike New York isharsh and grim when hes, nothingsgoing well, when hesregular Eddie. And sothat, you know, dictated acertain look. And then when hesonthe drug, that was another thing. And itwas like, how dowemake that bekind ofluminous and clear and, um, uh, you know, just, sort ofasbrilliant as, asheis? And then the other thing visually was just, you know, how you represent his, his perception ofthe world when hesonand how heprocesses information. And Iwanted todoitina, sort ofanon-digital way. Iwanted todoitnot in, kind of, the, sort of, typical CGI, but almost inamore organic way. Iwanted, kind of, anemotional connection tothe effect. Sosome ofthem are kind ofprimitive. Itsnot like werenecessarily, um, inventing new ground. Acouple ofthings wedid that were, hadntbeen done before. But other times, like when werejust repeating the image of, of, ofBradley inhis, you know, when hescleaning uphis apartment orsomething like that. You know, weveseen that before, but wewanted it; itwas very much a, um, you know, arepresentation ofhow he, sort ofhow hewas everywhere atonce inhis own, inhis own mind. And the same thing with, um, you know, with that, sort of, there was athree-sixty degree, you know, sort ofapanoramic effect, almost like hewas, you know, omniscient for, for amoment. And then with those infinity zooms, itwas, itwas really, like, how he, again, how hesaw himself moving through the city and through the world. And those are, kind of, built on, sort of, or, orinspired by, you know, Escher drawings and also fractals and fractal zooms, um, and just trying tosee how hesaw the world and, kind oflike, these, sort of, you know, microcosm and macrocosm, you know, all working together, sort ofmirrored holes and kind of, you know, moving through the world. Imean, Ialways said that if, you know, bullet-time from The Matrix hadntbeen invented yet, itwould have been perfect for our movie. But now you see itinevery kind of, you know, TVcommercial for the local TVnews orsomething like that. Itsbeen done. Itsbeen soused, ashas speed ramps and all this stuff. And so, Ijust didntwant todoany ofthat. Iwanted todosomething new that was, you know, representative ofhis state ofmind.

For Leslie: Ilove this remark; itworks only, uh, best onsmart people. Also, was ityour idea and what you meant bythat?


Um, itsactually one ofthe very few lines from the book. Mm-hm. And Ikept itbecause Ifelt, ofcourse, itsexponential. Right? Itgets larger and larger depending onwhat kind ofsynapses you have inthe first place, and the faster they go, anyway, uh, youreoff tothe races. So, itwas afairly, Ialways felt Eddie was anunderachiever, and there was intelligence there. Just zero motivation. Um, so, what N.Z.T. did for him, inaddition, tomake his synapses fire more quickly, was gave him the motivation todosomething with them. Um, but Imsorry tosay, Icanttake credit for that. It, itseems, uh, like something scummy Vern would know, because heswitnessed afew people onitand seen the different people gofurther orless far.

Neil, this isabout structure ofthis movie. How difficult isittokeep balance with, uh, interesting dialogue and action? Itsthe right amount ofeach toget almost perfect structure that Iwould notice.


Well, the movie has anunusual structure, which is, Ithink, itbenefits from. Imean, because italways keeps you guessing. But itis, inaway, itsvery front-loaded with the visuals, and then once, um, the Van Loon character comes into it, things, things, and once Eddie goes through his, sort of, lost, lost time of, oftime skipping, itkind ofchanges and, and, um, but, and Eddie inthat, when hesort ofdecides that hesjust going tostay onthe N.Z.T., sort ofbecomes anassassin, inaway. You know, thatskind ofthe way weconsidered it. So, itwas all really structured based onthe evolution ofthis character going from regular, then when hewas onit, itwas almost joyful for him. Itwas such bliss for, for him tohave everything come soeasily. And then hehas the horrible side effects. And then hedecides hedoesntcare and hesjust gonna gofor it, anyway, which was just So, hedbe, hewas onN.Z. T. Hewas great. But there was something, kind of, almost inhuman about him atthat point, until he, uh, you know, until the very end.

Soitwas easier for you


Well, itwas aconcern and, and achallenge tomake it, make itwork and make it, um, make itplay, because itsunusual. But, um, but itwas amatter of, yeah, and then punctuating itwith those visual episodes.