“Hidden in plain sight” is the best way to describe Brad Bird’s credentials when it comes to directing Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: although his previous work featured 100% less Tom Cruise, and created its own reality rather than exploring ours, the action, the characterization, and storytelling all show obvious hints of Bird’s acumen as an action scenarist and shrewd purveyor of mysteries, writ large. Then, of course, there’s the matter of Cruise’s ability to find filmmakers from other media and give them a shot – and a big one at that – to work with the biggest canvas they’ve ever had: after enlisting John Woo for M:I-II and then-former TV director J.J Abrams for M:I-III, Bird is a surprisingly natural choice given his talent and success.
Movies.com sat down with Bird at the recent Los Angeles press day for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, where the director discussed the challenges of following Cruise out onto some unsteady ledges – sometimes literally, using IMAX to create massive action set pieces, and finding his own approach to a franchise that encourages the contribution of many different voices.
Movies.com: Tom is obviously fearless when it comes to jumping into these massive stunts. What fears did you face in supporting his fearlessness?
Brad Bird: It was that suddenly a cable wouldn’t work or something, and we’d have no movie! Obviously the fear is that he’ll get hurt or something because these are crazy stunts, but he’s really good at them, he’s really careful, we had a great stunt team, and I think that I share his belief that when you put the real guy in the real place, you can tell and feel it. And I think audiences will enjoy it.
Movies.com: Of course. But he’s not the only one out there – there’s a guy with a camera who has to film him.
Bird: Yeah, we filmed that sequence where Tom climbs the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which is almost double the height of the Empire State Building, and we filmed that sequence in IMAX, so we had this very large camera that has ultra-high resolution. And if you see it in IMAX, where the screens are like five stories high, it feels like you will fall into the screen.
Movies.com: How much did IMAX add to your work on the film, particularly since this is your first live-action endeavor?
Bird: Well, it made it a little tougher – if it wasn’t tough enough. How stupid am I? I’m like a glutton for pain. But I pushed to shoot several sequences in IMAX, because even though I knew it was more trouble, the effect of it is stunning. I mean, I know everybody likes to talk about 3D, but the impact of a really large screen, I mean, a screen that is like a small building, and unparalleled sharpness and clarity in the image, the effect to me is more profound than 3D. So I pushed for it, and it was tough, but we got it, and I’m glad we did.
Movies.com: When you decided to direct Ratatouille, it was a project that you inherited rather then generating it yourself, right?
Bird: They asked me to come aboard it to help get it out, because it was a very troubled thing, and finally the curtains were going to open and there was no show yet. So Steve Jobs and John Lasseter came to me personally and asked me, and those guys are just monumentally great people, so how could I say no?
Movies.com: How difficult is it to transform something that you may be inheriting, as you’re doing with Mission: Impossible, into a personal expression?
Bird: Well, I always loved the original idea, that was not mine, but I connected with it, and I think as part of the Brain Trust when we go over these things, there’s a group of us that go over all of the Pixar projects and kind of look over each other’s shoulders, I connected with it and I was critical of it before I was working on it, saying, “you want it to be this way, and “you want it to be that way.” I think they saw that I had strong opinions about it, and that might have been why they asked me to do it. But I certainly didn’t know anything about France or rats or cooking, and had to learn very quickly, so it was a very challenging film, and in a way, it prepared me for this because I had to jump aboard this, and it was logistically very difficult. We had a relatively short schedule for how big the film was, and Ratatouille in some strange way helped me prepare for that.
Movies.com: When you came into this, was there anything you wanted to embrace or avoid that was tried in the previous films?
Bird: Well, one of the things that attracted me to this particular franchise was Tom’s determination to have each film reflect the sensibility of the director. So there are all three very different takes on Mission: Impossible – the first one, the Brian De Palma one is very different from the John Woo one which is very different from J.J. Abrams’. But I suppose my favorite set piece was De Palma’s thing in the black vault in the first film. But my favorite overall movie is the last one that J.J. did because it got into the personal aspects of it, and it made him very relatable. It got into his personal feelings for people, so I tried to carry a little of that, of both, into this, and get into some very complicated set pieces but also enjoy the characters.
Movies.com: At this point, how much consideration do you give, or how much relation is there to the original series? Or has this truly become its own entity?
Bird: Well, I look at it as different musicians playing off of the same song; I think you can have radically different interpretations of the same thing of music and yield different things. I think we all enjoy the original series, the premise of it – it’s all in the title, Mission: Impossible. You know, how are they going to do it? So that aspect is very much like the other films, but I think that the way it plays is different.