Box-office juggernauts Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman have been writing partners for 22 years now. After spending all that time together, it’s astonishing they haven’t come to hate each other, but the duo have managed to sidestep any signs of spitefulness. From television to the big screen, they’ve covered a fair amount of ground together. Orci and Kurtzman got to put Ethan Hunt through another mousetrap adventure in MI:III, they helped bring the Autobots and Decepticons to life, and now they’ve done the most obvious film imaginable: suave bank robbing magicians.
With director Louis Leterrier‘s Now You See Me, the two men are once again seated firmly in the producer’s chair, where they’ve found themselves frequently over the past few years. This year alone they have three produced pictures being released, all of which are fairly, if not completely, high-profile projects. Now You See Me, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Ender’s Game don’t make for a shabby roster, and while speaking with the two men we concluded that all three represent the type of movies they love.
Side note: If you missed out on our previous interview with Kurtzman and Orci discussing Star Trek Into Darkness, it can be found here.
Here’s what Now You See Me producers Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci had to say about their approach to producing, not being snobs, and balancing art and commerce:
I spoke with [director] Louis Leterrier who compared you to Luc Besson, in terms of being protective creative producers. Is that how you approach the producer’s chair?
Kurtzman: That’s incredibly kind of him to say. I think we feel the same responsibility to the experience we feel as writers, which is to say our jobs as producers is to give directors the freedom to be who they are and give them the tools to make a movie as good as it can be. Sometimes that means fighting for more money, delaying production to spend more time on the script, or any number of things that make sure the quality is high. None of us want to make cheap movies. We love to tell stories on big, wide canvases and give audiences the experience they deserve when they pay for a ticket. I feel audiences are so smart they can feel when corners are cut. You know, our job is to fight for that and give the audience the movie they deserve.
What type of directors do you look for?
Kurtzman: You know, I think we’re fortunate in that we work with directors who’ve been extremely trusting with us but have also had incredibly strong visions on their own, and that is the perfect combination. That’s sometimes a tricky balance to strike, but that’s always what we look for when we hire whoever we choose to work with. What’s great about that is, we can always be there to make sure the actors are getting what they need from the script and if the director is on top of the material. If a line or moment doesn’t feel right, then we can be there to fix it, and not just to deal with budgets. Frankly, that’s our least favorite part of the experience.
Kurtzman: But also a part of the experience, so it’s something you have to be on top of. You have to be managing the studio, making them feel they’re in the hands of people on top of the process, that they’re a part of the flow of the information, and they know what movie they’re making to market it. They want to know the actors and directors know what they’re doing, and that’s a part of the process.
Bob, since you chuckled at Alex’s budget comment, I’m guessing you agree?
Orci: I think it’s interesting being a writer and producer. One the one hand, you want to pretend you’re an artist. On the other hand, you can’t ignore the business. There’s a reason why it’s called “show business,” because it’s both. The reason we have for starting in television is, the writer and producer are in charge. We learned a lot about how to budget things, how to be responsible, and how to be a part of the process as writers in television. We really are wearing two different hats. Alex says it’s his least favorite part, and that’s true, but we’re very blessed to have that experience, to have a hat that taught us the business, how to produce, and know what things cost. Also, we’re super blessed to feel free and have fun writing. Alex and I met in High School and have been writing together for 22 years. A part of our day is just us dreaming stuff up, and that’s incredible. The fact that having a little bit of business savviness in the back of our minds has not hurt us in anyway. I laugh because he’s right, that it’s our least favorite part, but we’re also lucky to know it. So, it’s both.
I’d say you both have struck a balance between art and commerce over the past few years. Is that a balance you’re conscious of and have to consider or is that just your natural sensibility?
Kurtzman: I don’t know. I think we’ve always loved going to the movies…it’s funny, in different ways, we both grew up in the heyday of independent film, where these little character stories were as prevalent in the theaters as the studio movies were. Obviously, that’s very different now. In equal measure, we also grew up loving big studio movies. We were blessed to have a teacher who told us early on that there really is no distinction between low and high-art, it’s all the same, and don’t be a snob [Laughs]. We love that approach.
To answer you question, I guess that translates to emphasis on quality and reverence for the experience of sitting in a theater and being transported entirely into another world. Sometimes that can be a small emotional world or outer space; it’s kind of all the same experience once the lights go down. I think we know we want to be represented by the kinds of movies we love. You know, there’s always a lingering carrot in front of us of: can we do it better? Can we write better stories? Can we go about that in a smarter way? You never want to be fully satisfied, because then you start to miss something.
When you approach a film such as People Like Us, is there still that side of commerce you think about or is it all personal there?
Kurtzman: For a movie like that, you know you’re not even going to have the quarter of the budget of something like Star Trek. It’s a very different equation, but I don’t think either of us ever start from a place of finance. You start from a place of where you want the movie to be and how you’re going to achieve it. In many ways, when we were writing that it was a mystery unraveling, in the same way the mystery of Khan unravels. That movie was about discovery, figuring out who you are, and starting out as one person and becoming someone else at the end. I do believe audiences go to the theater to feel something and have an emotional experience. Having life amplified over the course of two hours is like an adrenaline shot. Whether it’s a space opera or a small character drama, ultimately, the approach is very similar.
Now You See Me opens in theaters on May 31st.