What I Learned from Jason Bourne

…How to kick butt and look good doing it, obviously. But that’s not what I’m going to discuss today.

Readers of this blog already know I was an unpaid extra in Jason Bourne. I was fortunate enough to go to the Aria casino two days in February and witness the making of a big scene in the movie. Note: There will be NO SPOILERS here. Just generalizations.

The scene was the EXO-Con convention scene. In this particular scene a *thing* happened and chaos ensued. The first day that I filmed, there were about 300 extras in attendance. We were ushered into the room and filled in the seats at the front. We sat around a lot and then took our directions. (Those born in January, stand up when so-and-so is announced. Those born in Feb, boo when so-and-so is announced.) Then we played our parts as several actors—one of which was Oscar-winning Alicia Vikander—were introduced by the announcer at the Con. We cheered at the appropriate times, acted shocked at an announcement made, then we ran our little booties off after the *thing.*

And we did it over and over and over and over.

The director, Paul Greengrass, moved us all over that room. Some of us moved to the back, some slid over to the right, some stood up, some came in from the side as the scene was called.  He moved the cameras around just as much as he did the people. Each take was a different angle or different action by the crowd. It was fascinating to see how many different things he was doing with the same set of people and same set of words. We probably did the same scene upwards of twenty times on the first day. But that was just the first day. He did the same thing for the same scene for the entire week.

The second day I went to the set, Matt Damon was introduced into the scene. Because you can’t have a Bourne movie without Bourne, right? (We don’t talk about that “other” Bourne movie, okay?) I’ve already fangirl gushed over how awesome Matt Damon is, so I won’t do that again. But it’s important to note this was the same scene, only a few seconds after the *thing* occurs. On this day of filming there were 1200 extras in the building. Matt made the comment that it was the largest group of extras he’d ever worked with. So that’s a lot of moving parts and fangirly people hanging on his every word! But the filming was exactly the same as it had been. Only this time we got to watch Jason Bourne run around. Literally. And because he’s Matt Damon, the focus was completely on him the entire day. The scene stayed the same but he was the star. Just as you’d expect.

When I saw the movie, my friends and I scoured the scene, looking for my face. Sadly, we didn’t see me. (Though there will be a frame-by-frame investigation when the DVD is released!) What struck me as crazy was that very little of what he filmed that week actually made it into the film. Case in point: At the con, one of the actors gave a heart-felt speech in which he told the story of how he came to the conclusion to do this *bad thing* and why he did it and he ended up asking forgiveness in the end. It was probably a good 3-4 minutes long. On screen it was maybe 20 seconds.  The meat of his confession was left on the cutting room floor. But that didn’t matter because the viewer got what was going on with just that 20 seconds on the film. The extra 3 ½ minutes wasn’t necessary to understand this was a remorseful guy trying to make amends.

As I recalled all the fun (and exhaustion) from those days filming, I began to see where I could draw parallels from my experience as an extra and apply them to my writing.

CHANGE YOUR CAMERA ANGLES: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your scenes. Look at them from different angles. Would the plot be better served if someone else was speaking? Would the scene have more tension if it were outdoors while raining instead of on a comfy sofa? Would the character react one way externally and another internally? Move things around. Change things up. Look at your scenes through a close-up lens, then zoom out to wide angles to vary them.

USE YOUR STAR: I tend to love my supporting folks a lot—they’re the ones that typically share news the protagonist needs, or they argue with the MC, or simply add the comic flavor to a manuscript.  All that is fine, but don’t forget who your star is. Your protagonist’s reactions should be driving the plot. I mean, Jason Bourne needs to be taking out people with nothing but a bendy straw, not his best friend. (Well, if he had a best friend.)

EDITING IS CRUCIAL: That backstory about your MC scarred childhood when he stepped on a frog and is now terrified of frogs isn’t necessary. That is, unless he comes face-to-face with a hideous slimy frog. (Which is the worst thing I can imagine.) As writers, we bring our characters to life. And we often cannot do that unless we KNOW these characters. It’s fine for them to have a backstory, just keep mentions of it brief. If’ you can say it in twenty words as opposed to 350, then say it in twenty words. It makes things tighter and the reader will be less likely to wander away. Spend time really cutting out what isn’t competently necessary to drive the plot. Case in point: That car chase scene down the Las Vegas Strip? Paul Greengrass did not share why Jason Bourne took the particular car he did and the story of the guy he “borrowed” it from.What we say was Jason Bourne getting in the car and speeding away like a boss. That’s all we needed.

 

Keep writing and kicking butt like Jason Bourne!