Hello reddit, I am Paul Greengrass. I'm a director. Some of the films I have worked on include The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday, Green Zone, United 93, and most recently, Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks.

I've had the opportunity to be involved with several interesting films, so I'm looking forward to taking your questions along with Victoria from reddit. AMA.

Proof photo: http://imgur.com/zfTVNyf

Alas, I must go. Thank you very much for all your questions. Sorry for any that I couldn't answer but it's been really fun. It's almost the most fun when you're a filmmaker when you get to talk to the people that see your films.

Comments: 147 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

chipguy3257 karma

What is your response to all the critical reports about the movie being inaccurate

PaulGreengrass141 karma

I'm glad you asked that! I saw those stories too, based upon an "anonymous crew member". Here are the facts. Shortly after the Mersk Alabama incident was successfully resolved, and Captain Phillips returned home safely, some members of the crew sued Mersk Corporation claiming they had been put in harm's way. They also alleged that Captain Phillips had ignored warnings to stay away from the coast of Somalia. When we started the film, it was a top priority for me to look into this issue in every detail. And I obviously can't comment on this lawsuit, but what I can say is that myself, along with my colleague Michael Bronner formerly of 60 minutes, with whom I worked on United 93 and other projects, we researched the background of the Mersk Alabama highjacking in exhausting detail over many months. We spoke to every member of the Alabama crew bar one, all of the U.S. Military responders that played a leading role in these events, and thoroughly researched backgrounds of the 4 pirates and the issue of Somali piracy generally. And I'm 100% satisfied that the picture we present of these events in the film, including the role playing by Captain Phillips, is authentic. I stand by the picture I give in the film, absolutely.

PaulGreengrass100 karma

In particular I am confident that Captain Phillips did not take an irresponsible route along the coast of Somalia and ignore a specific warning as alleged in the press. The route he took was similar to that taken by many ships of many nationalities at that time and since. The problem of piracy at that time was that pirate bands had begun using motherships, which enabled them to strike at ships throughout the Indian ocean, up to 800 miles plus out to sea, if not further. The film shows clearly Captain Phillips receiving warnings about pirate attacks, putting into place security measures onboard ship. The film also shows a vigorous debate with some members of the crew who wanted the ship to deviate from its route in order to prevent attack, and I show Captain Phillips (as I believe occurred) arguing that there was no point deviating the route, because pirate bands with motherships could attack them wherever they went. At the end of the day, it is easy to make anonymous accusations against a film. But the facts are clear. Captain Phillips' ship was attacked, and the ship and the crew and its cargo made it safely to port with no injuries or loss of life. Also, the fact is that Captain Phillips went into the lifeboat in order to ensure the safety of his crew, because thereby he insured the pirates left the ship. The fact is, Captain Phillips then endured a five day ordeal at the hands of his kidnappers that very nearly resulted in his being killed. That's the story we told, and it's an accurate one.

Now of course, any film you have to compress events and alter certain details to make sure that a 5 or 6 day complicated chain of events works as a 2 hour movie. And whilst our film does not reflect every detail of what every single crew member did during the highjack [and I appreciate this may have upset some members of the crew], the film does very clearly show that all members of the crew worked heroically and independently from Captain Phillips to ensure the safety of the ship and that specific members of the crew, for instance Mike Perry the chief engineer and Shane Murphy the chief mate, played very significant personal roles in the successful outcome of the highjacking. I believe that when looked at overall, the film does acknowledge the admirable contributions of all crew members and of specific individuals, so of course, though as I say, some of the specifics may have been lost in the 2 hour turn. I stand by my film, and if there's a bit of sour grapes around, I put that down to the fact that to be in command of a ship - as I know from my father's experiences - is often a lonely place. And you don't win popularity contests as a captain. Your job, and certainly Richard says by his own admission, he was a professional merchant marine captain and he faced a dreadful challenge that day in the middle of the ocean far from help. And the ship, the crew, and the cargo reached port safely. I don't quite understand what there is to criticize...

jagua10130 karma

What is the funniest thing Tom Hanks did on set?

PaulGreengrass55 karma

He called me Dumbledore. That was his nickname for me. Everybody else thought it was screamingly funny. I loved it, it was very sweet and very affectionate, and my kids think it's beyond funny.

indecisiveprick20 karma

Mr. Greengrass! Just wanted to say that The Bourne Ultimatum is one of my favorite movies!

I haven't yet seen Captain Phillips, but I'd like to know, what is it like to work with Tom Hanks? He's one of my favorite actors, and unfortunately I missed out on his recent AMA. I'd love to know how he is in real life!

Thanks for doing this.

PaulGreengrass20 karma

Well, the short answer is working with Tom in my point of view is a wonderful experience. He's a brilliant actor, I think one of the very best screen actors Hollywood's ever had. Working with him making this film was a big part of why I wanted to do it. I have to say that the experience did not disappoint. We had a lot of fun. We certainly worked hard, and what I loved about Tom was his ability to inhabit an ordinary sea captain's shoes. He's a brilliant player of the everyman. As the film unfolds, you follow the experience of the pirate attack and Captain Phillips' subsequent kidnap, and follow it every step of the way, and Tom allows you to have the ability to put yourself right with him through all the twists and turns of the experience all the way to a most emotional climax.

pballin7715 karma

Hello, Paul!

I just want to say I am such a huge fan... Thanks for doing this.

What was your favorite part of working on the Bourne Movies?

What is Matt Damon like in person?

What is your favorite song?

If you were not in this business, what else do you think you would be doing?

Do you see any bit of a chance of Matt Damon returning for another Bourne movie?

PaulGreengrass30 karma

Well the Bourne movies were a blast from first moment to last. They were hard work, I have many happy memories of those movies, but I suppose the standouts would be the big chases, in particular the big chase around Waterloo Station in The Bourne Ultimatum.

He is a really nice man. Has got a fantastic sense of humor. And he's a great practical joker. In fact, he and I used to try to trick each other the whole time, and I don't think I ever won one.

My favorite song? God, that's a good question. Well, it's impossible to say one favorite song for all of your life, but what crept into my mind was "Hummingbird" by B.B. king.

Well, what I would love to have done was be a professional soccer player and score the winning goal for England in the World Cup final. But sadly that was never going to happen. I probably would have been a teacher.

I don't know, you'd have to ask Matt. I don't know the answer to that. I think with those movies, you have to know when to stop, you know? Of course they'll make more movies, as they should do, but with franchise movies, you make a contribution and then other people are going to come in and make their contribution to take the franchise on. That's how I feel, but I can't speak for Matt.

MadMaxDingo13 karma

How do you approach a scene? How do you decide what shot will work best? And how long did it take you to find your style?

PaulGreengrass37 karma

Good questions. Well every scene is different. Finding where to put the camera is probably the most important thing you have to learn when you're a young director, and it's something that's a mixture of instinct and technique. The technique will lead you to shoot towards depth, shoot towards light, or shoot in a way that reveals the action of the scene in a fluid and organic way. The instinct will lead you to put the camera where it is the most dramatic participant in the scene. And the two aren't always the same and you sometimes have to trade one against the other. And in terms of style... Style is something that can either be like a suit of clothes, something you put on, and I'm much less interested in that because it leads towards fashion, which anyone who knows me well or looks at a picture will know is not my strong suit. The other way to define style is to look at it as something that comes from inside of yourself, in other words, it's connected to your point of view. And having a strong and committed point of view is at the heart of filmmaking. And there are some filmmakers who have such given genius that their point of view is there from the outset, but the rest of us slowly achieve a more fixed point of view through the process of making films, through trial and error, through finding out what works and what doesn't work, and above all, through maturity. And if you're lucky, you end up discovering who you are as a filmmaker and how you make films, and with that comes the awareness that the films that you make may not suit everybody. Hopefully, they suit some people. That's your audience.

PaintedProgress9 karma

Hey! How was it working with the Somalian pirate actors? I've heard it was their first acting job. How well did they cope going straight to a big budget film like Captain Phillips?

Also, my sister knows your daughter. I'll tell her to say hi!

PaulGreengrass16 karma

Haha! That's very nice.

They were fantastic to work with. All those actors were very very talented young actors, and they had to work very hard to learn seamanship, and how to pilot those skiffs, and to climb and all sorts of stuff. They really worked hard in all weathers, and in the end, they were fantastically good actors. They did brilliantly I thought.

chrisk27948 karma

What got you interested in becoming a director and getting involved in the film industry? Any specific movies that got you interested? And who has been your favorite actor you have worked with?

PaulGreengrass17 karma

Well, I always was interested in films I think. You never really know why you become a director, it's a funny old job you know. The first truth about becoming a director is that nobody ever comes up to you and says "You know, you'd look like you'd be a really good director." Directors always have to volunteer their services, which requires a large dose of madness, a little bit of self-confidence, and the ability to mask the deep insecurity that all of us feel. Where does it come from? I have a theory that when we're very young, and you watch movies, for some reason they have such an intense impact on your imagination. And I can certainly remember many experiences when I was a kid that did that. That somehow, when you grow up, making movies is an attempt to replicate the intense childhood experiences you have watching movies. But that's just my theory.

Yes, I mean lots and lots of them. Certainly I can remember when I was a kid being taken to see Dr. Zhivago by my dad, and the sense of spectacle and the idea that Zhivago's destiny is going to be tossed on the storms, that idea never left me and I think that inspired me a lot. Later when I became a teenager, films like Battle of Algiers and Seven Samurai and Au Bout De Souffle had a profound effect on me, and later still when I was a student I really began to immerse myself in the wonders of American cinema. So movies have always been a source of wonder and excitement for me, and I've never really lost that.

All of them! I couldn't possibly single out one. I love all the actors that I've worked with. When you make a movie, you're always left with a sense of gratitude for the way that actors come and make and infuse the rambling ideas in your mind, they manage through their skill and courage and commitment to turn all of that mess into something useful and clear and accessible. And I thank each and every one of them.

persepolisp8 karma

You have an incredibly interesting visual style. What influenced you to shoot films that way? Was the guerilla style of Godard at all part of it?

PaulGreengrass15 karma

When I started out, we didn't have the money to afford tripods, it was forced upon me!

No seriously, in my 20's, I made documentaries and I was taught to shoot using zoom lenses, and often shot in places that were dangerous and you didn't have time to put the camera on legs. It had to be on your shoulder or in your hand. Later when I started making movies, I learnt to shoot in the classical style with dolly & tracks, etcetera, but I always felt like I was wearing a suit at a wedding. It just wasn't me. So in my 40's I went back to shooting movies like I used to shoot documentaries, and that's when everything seemed to fall into place.

jake_s18 karma

How hard was it to congregate the resources to film? IE a boat... the Navy...

PaulGreengrass8 karma

Very hard. In moviemaking, concentrating your resources and not wasting any of your resources is often the hardest job of all. And the way you do that is by planning and having the time to plan properly, which is often not easy in today's moviemaking environment where films back into release dates often before they're truly ready to be made. But in this film, Sony were fantastic at giving us all proper amounts of time to prepare which meant that we were all of us able to make sure that our limited amount of money went on-screen. So a big thanks to them!

lancefilm7 karma

Hi Mr. Greengrass, I just want to say that I am a long time fan of your work. As an aspiring filmmaker, I just want to know if had any film influences while directing Captain Phillips?

P.S. The film is awesome! I just saw it last week. Marvelous work. Bravo!

PaulGreengrass12 karma

Wow, thank you very much. Well, it's strange, when you make a film you're often not aware of influences on you. I certainly think I was aware of the influence on this film from Dog Day Afternoon, which was a film I very much admired, but sometimes you can't see the influences until it's done and then you see them a bit more clearly. It's funny, when I last watched the film I was struck by how some of the pirate attacks almost looked like Westerns. But maybe I was just imagining that.

AuJaDe6 karma

What was the major inspiration for filming Captain Philips?

PaulGreengrass18 karma

Well I think it was firstly that it was such an amazing story, very dramatic, lots of twists and turns, two great characters (one the captain of a large container ship and one the captain of a pirate skiff). And the trial of strength between the two of them. Second, the chance to work with Tom Hanks. And third, my dad was at sea all his life, so it was great for me to explore his world. I really enjoyed that.

Oh_abalard6 karma

Is it difficult trying to not get lost in Matt Damons eyes?

PaulGreengrass9 karma

Hahahah! I would say that one of the truths about all screen actors is it's all in the eyes. That's true of Matt, and it's true of Tom, and it's true of all great screen actors.

danielc3515 karma

Mr. Greengrass, Your movies always speak to me, truly and deeply. My father was in the world trade center on 9/11; and United 93 was one of few films he has ever purchased. I've watched that movie maybe 3 or 4 times, and come close to tears every time. Captain Phillips, was as touching as United 93... it was another movie I experienced equivalent emotional tugs. This movie is one of my favorite movies of all time. Thank you.. My only question: How do you approach such sensitive subjects in your films?

PaulGreengrass5 karma

Well firstly, thank you very much for those thoughts, they really mean so much to me. And send my regards to your father. And I think that the most important thing about making films like this is (and it's not something that you can think about because it's what you're like inside) but I think it's important that you try and not make films that are bleak, but to make films that are inspiring and that have humanity at the heart of them, so even though the stories may be dark and violent and disturbing, if you can look at them in a truthful way, that oftentimes the most intense inspiration and humanity are in them. Certainly I did when I made 93, and all the actors and the crew did as well, and hopefully it's the same with Captain Phillips.

Maddie_N4 karma

What was the most interesting thing that occurred on set when you were filming Captain Phillips?

PaulGreengrass13 karma

Well the focus puller throwing up on Tom Hanks' leg on the first day we shot inside the lifeboat. It was very realistic!!! Needless to say, Tom didn't bat an eyelid but was ready to shoot on. That's commitment for you.

KushTheKitten3 karma

Do you have any passion projects that you haven't been able to get off the ground? What's a film that you've wanted to do but been unable too?

PaulGreengrass5 karma

Do you know the answer to that is no. I've always been incredibly lucky, it goes way way back to all those years I spent working in television in the UK, I've always been incredibly blessed to be able to do the films I wanted to make and it's true in Hollywood as well. I've only ever been encouraged and allowed to make films that I wanted to make in the ways I wanted to make them. I have a great sense of gratitude to all the television companies, production companies and studios that have given me that freedom.

PaulGreengrass3 karma

And never more so than in this experience with Sony, who has been unswerving in their support for this film.

Tnegron5262 karma

Hello my name is Tanya. Can I just tell you how amazing your movie is!!! So gripping, I was on edge the entire time. Question, how long did it take for you to prepare for the movie; in regards to story, cast and location?

PaulGreengrass6 karma

Well I think about 8 months overall, of which it fell into two distinct phases really. There was the research / screenplay phase, and the physical production planning phase, and there were prodigious problems of shooting on water and obtaining the vessels we needed. One of the things I was really blessed with on this film was wonderfully supportive producers that ensured that we could get the vessels we needed and we were able to film in the parts of the world we needed to.

thedarkknightcrisis2 karma

Hey I'm going to see Captain Phillips tomorrow with my dad but he likes to talk a lot during movies. If it was your dad what would you say?

PaulGreengrass14 karma

Shut up! Haha. Rather than shut up, I might go "SHHHH!"

Frajer0 karma

Matt Damon and Tom Hanks seem like they are both really nice guys who would be a pleasure to work with, is this accurate?

PaulGreengrass8 karma

It certainly is. It certainly is. And they both share a great quality for huge movie stars: they put their trust in the director. And that makes for a rich and rewarding collaboration.