Tony Gilroy on Michael Clayton

During his Seattle promotional stop for the movie “Michael Clayton”, I got the chance to speak with Writer/Director Tony Gilroy about his experiences writing and directing the film. Tony has been a busy man in recent years with credits ranging from “The Bourne Trilogy”, “Armageddon”, and the “Cutting Edge” amongst his many credits.
Mr. Gilroy was in a group of three journalists and what follows is a summary of our conversation with him
By Gareth Von Kallenbach (GVK)

GVK: What inspired the story how much did the script changed from the original concept to completion?

TG: There was a huge accumulation stage with lots of research that was hundreds of pages. Then I tried to pin the film down, as you cannot mess around and need to work quickly to get the outline done.
The script form and structure followed into the first draft. A lot of things changed during this process, but the idea has stayed the same.

GVK: The film is open to many interpretations, I got from it that there is a lot of moral ambiguity in life and business. How close to this was what you intended?

TG: It is about what people do to get ahead and human behavior in the best and worst form as greed, fear, self preservation, and even love can corrupt and individual. We did the scene where the people were on their way to a meeting and it was very much a Wild Kingdom pack effect as you see Tilda pull back. It shows the cost of belonging and also that the cost of exile which is often on my mind.

Sara Fetters of then asked if People being in a state of gray appeals to the director.

TG: Yes, paranoia is a theme of interest as we saw in “The Devil’s Advocate” and also with Bourne as I want to show the villain inside the hero and how everyone is bent to the wheel of work.
I was on the shuttle back east doing promotion for the film and I saw so many “Suits” on their cell phones, who were in actuality fronting, and pretending to be grown up. Tilda’s character in the film is a good example of this as she is fronting.

GVK: In your film and opinion, would you say that it is companies or the legal process that have too much power to control and manipulate?
TG: I would again say the biggest fault is in people, as there was a film based on the Wansee Conference where a group of Germans sit down over lunch and plan the “Final Solution”. The entire conference was to them simply a business meeting. It is people not companies and industry that I am afraid of, us not them.

Tony was then asked about the casting of George Clooney and what it was like working with him.

TG: He was very much in the John Houston school of filmmaking. I just needed to give him comfy clothing, a quiet space, and make sure film was in the camera.

Sara Fetters then asked about the “organic” nature of the action in his films and how hard is it to do.

TG: With Bourne, it was very much how much is too loud? The final scene of “Proof of Life” made it work as you had a lot invested in the characters and this
works much better than 75 Hueys and Uzis . It is inevitable that this would happen and the wheel would turn. There was a lot of money on the table for a studio to do a film like this.

GVK: Where did you draw your inspirations as a writer?

TG: I was inspired by the films of the 70’s as they had tension, and were very muscular and hard ass professional films that were grafted with complex topics.
Today sadly, those types of films are often kicked to Sundance to go the Independent route if they get made at all.

GVK: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the film?

TG: Legal clearances for the companies in the film. It was a 6-7 month process after the project was green lit, and we had to get the logo, the corporation, the slogan, and the commercial in the film all too clear. It came down to the wire as it was such a complicated process that started out as fun and becomes a fight over something as simple as the word “the”.
The commercial in the film ran for three hours in Times Square, and we even had my daughter in it as she was the girl with the seeds. There was even an anti-war protest going on as we did the testing for the commercial on the big screen.
Another issue was how to film it, as I was fortunate to have some great people working with me. We had the actual lenses, many custom made, from films like “Klute”, “Point Blank” and “Chinatown”, even some from Eastwood’s “Iwo Jima” It was amazing, priceless lenses sent to my house.

Sara Fetters of then asked why he waited so long to make his directing debut as the stakes were high.
TG: I had to mainly find a partner/star that was willing to wave their fee. There was enough meat on the bone to be stylish that every director who read the script for the film tried to take it and make it for themselves (Laughs) so I knew it was good.

GVK: There has been a lot of interpretation made about the film, which is very refreshing, as you are challenged to make your own decisions and not have everything handed to you. What have been some of the most talked about moments as you have done your publicity tour?

TG: The horse scene, as we had to sweat the location and it was hard to shoot as it warped our production schedule.