In a fall box office marketplace where a slew of adult dramas like Steve Jobs, Our Brand Is Crisis and Burnt were steamrolled by 20th Century Fox’s The Martian, Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama, Bridge of Spies, held its own, taking in close to $70 million. Based on a true story, the film revolves around insurance attorney James Donovan, who negotiated the exchange between U.S.-captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and Soviet-captured U.S. U2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Knowing Spielberg’s penchant for U.S. history, producer Marc Platt took the project to the director, who actually had a connection to the material: Spielberg’s father, during a trip to Moscow in the early 1960s, actually viewed and took photos of Powers’ fuselage, which the Soviets had on display in Red Square. Here, Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger, who produced the film with Spielberg, discuss the challenges in making this big period drama and engaging adult audiences in this blockbuster era.
Whenever Spielberg is about to direct his next project he’s usually faced with choosing between two films. What made Bridge of Spies a go before The BFG, his next film releasing in the summer?
Marc Platt: From pitch to film release (Bridge of Spies) was 24 months. When you develop your material, you have to develop it as strongly as you can. It’s also about the two actors (Tom Hanks as Donovan, Mark Rylance as Abel) who are portraying the key roles. They were available. It wasn’t a matter of jockeying for which project came first. But you develop the material and make it as undeniable as you can, bring in the actors, and then the project takes a life of its own.
Kristie Macosko Krieger: Steven knew he couldn’t shoot The BFG until he pre-vised the whole movie. After hearing the pitch in September 2013, we knew that there was a window of opportunity to make Bridge of Spies while we were working on BFG. It was all about timing and what was going to work out. We said to (Bridge of Spies co-writer) Matt Charman, “Write quickly or else this window will close.” I checked on this project on a weekly basis.
If a director of Spielberg’s caliber wasn’t behind this historical drama, which co-stars a largely fresh-faced actor in Rylance, would it be hard to get through the studio system?
Platt: It’s a period drama and it’s not about Abraham Lincoln, but a person who most people have never heard of. It’s an interesting question. As a producer, it’s your job to bang on the table and convince studio heads why great movies should be made. It would have been extremely challenging without a director like Steven behind this.
Do you believe in the studio system for small period dramas like Bridge of Spies?
Platt: Of course I do. I know that the size and scope of the movies are changing in proportion to the funds, but the people who work at the studio are very experienced in all different departments—from creative, to those keeping up with the marketplace and its changing technologies and how people consume movies. Navigating the studio system has its own challenges and, as a producer, you want to be astute and clever. Each one has a different agenda, but there’s a tremendous value in the system. I always believe that a good story will find its audience and that it will attract different kinds of elements of creative people who will make it more compelling. We will continue to get them made in a marketplace where there are big, branded ticket items.In regard to making drama effectively with smaller amounts of money, there’s always going to be a significant actor or director attached to studios and they can transcend globally. There’s always a passion behind the projects… I believe there are many in the studio system who not only care about the branding and robustness of their slate, but there are plenty who also are passionate about film.
What were some of the challenges in mounting this production?
Krieger: The biggest challenge was figuring out how and where to erect the Berlin Wall in contemporary Europe. Our production designer Adam Stockhausen and his team found the perfect place in the city of Wroclaw, Poland. Many of the structures had remained untouched since (World War II), and the production team built several hundred feet of the Wall smack in the middle of town. The result was historically quite accurate and visually stunning.
Wide appealing adult dramas have had an uphill battle at the box office, but Steven still knows what audiences crave.
Krieger: He knows good stories. He knows a good one when he hears it, and he knows how to bring it to the screen. He always reads a script as an audience member and he makes the films he would like to see. He makes it look easy but his craftsmanship, especially on this film, is astounding.
Platt: It’s such a joyful experience as a producer working with Steven. After all these years, he’s still a filmmaker who loves making movies. He cares about every ingredient in every frame and sits in front of the monitor and watches every take with tremendous focus. I’ve never been on another set where the director gets so excited after watching a performance. As a producer, when you get to work with a filmmaker who is joyful about making films, you want to do it again and again.