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Tom Cruise in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT. Director Chris McQuarrie.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout writer/director Christopher McQuarrie

By Iain Blair

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 22 years since Tom Cruise first launched the Mission: Impossible franchise. Since then, it’s become a global cultural phenomenon that’s grossed more than $2.8 billion, making it one of the most successful series in movie history.

With Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Cruise reprises his role of Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team leader Ethan Hunt for the sixth time. And writer/director/producer Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the series’ previous film Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, also returns. That makes him the first filmmaker ever to return to direct a second film in a franchise where one of its signature elements is that there’s been a different director for every movie.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Director Christopher McQuarrie

Christopher McQuarrie

In the latest twisty adventure, Hunt and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames), along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan), find themselves in a race against time to stop a nuclear bomb disaster after a mission gone wrong. The film, which also stars Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris and Vanessa Kirby, features a stellar team behind the camera as well, including director of photography Rob Hardy, production designer Peter Wenham, editor Eddie Hamilton, visual effects supervisor Jody Johnson and composer Lorne Balfe.

In 1995, McQuarrie got his start writing the script for The Usual Suspects, which won him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. In 2000, he made his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun. Then in 2008 he reteamed with Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, co-writing the WWII film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise. He followed that up with his 2010 script for The Tourist, then two years later, he worked with Cruise again on Jack Reacher, which he wrote and directed.

I recently talked with the director about making the film, dealing with all the visual effects and the workflow.

How did you feel when Tom asked for you to come back and do another MI film?
I thought, “Oh no!” In fact, when he asked me to do Rogue Nation, I was very hesitant because I’d been on the set of Ghost Protocol, and I saw just how complicated and challenging these films are. I was terrified. So after I’d finished Rogue, I said to myself, “I feel really sorry for the poor son-of-a-bitch who does the next one.” After five movies, I didn’t think there was anything left to do, but the joke turned out to be on me!

Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible - FalloutWhat’s the secret of its continuing appeal?
First off, Tom himself. He’s always pushing himself and entertaining the audience with stuff they’ve never seen before. Then it’s all about character and story. The emphasis is always on that and the humanity of these characters. On every film, and with the last two we’ve done together, he’s learned how much deeper you can go with that and refined the process. You’re always learning from the audience as well. What they want.

How do you top yourself and make this different from the last one?
To make it different, I replaced my core crew — new DP, new composer and so on — and went for a different visual language. My intention on both films was not to even try to top the previous one. So when we started this I told Tom, “I just want to place somewhere in the Top 6 of Mission: Impossible films. I’m not trying to make the greatest action film ever.”

You say that, but it’s stuffed full of nail-biting car chases and really ambitious action sequences.
(Laughs) Well, at the same time you’re always trying to do something different from the other films in the franchise, so in Rogue I had this idea for a female counterpart for Tom — Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) was a more dynamic love interest. I looked at the other five films and realized that the biggest action scene of any of those films had not come in the third act. So it was a chance to create the biggest and most climactic third act — a huge team sequence that involved everyone. That was the big goal. But we didn’t set out to make this giant movie, and it wasn’t till we began editing that we realized just how much action there is.

Women seem to have far larger roles this time out.
That was very intentional from the start. In my earliest talks with Tom, we discussed the need to resolve the Julia (Michelle Monaghan) character and find closure to that story. So we had her and Rebecca, and then Angela Bassett came on board to replace Alec Baldwin’s character at the CIA after he moves to IMF, and it grew from there. I had an idea for the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) character, and we just stayed open to all possibilities and the idea that these strong women, who own all the scenes they’re in, throw Ethan off balance all the time.

How early did you integrate post into the shoot?
Right at the start, since we had so many visual effects. We also had a major post challenge as Tom broke his ankle doing a rooftop chase stunt in London. So we had to shut down totally for six weeks and re-arrange the whole schedule to accommodate his recovery, and even when he got back on the movie his ankle wasn’t really healed enough.

We then had to shoot a lot of stuff piecemeal, and I knew, in order to make the release date, we had to start cutting right away when we had to stop for six weeks. But that also gave me a chance to re-evaluate it all, since you don’t really know the film you’ve shot until you get in the edit room, and that let me do course corrections I couldn’t have done otherwise. So, I essentially ended up doing re-shoots while still shooting the film. I was able to rewrite the second act, and it also meant that we had a finished cut done just six days after we wrapped. And we were able to test that movie four times and keep fine-tuning it.

Where did you do the post?Mission: Impossible: Fallout Tom Cruise
All in London, around Soho, and we did the sound at De Lane Lea.

Like Rogue, this was edited by Eddie Hamilton. Was he on the set?
Yes, and he’s invaluable because he’s got a very good eye, is a great storyteller and has a great sense of the continuity. He can also course-correct very quickly and let me know when we need to grab another shot. On Rogue Nation, he also did a lot of 2nd unit stuff, and he has great skills with the crew. We didn’t really have a 2nd unit on this one, which I think is better because it can get really chaotic with one. Basically, I love the edit, and I love being in the editing room and working hand in hand with my editor, shot for shot, and communicating all the time during production. It was a great collaboration.

There’s obviously a huge number of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
I’d say well over 3,000, and our VFX supervisor Jody Johnson at Double Negative did an amazing job. DNeg, Lola, One of Us, Bluebolt and Cheap Shot all worked on them. There was a lot of rig removal and cleanup along with the big set pieces.

Mission: Impossible Fallout

What was the most difficult VFX sequence/shot to do and why?
The big “High Altitude Low Opening,” or HALO sequence, where Tom jumps out of a Boeing Globemaster at 25,000 feet was far and away the most difficult one. We shot part of it at an RAF base in England, but then with Tom’s broken ankle and the changed schedule, we ended up shooting some of it in Abu Dhabi. Then we had to add in the Paris backdrop and the lightning for the storm, and to maintain the reality we had to keep the horizon in the shot. As the actors were falling at 160 MPH toward the Paris skyline, all of those shots had to be tracked by hand. No computer could do it, and that alone took hundreds of people working on it for three months to complete. It was exhausting.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
It’s so vital, and for me it’s always a three-pronged approach — music, sound and silence, and then the combination of all three elements. It’s very important to maintain the franchise aesthetic, but I wanted to have a fresh approach, so I brought in composer Lorne Balfe, and he did a great job.

The DI must have been vital. How did that process help?
We did it at Molinare in London with colorist Asa Shoul, who is just so good. I’m fairly hands on, especially as the DP was off on another project by the time we did the DI, although he worked on it with Asa as well. We had a big job dealing with all the stuff we shot in New Zealand, bringing it up to the other footage. I actually try to get the film as close as possible to what I want on the day, and then use the DI as a way of enhancing and shaping that, but I don’t actually like to manipulate things too much, although we gave all the Paris stuff this sort of hazy, sweaty look and feel which I love.

What’s next?
A very long nap.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

The sound of fighting in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

By Jennifer Walden

Tom Cruise is one tough dude, and not just on the big screen. Cruise, who seems to be aging very gracefully, famously likes to do his own stunts, much to the dismay of many film studio execs.

Cruise’s most recent tough guy turn is in the sequel to 2014’s Jack Reacher. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which is in theaters now, is based on the protagonist in author Lee Child’s series of novels. Reacher, as viewers quickly find out, is a hands-on type of guy — he’s quite fond of hand-to-hand combat where he can throw a well-directed elbow or headbutt a bad guy square in the face.

Supervising sound editor Mark P. Stoeckinger, based at Formosa Group’s Santa Monica location, has worked on numerous Cruise films, including both Jack Reachers, Mission: Impossible II and III, The Last Samurai and he helped out on Edge of Tomorrow. Stoeckinger has a ton of respect for Cruise, “He’s my idol. Being about the same age, I’d love to be as active and in shape as he is. He’s a very amazing guy because he is such a hard worker.”

The audio post crew on ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.’ Mark Stoeckinger is on the right.

Because he does his own stunts, and thanks to the physicality of Jack Reacher’s fighting style, sometimes Cruise gets a bruise or two. “I know he goes through a fair amount of pain, because he’s so extreme,” says Stoeckinger, who strives to make the sound of Reacher’s punches feel as painful as they are intended to be. If Reacher punches through a car window to hit a guy in the face, Stoeckinger wants that sound to have power. “Tom wants to communicate the intensity of the impacts to the audience, so they can appreciate it. That’s why it was performed that way in the first place.”

To give the fights that Reacher feel of being visceral and intense, Stoeckinger takes a multi-frequency approach. He layers high-frequency sounds, like swishes and slaps to signify speed, with low-end impacts to add weight. The layers are always an amalgamation of sound effects and Foley.

Stoeckinger prefers pulling hit impacts from sound libraries, or creating impacts specifically with “oomph” in mind. Then he uses Foley to flesh out the fight, filling in the details to connect the separate sound effects elements in a way that makes the fights feel organic.

The Sounds of Fighting
Under Stoeckinger’s supervision, a fight scene’s sound design typically begins with sound effects. This allows his sound team to start immediately, working with what they have at hand. On Jack Reacher: Never Go Back this task was handed over to sound effects editor Luke Gibleon at Formosa Group. Once the sound effects were in place, Stoeckinger booked the One Step Up Foley stage with Foley artist Dan O’Connell. “Having the effects in place gives us a very clear idea of what we want to cover with Foley,” he says. “Between Luke and Dan, the fight soundscapes for the film came to life.”

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackThe culminating fight sequence, where Reacher inevitably prevails over the bad guy, was Stoeckinger’s favorite to design. “The arc of the film built up to this fight scene, so we got to use some bigger sounds. Although, it still needed to seem as real as a Hollywood fight scene can be.”

The sound there features low-frequency embellishments that help the audience to feel the fight and not just hear it. The fight happens during a rowdy street festival in New Orleans in honor of the Day of the Dead. Crowds cavort with noisemakers, bead necklaces rain down, music plays and fireworks explode. “Story wise, the fireworks were meant to mask any gunshots that happened in the scene,” he says. “So it was about melding those two worlds — the fight and the atmosphere of the crowds — to help mask what we were doing. That was fun and challenging.”

The sounds of the street festival scene were all created in post since there was music playing during filming that wasn’t meant to stay on the track. The location sound did provide a sonic map of the actual environment, which Stoeckinger considered when rebuilding the scene. He also relied on field recordings captured by Larry Blake, who lives in New Orleans. “Then we searched for other sounds that were similar because we wanted it to sound fun and festive but not draw the ear too much since it’s really just the background.”

Stoeckinger sweetened the crowd sounds with recordings they captured of various noisemakers, tambourines, bead necklaces and group ADR to add mid-field and near-field detail when desired. “We tried to recreate the scene, but also gave it a Hollywood touch by adding more specifics and details to bring it more to life in various shots, and bring the audience closer to it or further away from it.”

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackStoeckinger also handled design on the film’s other backgrounds. His objective was to keep the locations feeling very real, so he used a combination of practical effects they recorded and field recordings captured by effect editor Luke Gibleon, in addition to library effects. “Luke [Gibleon] has a friend with access to an airport, so Luke did some field recordings of the baggage area and various escalators with people moving around. He also captured recordings of downtown LA at night. All of those field recordings were important in giving the film a natural sound.”

There where numerous locations in this film. One was when Reacher meets up with a teenage girl who he’s protecting from the bad guys. She lives in a sketchy part of town, so to reinforce the sketchiness of the neighborhood, Stoeckinger added nearby train tracks to the ambience and created street walla that had an edgy tone. “It’s nothing that you see outside of course, but sound-wise, in the ambient tracks, we can paint that picture,” he explains.
In another location, Stoeckinger wanted to sell the idea that they were on a dock, so he added in a boat horn. “They liked the boat horn sound so much that they even put a ship in the background,” he says. “So we had little sounds like that to help ground you in the location.”

Tools and the Mix
At Formosa, Stoeckinger has his team work together in one big Avid Pro Tools 12 sessions that included all of their sounds: the Foley, the backgrounds, sound effects, loop group and design elements. “We shared it,” he says. “We had a ‘check out’ system, like, ‘I’m going to check out reel three and work on this sequence.’ I did some pre-mixing, where I went through a scene or reel and decided what’s working or what sections needed a bit more. I made a mark on a timeline and then handed that off to the appropriate person. Then they opened it up and did some work. This master session circulated between two or three of us that way.” Stoeckinger, Gibleon and sound designer Alan Rankin, who handled guns and miscellaneous fight sounds, worked on this section of the film.

All the sound effects, backgrounds, and Foley were mixed on a Pro Tools ICON, and kept virtual from editorial to the final mix. “That was helpful because all the little pieces that make up a sound moment, we were able to adjust them as necessary on the stage,” explains Stoeckinger.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackPremixing and the final mixes were handled at Twentieth Century Fox Studios on the Howard Hawks Stage by re-recording mixers James Bolt (effects) and Andy Nelson (dialogue/music). Their console arrangement was a hybrid, with the effects being mixed on an Avid ICON, and the dialogue and music mixed on an AMS Neve DFC console.

Stoeckinger feels that Nelson did an excellent job of managing the dialogue, particularly for moments where noisy locations may have intruded upon subtle line deliveries. “In emotional scenes, if you have a bunch of noise that happens to be part of the dialogue track, that detracts from the scene. You have to get all of the noise under control from a technical standpoint.” On the creative side, Stoeckinger appreciated Nelson’s handling of Henry Jackman’s score.

On effects, Stoeckinger feels Bolt did an amazing job in working the backgrounds into the Dolby Atmos surround field, like placing PA announcements in the overheads, pulling birds, cars or airplanes into the surrounds. While Stoeckinger notes this is not an overtly Atmos film, “it helped to make the film more spatial, helped with the ambiences and they did a little bit of work with the music too. But, they didn’t go crazy in Atmos.”

The A-List — Director Ed Zwick talks Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

By Iain Blair

Director, screenwriter and producer Ed Zwick got his start in television as co-creator of the Emmy Award-winning series Thirtysomething. His feature film career kicked off when he directed the Rob Lowe/Demi Moore vehicle, About Last Night. Zwick went on to direct the Academy Award-winning films Glory and Legends of the Fall. 

Zwick also produced the Oscar-nominated I Am Sam, as well as Traffic — winner of two Golden Globes and four Academy Awards — directed by Steven Soderbergh. He won an Academy Award as a producer of 1999’s Best Picture, Shakespeare in Love.

Ed Zwick

His latest film, Paramount’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, reunites him with his The Last Samurai star Tom Cruise. It’s an action-packed follow-up to 2012’s Jack Reacher hit that grossed over $200 million in worldwide box office.

The set-up? Years after resigning command of an elite military police unit, the nomadic, righter-of-wrongs Reacher is drawn back into the life he left behind when his friend and successor, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), is framed for espionage. Naturally, Reacher will stop at nothing to prove her innocence and to expose the real perpetrators behind the killings of his former soldiers. Mayhem quickly ensues, helped along with plenty of crazy stunts and cutting-edge VFX.

I recently chatted with Zwick about making the film.

You’ve worked in so many genres, but this is your first crime thriller. 
I’ve always loved crime thrillers — especially films like Three Days of the Condor and Bullitt where the characters and their relationships are far more important than the action. That’s where I tried to take this.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackTom Cruise is famous for being a perfectionist and doing all his own stunts when possible. Any surprises re-teaming with him?
Yeah, I always say the most boring job on set is being Tom’s stunt double. Tom is a perfectionist and he loves to be involved in every aspect of the production, so no surprises there. He has such a great love for all the different genres, but a particular love for action films and thrillers. It was very important for him that he didn’t do something that was like all the other films out there. I think we all felt that superhero fatigue has been setting in, so the idea was to do things on a more human scale, and make it more realistic and authentic, both with the characters and with the action.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
We shot it all in New Orleans, and it’s a road movie. So we had to shoot Washington, DC, there too, and create a cross-country journey with different airports and so on. We did all of that with some sleight of hand and extensions and VFX. I think it’s also a challenge to come up with new settings for action pieces we haven’t seen before, and that’s where the parade and rooftop sequences in New Orleans come in, along with the fight on the plane. The book it’s based on is set in LA and DC, but they’re both tough to shoot in, and with the great tax breaks in Louisiana and all the great locations, it made sense to shoot there.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackEvery shoot is tough, but it was pretty straightforward on this, though shutting down the whole French Quarter took some doing —  but all the city officials were so helpful. The rooftop stuff was very challenging to do, and we did a lot of prep and began on post right away, on day one.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I can sit there with a cup of coffee and my editor and rewrite the entire script as much as I can. It’s the best part and most creative part of the whole process.

Where did you post?
We did it all in LA. We just set up some offices in Santa Monica where I live and did all the editorial there.

You’ve typically worked with Steve Rosenblum, but you edited this film with Billy Weber, who’s been nominated twice for Oscars (Top Gun, The Thin Red Line) and whose credits include The Warriors, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beverly Hills Cop II, Midnight Run and The Tree of Life, among others. How did that relationship work?
Steve wasn’t available so I asked him, ‘Who can I hire that you’d be jealous of?’ He said, ‘There’s only one person — Billy Weber. He’s your guy.’ He was right. Billy’s legendary and has cut so many great movies for directors like Terrence Malik, Tony Scott, Walter Hill, Martin Brest, Tim Burton, and he’s a prince. I love editing, and I loved working with him. He’s a great collaborator, and I was very open to all his ideas.Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

He came to New Orleans and we set up a cutting room there and he did the assembly there as we shot. Then we moved back to LA. Billy lives on the other side of town, so to beat the traffic we’d start every day at 6am and wrap at 3pm. It was a great system.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
I love working with the audio, and Henry Jackman did a great, classic-modern score. It was crucial, not just for all the action, but for some of the quieter moments. Then we mixed the sound at Fox, with Andy Nelson who’s now done 10 of my movies.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but the VFX play a big role.
You’re right, and we didn’t want it to look like there was a ton of CG work. In the end, we had well over 200 shots, including stuff like the Capitol Dome in DC in the background and tons of bullet hits on cars and enhancements. But I didn’t want all the VFX to be at all noticeable. Lola and Flash Film Works did the work, and often today where you need bullet hits on a car, it’s far cheaper and more time-effective to add them in post, so there was a lot of that.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
We did it at Company 3 in Santa Monica with colorist Stephen Nakamura, who is brilliant. We went for a natural look but also enhanced some of the dramatic scenes [via Resolve]. It’s remarkable what you can do now in the DI, and as we shot on film I wanted to preserve some of that real film look, so I think it’s a light touch, but also a sophisticated one in the DI.

What’s next?
I don’t have anything lined up, so I’m taking a break.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.