Scott Z. Burns is a screenwriter, whose credits include The Bourne Ultimatum, The Mercy and four Steven Soderbergh films, The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects and The Laundromat. Having made his directorial debut with 2006’s Pu-239, he now returns behind the camera with The Report, a true-life story about a Senate staffer, Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) who leads an investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program.
ASFF: What was the biggest challenge in making The Report?
SB: For me, the challenge was keeping people tracking Dan. It’s a guy who shows up in D.C., who has a lot of integrity and wants to do a good thing in the world, and I think that’s something that we can all relate to regardless of the country that we live in, that there are people who are patriotic. And then he is given a blueprint and given a task, and he goes off and he works in a room for years by himself, and steps back at the end and realises, ‘Oh my God, I’ve built my own gallows.’ And that’s what I told Adam Driver when we started. And although I don’t think Dan necessarily considers the report his own gallows, it’s certainly changed the course of his life.
ASFF: What do you think drew Adam Driver to the role of playing Dan?
SB: Adam was a Marine. And so I think he instinctively understood the kind of decorum that a Senate staffer has to follow, that there’s a chain of command and that you can’t just walk into an office and start pounding on the desk; that you have to stay within the lines.
ASFF: Do you see Dan Jones as a whistleblower?
SB: Dan is definitely not a whistleblower. Dan is a guy who was working exactly within his job description. I think that our film is certainly not a condemnation of whistleblowers at all because, god knows we need them right now, but I think there is a meaningful difference. And to me, the distinction is pointed in our film because it shows that even though our system is fractured and struggling right now mightily, that there are people who – through force of will and integrity – are able to make the right thing happen.
ASFF: Steven Soderbergh, who you’ve written for a lot, is your producer here. Was he ever in line to direct this?
SB: Steven has always given me a seat at the table to participate…and in that process, he did spend a lot of time saying to me, ‘Go write something for yourself. You know you need to have this experience because it’s what you want to do, and I think you’d be really good at it.’ And when I gave him the script, he said, ‘You know you need to direct this because you’re the only one who really understands the clockwork here and the math of this. And so this one has to be yours.’
ASFF: Did you think about employing him as your cinematographer? He regularly shoots his own movies…
SB: You know what? You’re the only person who’s ever asked that! And I did think about it, but I think it wouldn’t have been fair necessarily to the actors if he was the cinematographer, because are they going to be looking at me or at Steven Soderbergh after a take?
The Report is released in cinemas on 15 November. For more details, click here.