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Oliver Stone • Director

“The major studios didn’t want to touch this film”


- Oliver Stone sat down with Cineuropa at the 11th Rome Film Festival to discuss why Snowden was mostly produced as a European movie

Oliver Stone  • Director
(© Birgit Heidsiek / Cineuropa)

At the 11th Rome Film Festival, US writer-director Oliver Stone presented his movie Snowden [+see also:
interview: Oliver Stone
film profile
, which was mostly shot and financed in Germany. The director also attended a Close Encounter with Antonio Monda, the artistic director of the Rome Film Fest and moderator Richard Pena, during which Oliver Stone talked about his previous films as well as US politics, on the eve of the nation’s presidential election.

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Cineuropa: As a famous Hollywood director, you sought funding for a large part of this film from Germany. Were the studios afraid to touch this issue?
Oliver Stone:
It was very difficult to finance the film because the studios rejected it. We had to trim the budget to $45 million. Germany and France financed the largest part of the film. The major studios didn‘t want to touch this film, not even for distribution. It is bizarre because they liked the script and said they would get back to me.

What kind of reputation does Snowden have in the eyes of the US public?
Most of Americans don‘t even know who he is. Edward Snowden is a person who gave away secrets and they think that is a kind of suspect behaviour. But the importance they missed is that what Snowden released is confirmation that our country has built, deployed, and developed the most massive global surveillance system ever – without democratic constraint, without approval, without telling anybody – and then retroactively passed laws that made this legal.

How were you able to work with Edward Snowden?
That was also an issue, because it is a current affair that could be newsy. We are always on lookout for new evidence, new stories, but the greatest help was Snowden himself, because he actually explained to us technically what he knew and what he had done. That takes an enormous amount of work and simplification, because you are dealing with complex issues. He looked at the script, made suggestions all the time on how to improve the technical business matters that he was involved in. The relationship with Lindsey Graham came out of our own observations of her importance in his life over nine years.

Were there any elements that you had to change?
Yes, we changed several things. He didn‘t want to have a manhunt for any collaborators, he didn‘t want to hurt anybody. He always claimed to have done it alone, as far as I believe, out of conviction and love of country. And we know that he gave the information to the journalists, as he said, to “let them decide, let the people discuss, get me out of the picture, the story is not about me, it is about what the content of this material is”. That is the big story here. The messenger was shy. He didn‘t want to be a public figure, but he is now.

Where did you shoot the film?
We filmed mostly in Munich, before we moved to the White House for one week, with a few days of shooting in Hawaii and Moscow. In Germany, we built as many sets as we could and we did many American exteriors there. We also found a good set for the NSA headquarters in Munich. We combined the Olympic stadium and the bottom of the old post office in Munich, an interesting 1920s building. We also went to Hawaii, where Snowden lived, and the tunnel where he worked. The exterior was shot at the Hawaii headquarters.

In your film, you actually show how the NSA is looking into our bedrooms. How was the collaboration with a European film crew?
The VFX team, production design and Anthony Dod Mantle, the director of photography, were superb. I had great technicians in Germany. Many of them came down and helped us visualise, because they actually studied the Snowden slides and it looked pretty realistic to Snowden himself. He said it was good computer work to him.

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