In part one of this EW.com exclusive, ''Bourne Identity'' director Doug Liman describes his adventures in pushing Matt Damon's action-movie franchise off the ground
I’m at 12,500 feet above the Teton mountains, rather in the mountains — flying through a valley whose walls rise another thousand feet above me, a thousand feet higher than my plane can fly. The clouds are closing in on me and I’m not trained to fly in them. Worse, other planes are reporting picking up rime ice just ahead of me. I am a newly minted pilot with a license but five weeks old. I am not low on fuel, having stopped in Billings, Montana, to refuel on the way to Glacier National Park and the summer home of Robert Ludlum.
The smart move, the prudent move, would have been to turn around. It is June 1999, and after pursuing the rights to The Bourne Identity for almost four years, I am about to get my break. Robert Ludlum, the author of the novels, has agreed to meet with me. The journey to this point has seen me crash the engagement party of real estate magnate Louise Sunshine to corner Terry Semel, then CEO of Warner Bros. and holder of the option on the novels. It has seen me knock on the door of Sylvester Stallone, whom Terry told me could help free up the rights if I could land him (I landed him, but Warners still wouldn’t budge).
I didn’t turn around, and just above Kalispell airport there was a break in the clouds. I saw the runway and divebombed it. The arrival was dramatic enough for Ludlum, who was waiting on the tarmac, to nickname me ”Hollywood” even though I live in New York. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had just completed the least dangerous part of my journey to make The Bourne Identity.
The thing that surprised me the most about Ludlum was that even though it had taken me four years to get there, Ludlum had been waiting a lot longer than that for my arrival. It had been almost 20 years since a novel of his had been made into a movie, 20 years since Hollywood came knocking. So you see, that nickname may have had more to do with him than with me.
A month later, I am pitching the rights, which I now control. I am on a flight to Los Angeles, commercial this time. I am re-reading the novel, with one set of headphones hanging off my left ear tuned to The Horse Whisperer, which is playing on the main cabin screen, and a second set of headphones dangling from my right ear tuned to The Wedding Singer on my personal screen. And that’s when my breakthrough happens. Jason Bourne is a modern-day cowboy, simple and heroic. A Western for my generation. I pitch the movie not as what it would be like to be Jason Bourne, but what it would be like to date him. Universal Pictures is run by women and they buy it.
NEXT PAGE: ”Shortly after filming begins in Paris, Matt Damon has two big movies open and bomb. Matt tells me his career is now fully riding on this movie — three strikes and he is out.”