"Edge of Tomorrow" is the story of a reluctant soldier who finds himself living the same day over and over during a massive battle against an alien invasion. Telling that tale might seem the stuff cinema madness is made of as cast and crew would have to shoot the same scenes repeatedly. But it was just another day at the office for producer/director Doug Liman.
"The aspect of repeating a scene is something we in film do every day. Unless you are someone like Clint Eastwood who shoots a scene once and then moves on, you normally shoot a scene seven times with one angle, change the camera and shoot again. The actors have to say the lines when you do that. So it didn't feel any different shooting this movie," Liman says.
If anything, the director found the repetitive nature of the movie freeing because it became easier for him to go back and reshoot any footage that wasn't right.
The ability to make those changes created a kind of kinship between the director and star Tom Cruise's soldier character. Unlike most directors who would never admit their flaws, Liman confesses there were times when he felt just like Cruise's character — a person in a situation way over his head. Also like Cruise's character, Liman fought through the problems to win the war.
Liman has directed big action movies before — "The Bourne Identity," "Jumper" — but his heart's more in the independent film world after establishing his directing credentials with the cult favorite "Swingers" in 1996. He brought a sense of urgency to "Edge of Tomorrow" from his work in independent film. Low-budget movies don't have the money to waste time.
"I have a short attention span and that's why the movies I like to make and go see must move along aggressively. I have an incredible aversion to any movie that reeks of on-screen indulgence," Liman says. "My instinct going into 'Edge' was that while this film is about the experience of one day being repeated, I didn't want anything to feel repetitive."
He also didn't want to bog the film down with too much explanation. When Liman was making "Go," a film about three separate story lines that diverge and reconverge during a single night, he had major battles with studio executives who wanted him to add more scenes to explain what was happening.
Liman fought such additions then and continues to fight them because, he says, he wants to treat an audience with intelligence and respect. Too much explanation to him is pandering.
"The studio system doesn't encourage that kind of thinking. But, if you explain everything, it takes the fun out of the movie," Liman says.
Once the director had all of the storytelling issues worked out, it was up to the actors to bring the film to life despite a grueling filming process. Instead of using computer-generated images for the bulk of the action scenes, Liman shot the cast — all wearing heavy suits of robotic body armor — on a real beach that was created on the studio lot. To get the fight scenes, Liman worked what's known as "European hours" which meant filming would run for 10 hours without a lunch break.
This realistic way of shooting not only gave Liman the action sequences he wanted but allowed him to insert some tension-breaking humor into the film.
"When you do it for real, you can get humor out of a piece of high-tech military equipment. Those scenes where Tom can't control his suit wouldn't be funny in any other movie. But when you see him fighting with it, you only get the kind of humor that comes with a real suit," Liman says.
After all of the work, now all Liman can do is sit back and wait to see if the audience will embrace his film.
"We have put our heart and soul into 'Edge of Tomorrow.' It was an extraordinary journey putting the film together. If audiences around the world connect with it, that will be a happy ending to a love story," Liman says.