Brad Bird on ‘Ghost Protocol,’ ‘1906’ and ‘The Incredibles 2!’

The two-time Oscar-winning director on shooting his first live-action film in IMAX and a potential sequel to The Incredibles.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is now playing in Imax, which is the best way to see the film with the open frame action sequences. With the film opening in regular theaters, director Brad Bird spoke to journalists about his first live-action film. We got a lot of questions with him about the Imax sequences, his old school action and upcoming projects like 1906, about the San Francisco earthquake, and, we hope, The Incredibles 2.


How do you get the shot looking straight down from the top of the Burj Khalifa?

The shot earlier where you’re flying over it? That was a helicopter shot and we have one of the best helicopter pilots in the world for this kind of stuff, where you can actually discuss how you want it to feel and what kind of angle and he’ll do it. But they have updrafts to contend with and there’s rules with how close you can get to the building and if we hadn’t gotten cooperation from the government of Dubai, we never would have been able to get those shots because they’re actually probably too close to the building.


Tom Cruise has the greatest run in Hollywood.

Brad Bird: He does. There should be an Oscar for that I think, don’t you?


Did you think the only way to make it any cooler was to have him run in Imax?

Well, yeah. We have him running in Imax. That’s a good point. I think that should be on the poster. He runs… IN IMAX! It’s not just that. We have a chase in a sandstorm so I think we have a lot of set pieces that are unusual like that in this movie. There’s a lot more stunts in this movie than any of the other Mission: Impossibles I think.


Only a few movies used Imax – ‘Dark Knight,’ ‘Transformers 2,’ ‘Avatar’ and ‘Tron Legacy.’ Why haven’t Imax sequences caught on like 3D?

Well, I think that it’s a cumbersome and expensive process. It takes longer to get shots. The reels are smaller so you can’t shoot as much on a mag. So there’s all kinds of physical limitations with it. Some of those films they bumped the resolution up to Imax but it’s not real Imax where they use the Imax cameras for significant sequences. The closest thing to – – I was more inspired by the Chris Nolan use of it because he filmed several major set pieces in real old school Imax. And when I say old school, I mean the film, the 15 perf film, 70mm film horizontally so the frame’s this big on each frame. One second of film is like from here to the wall. That’s one second. That shows you how much oomph there has to be to getting this stuff filmed. So I was inspired by that. I thought seeing Dark Knight with several sequences in Imax was a thrilling way to see that movie and I wanted to have us have that same kind of showmanship.


This is the first time I’ve seen anyone play with the frame, rather than just open and shut.

That was an idea that someone mentioned and I thought it was a really good one. I think it’s also because the shot is slow. It’s not a fast shot. I think that’s another thing, a lot of filmmakers today love cutting, cutting, cutting, cutting, whether it’s a dialogue scene or an action scene. The filmmakers I admire most view images like music where you’re constantly changing the tempo. You’re having a shot that goes on for a long time and then rapid fire for a bit so that the audience never gets used to a rhythm. It’s always accelerating and decelerating.


Do you think you’ll use Imax for ‘1906?’

Um, I don’t know. We’ll have to see how that comes out. I would love to. It’s a, whatever way we do it, what I’m interested in returning to the theatrical experience is showmanship. When I was a little kid, if you wanted to see a movie when it just opened, you had to see it in a great theater. You could not see it in anything that wasn’t great because they would put them only in the premium theaters first and then it would roll out to the smaller theaters as time went on. Nowadays, the print runs are so big and it’s all about how many screens you’re opening on, that the quality control is so widely varied. And you can see a brand new film on opening day presented really well or, more likely, presented indifferently on a crummy screen with bulbs that have been turned down to save how long they can use them and compromise, compromise, compromise. So to me, one of the things that appealed to me about Imax was that if you see it in Imax, you have to see it on a really big screen projected on a really bright, sharp image with great sound. That’s what it is. And so, you know, it’s not a huge number of screens but this film is going to open on Imax for about five days before it opens wide, and if you see it in the first five days you have to see it presented really well. And so that’s exciting for me.


There is a big sequence in your next movie. There’ll be an earthquake.

That’s right. We’ll see if it’s my next movie. I’m hoping. We’re still working on it. But certainly there are massive sequences in that movie, and this was good, good preparation for that.


Well, it’s a testament to the comment everyone loves ‘The Incredibles,’ everyone always wants to know if there’s a chance of another one. Obviously you’re busy doing other things, but if someone else at Pixar had an idea for it, could you see giving them a blessing to do ‘Incredibles 2?’

Some people could, and I’d like to think that maybe on some level, I would hate to think that I’m being barbaric or anything, but what I’m hearing and it’s not what you’re saying, but what I’m hearing is so if someone else wanted to have your children, could they take them and do what they wanted to for a while. Would you ship them off? And I’d go no! No, um, I would love to, if I could come up with a complete idea that I felt was as sound as the first one, I would love to go back to that world because I love the characters. And I wouldn’t rule it out because it’s a world that I am very fond of. And I have some good ideas for it. I don’t have a whole movie’s worth yet. But certainly if I got it all together I would love to do it with Pixar, and I love working with Pixar, too.


You’re right, we’ll wait for you. That’s what we want.

Oh, okay. [Laughs]


Are you blowing real sand in the sandstorm sequence?

No. It’s actually, it’s a paper, a product that photographs well but doesn’t kill your system as much as sand would. That said, Tom was coughing up that stuff for days afterwards. He had to run around in it and you can’t see in it. It’s just like a sand storm.


But it’s something. It’s not CGI.

Oh no, it’s so something. I mean we all suffered mightily through that.


‘The Simpsons’ is going to be on for 25 years now. Isn’t that great news?

Yeah. Unbelievable isn’t it? I think that they could run Simpsons, a new one every day for a year straight and not run out. That’s unbelievable to me.