‘Bridge of Spies’ Producer Marc Platt on Steven Spielberg’s Love of Americana, New ‘Mary Poppins’ Movie

“I’m lucky that I get to do the bigger movies and the smaller movies. Perhaps I have creative ADD,” veteran producer tells TheWrap in latest edition of Office With a View

Marc Platt is one of Hollywood’s most respected producers, having recently worked with Oscar winners Ang Lee and Jonathan Demme, as well as Rob Marshall and “Whiplash” wunderkind Damien Chazelle.

However, the biggest feather in his cap may be his collaboration with Steven Spielberg on “Bridge of Spies,” a DreamWorks drama set during the Cold War that Disney releases on Friday.

The film stars Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer drafted by the CIA to defend a Russian spy (Mark Rylance) and eventually negotiate a prisoner exchange for downed American pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). “Bridge of Spies” has earned strong reviews following its world premiere last month at the New York Film Festival.

Platt, 58, started his career making female-friendly fare such as “Legally Blonde,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Honey” and “The Perfect Man” in the early ’00s before graduating to big-budget blockbusters with 2008’s “Wanted” starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie. He has been vacillating between studio movies (“2 Guns,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and acclaimed indies (“Drive,” “Rachel Getting Married”) ever since — to the envy of his producer peers.

In advance of “Bridge of Spies,” Platt spoke to TheWrap about how he got involved with the period project, what his Universal-based production company is looking for these days and how he manages to balance the ever-changing studio system and the growing world of independent filmmaking.

How did you first get involved in “Bridge of Spies”?
A colleague of mine, Adam Siegel, is a history buff and he found this footnote about James Donovan, this ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. I was a little boy at the time, but I remember his defense of a Russian spy and doing civil defense drills. This playwright, Matt Charman, had a pitch on the subject matter. I have a long history with Steven and DreamWorks, and we expressed our interest. Steven is a great American director and there’s something in many of his films that’s very Americana, like the early Amblin movies as well as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Catch Me If You Can.” The heroes he likes to portray are ordinary men who become extraordinary and step into the spotlight, so I’m not surprised Donovan would be one of those.

This movie works as well as it does because of its cast. Tell me about how you landed Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.
Steven and Tom enjoy a long history of collaboration, so it was hard not to think of Tom. Like Steven, he’s also a history buff, particularly with regards to Berlin’s history, so it seemed like the right marriage. I’ve known Mark for years as a brilliant stage actor. I loved his work in “Twelfth Night.”

What kinds of projects are you looking to make?
I don’t really examine the marketplace as much as I should. I only respond to what I respond to. I’m interested in a particular story because it moves me or interests me, or a piece of talent does. It’s hard to know exactly. I’ve recently done a big musical, “Into the Woods,” and “Bridge of Spies” and another kind of music film in “Ricki and the Flash.” I just worked with Ang Lee on “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and I just finished Damien Chazelle‘s “La La Land,” which is a contemporary musical set in Los Angeles. I’m about to start “The Girl on the Train,” which is a fun, pulpy thriller based on a best-selling book that Tate Taylor is directing. So it’s an eclectic group of down-the-middle commercial fare featuring interesting stories from interesting filmmakers.

Are smaller films like “Drive” and “Lost River” harder to make than a big-budget blockbuster like “Wanted”?
It’s harder in the sense that piecing them together often requires more finesse than big, muscular films, but it’s also kind of joyful. You have your hands on everything in a way you can really live and breathe it, but they’re all challenging. I’m lucky that I get to do the bigger movies and the smaller movies. Perhaps I have creative ADD. I can paint on large canvasses and smaller canvasses.

What’s the biggest difference between operating in the studio system and producing an indie movie?
It’s a numbers thing. We live in a world that is often reduced to 140 characters, literally. That’s the way news and information is consumed. Marketing is the same way. In the studio world, you hear the word “brand” more often, but it’s really about how we can communicate an idea in the best way possible and how can we sell that idea. There’s also an ever-growing foreign market. Look at China alone. So the kind of films that usually translate are VFX-driven films and action films that transcend culture and language. It’s the same thing with the franchisability, because that speaks to the brand. Look at Marvel’s TV business. Those are serialized stories being told, but they’re well done.

I’m lucky I get to travel in that world and the indie world. That’s the place where the movies that are a little bit different and more dramatic, or period, are being deposited. Because of the filmmakers, films like “Bridge of Spies” and “Steve Jobs” still exist at the studio level, they just exist in smaller portions. There are still places for all films — you just have to look harder to find them.

Tell me about working with Ang Lee on “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which I understand is breaking new cinematic ground.
We’re shooting in 3D at 120 frames-per-second with 4k resolution, which was Ang’s vision. He sees and imagines things in the evolution of technology and storytelling that you and I don’t. It makes my job more interesting, because it means that I’m still learning. The bar is so high, but he’s exploring a completely new parameter of filmmaking. If I’m going to spend a year of my life on something, it really has to compel me.

What are your thoughts about alternative distribution models, with more films forgoing theaters and debuting on digital platforms?
It depends on the movie and the nature of the story, but in a world where there are audiences experiencing films on Netflix and iTunes, there are movies particularly suited to be distributed that way. If they can be monetized effectively, why not?

Can you say anything about the new “Mary Poppins” movie that you’re producing?
It’ll be another musical based on the sequel novel. There are seven more [books], so it’s a brand new chapter. It’s a new movie musical, so all the songs will be new and fantastic. We’re not remaking the original. That movie is based on just one of the eight books, and this takes place after that. [P.L.] Travers left a whole wealth of wonderful adventures.

Is it true that you’re looking at Emily Blunt to star?
There have been no casting conversations yet.

What about the rumors that Chris Evans and Jared Leto are in talks for the male leads in “The Girl on the Train?”
Both are in negotiations. Nothing is definitive, but I’m hopeful.

Any update on “Section 6,” which hit a snag when MGM and the James Bond rights holders filed suit?
Stuff happens and that’s all resolved. The new draft of that will be in soon.

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