August 5, 2015

"Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation"

SCA Network Event Recap

Last Wednesday, members of the SCA Network once again congregated at The Grove Pacific Theater for the second sneak preview screening in as many weeks, this time for a glimpse of the critically acclaimed fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise: Rogue Nation.

By the end of the screening, with the audience erupting in applause as the credits scrolled, two things had been made abundantly clear: (1) A good franchise does not age, and (2) apparently, neither does Tom Cruise.

At the ripe age of 53, Cruise once again performed all his own stunts for the film, a fact that has been widely reported and that producers David Ellison and Don Granger further elaborated upon in a Q&A moderated by Professor Michael Fink following the screening:

“Tom was actually getting thrown around on the plane stunt,” Granger confirmed, referencing the plane sequence widely circulated in many of the promos for the feature. “Luckily we only had to do it once.”

When it comes to directing and choreographing such elaborate sequences, however, the rehearsal process was often even more intense than the shoot itself, an important lesson for aspiring action directors. Even when working with someone like Cruise, who has been performing his own stunts for over 30 years, Ellison and Granger described the rehearsal process as “remarkable” and extremely intensive. “We had long, physical fight rehearsals [that lasted for] a couple of months,” said Granger.

Of course there’s more to a successful film than just explosive action sequences. Ellison, a USC production graduate, says of his experience, “I produced two 480 [short films as an SCA student]. Making a small, short film or a $2-million feature is no easier or harder than making a film of this scale. The technology now exists to shoot your own movie, edit your own movie, to be constantly working. You still have to understand every aspect of the craft. School was incredibly helpful for that.”

“USC is a great place to experiment and learn,” Ellison continues. “The more movies you make, the more prepared you will be to make movies like this.”

Indeed, the lesson of “practice makes perfect” has been one reiterated across multiple generations and remains as true as ever. But Ellison and Granger equally stressed the importance of making films that you yourself would want to see.

David Ellison (left) and Don Granger during post-screening Q&ADavid Ellison (Left), Don Granger during Post-Screening Q&A

“We don't make anything as a company that we don't love,” Ellison said of Skydance, his production company. “We make movies that take you to a place where you can't enjoy your experience anywhere but the theater. My idea of a good time as a kid was watching a trilogy back to back. Skydance was motivated by that love.”

“Every movie has to be fresh,” Granger elaborated. “With a sequel, you have the benefit of a known title, but you still have to go out there and [make it fresh] every single time.”

As the film’s $121 million weekend gross would suggest, Ellison and Granger—and the rest of the Skydance team—have clearly found a way to do exactly that: create a franchise that, after two decades and five installments, remains as thrilling as ever. Unsurprisingly, the team has already begun pre-production for a sixth Mission: Impossible film, and neither Cruise nor David Ellison’s Skydance squad show any signs of slowing down thereafter.