Doug Liman directed the pilot of MTV’s upcoming show I Just Want My Pants Back. The title comes from the main character’s one night stand where the woman wore his pants home, but left him a fake number so he could never contact her again. The director of Swingers tackles a whole ensemble of characters dealing with modern dating in New York.
At MTV’s cocktail party for the Television Critics Association, Liman schmoozed with the hot young stars of his own and other MTV shows. I was the old guy who still remembers leaving six messages on an answering machine, so maybe Pants will give me some new pointers. The show is currently in production aiming for a 2012 airdate.
Q: I was at the right age when Swingers came out. Actually, I’m still in that place, but how has the dating game changed since Swingers?
Doug Liman: Well, I’m still single so unfortunately I’ve been tracking it all these years. The storylines in Pants Back are completely universal. They haven’t really changed but the specific characters that David Rosen have written have a specific approach to dating that I just love. It’s completely infectious.
Q: What would be the equivalent of the six date rule now?
DL: It’s all about texting. When you text, when you don’t text. Maybe the technology has changed but the strategy hasn’t changed at all. Kim [Shaw’s character] spends most of the season dealing with an on again, off again relationship that plays out a lot through whether she does or does not text, how long she waits to text.
Q: That was a huge hurdle for me. I hated texting until I met a really nice girl who texted cute and funny things. Now I like it.
DL: It’s all about sexting now.
Q: I never got into that, but how do you portray texting on screen? Isn’t it obnoxious when characters talk what they’re typing because the camera needs to hear it?
DL: No, like Swingers, what’s really at stake is whether you are or are not texting, whether you are or are not making the other person wait. So it’s not actually the content of the text, which would be annoying. You have to speak it out loud or cut to an insert. Since we’re operating on the more primal level of did the guy text you or didn’t he text you, or if he did text you, how long do you wait to text him back, that doesn’t play out between somebody and their phone. That plays out between friends.
Q: Would swing dancing still impress someone today? Would there even be anywhere you could go to do that?
DL: Lincoln Center during the summer does it, but that’s Manhattan so that’s for a different age group. People in their 20s that live in Brooklyn and more of the fringe Brooklyn like Greenpoint or Bushwick, I’m not seeing any signs of swing dancing in those places. Swing dancing happened to be the thing of the moment when I was doing Swingers. There’s other things going on in Greenpoint that these characters are participating in that are of the moment.
Q: What are some aspects of Swingers that still work today?
DL: Well, Swingers still works today because it’s a universal story and it has amazing characters. Films with characters like the ones Jon Favreau wrote are timeless.
Q: They still call right after you’re not interested in them anymore.
DL: That is unfortunately true.
Q: As a producer, how are things going on The Bourne Legacy?
DL: Pretty great. We start shooting this fall.
DL: Well, Jason Bourne has completed his arc. The franchise from its very inception was a character-driven action franchise. Unlike James Bond, which is sort of an action driven franchise, it’s character driven and the character has completed their arc. If it were a TV series, we would have slowed down the arc so you could build 50 episodes out of it. But it wasn’t a TV series. It was a movie so he’s got to complete his arc.
Q: But as fans, we trust you and Tony Gilroy to come up with another great issue for Jason Bourne. Like life, more things still happen to him.
DL: But the most interesting thing happened and was resolved. I mean, Robert Ludlum in the original novel completed his arc in the first book and did what you said, reset him in the second book, completed his arc, then reset him again and completed him in the third book. But it’s a little gimmicky.
Q: What is the issue for the new legacy?
DL: I can’t even tell you about the character.
DL: I’m not really talking about it yet other than it’s a heist in outer space.
Q: Well, I know you usually have an interesting subtext to your movies. You’ve said that The Bourne Identity started from wanting to address Iran Contra. What is the subtext of the space heist?
DL: It’s actually a companion piece to Fair Game so I very much have those same lofty ideals that have permeated all my films to date. While Fair Game was dealing with America at one of its low points, my outer space heist film ultimately celebrates America at one of its high points.
Q: Is it a period piece in the space program?
DL: No, it’s present day.
Q: So with NASA ending the shuttle program, how does that affect your story?
DL: That is the backdrop against which the heist takes place.