"The Firm," while a thrilling novel, needed considerable plot work to be made into a plausible movie, director Sydney Pollack told more than 300 people at the Harvard Film Archive Saturday night.
Pollack's talk, which consisted of an interview with a professor from the New School of Social Research and a question-and-answer session with the audience, followed a showing of the film, which has grossed $96 million since its release almost three weeks ago.
The event was the first in a series titled "Private Screenings," in which Professor Richard W. Brown, who teaches film classes for adults at the New School, will screen films at the Archive and interview the directors or one of the stars.
Pollack said he had thoroughly enjoyed the original story of "The Firm" as told by author John Grisham and had thought it a good book to dramatize, but had realized many parts of it would not translate well to screen.
"There were elements of the book I love that I think you would laugh off the screen if I tried to do it, "he said. " I had to try to orchestrate a different approach to this...to say what does the book deliver that I don't want to change and what do I have to change?"
The need for considerable rewriting as well as Pollack's relatively late arrival to the project meant that the screen-play was written in increments that were usually finished shortly before shooting, he said, Pollack said he doubted a complete screenplay exists anywhere but on his computer.
Pollack admitted that almost none of the actors in the movie was one of his first choices, but said that he thought the cast was excellent. One benefit of such a last minute.
"If I'd had a complete script. I don't know if I would have [dared to] try to do that," he said.
Pollack said many of the elements he wanted to keep, as well as many of those he wanted to change, centered around the character of Mitch McDeere, played by Tom Cruise.
Parts of an interview Brown had conducted with Cruise earlier in the week were shown following the talk with Pollack,"
"I began by saying I didn't feel the end of the book literally translated would be good for the movie...because it deals with the corruption of Mitch McDeere," Pollack said. "The major areas we changed had to do with giving Mitch McDeere some change for a life at the end."
"We tried to keep the everyman, who was ambitious and wanted to conquer the world and had the American dream handed to him and finds out that it's rotten inside, then has to find a way to outwit both the lawmakers and the lawbreakers," he said