Director Doug Liman waits for Web equivalent of 'Swingers'

Director of <i>Bourne Identity</i> and <i>Swingers</i> says Web still hasn't produced much compelling content. But he expects that to change.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read

Director Doug Liman tells an audience at the National Association of Broadcasters 2008 conference that he expects to see an Internet equivalent of Swingers. Greg Sandoval/CNET News.com

LAS VEGAS--Director Doug Liman pulled no punches when sizing up the quality of storytelling on the Web.

The Internet simply hasn't produced any truly compelling stories, Liman, director of such hits as The Bourne Identity and Swingers, told an audience of several hundred Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters 2008 conference here.

But that doesn't mean it won't. He told the audience he believes it's just a matter of time before a star filmmaker bubbles up from YouTube, iFilm, or one of the other online video sites.

"The reality is that the quality content isn't there yet," Liman said in an interview following the speech. "It's no different than going to Sundance (Film Festival) this year and people saying, 'The great independent film wasn't there this year.' That doesn't mean it won't be there next year. Given the direction the Internet's going-- with more and more people working in that arena--you're going to see an Internet equivalent of Swingers."

Liman (right) speaks to a fan at NAB 2008. Greg Sandoval/CNET News.com

Swingers, starring actors Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, launched the then-unknown Liman's career. The 1996 film, about a group of unemployed actors trying to make it big in Hollywood, was made for $250,000 and grossed $6.5 million worldwide. Had the Internet been more of an entertainment force then, perhaps Liman would have made his mark online first. He said the Web is tailor made for helping talented filmmakers with limited funds build a reputation.

Liman, who said he might have gone into technology if he hadn't stumbled onto a movie camera at the age of 8, encouraged Web videographers in the audience by noting that "sometimes greatness comes from not having resources."

To illustrate his point, he recalled a commercial he was shooting for Nike in the late 1990s starring golfer Tiger Woods. Liman noticed Woods bouncing a ball on the edge of a club during breaks from shooting. Liman grabbed a shoulder-held camera and, away from the crew, asked Woods to bounce the balls while being filmed. Liman began to lose his patience when Woods blew the shot several times.

"I told him, 'I can't believe that of all people you are choking under pressure,'" Liman told the audience.

Woods glared and then bounced the ball while transferring the club through his legs behind his back and finished by smacking the ball in mid air. The shot, which became a classic, was natural, unrehearsed, and driven by imagination rather than millions of studio dollars, Liman said.

Liman praised digital cameras and other technologies for helping to improve filmmaking, but he reminded the audience that a good story is still key.

"Movies can get away without great writing because they are all about the spectacle," Liman told the audience. "But with TV and the Web it's all about great writing...Look at the (NBC Universal TV show) The Office. It looks like Swingers and for that I was using used-film stock. People don't care. If they love the characters they will cone back. Look at Seinfeld...Why couldn't Seinfeld come from someone with a digital camera shooting for the Web?"