Writer of 2011 movie Contagion, which in some ways foreshadowed the current Coronavirus pandemic, Scott Z. Burns, virtually visited MetFilm School (with campuses in London and Berlin) students for an exclusive masterclass. Burns, who also produced An Inconvenient Truth and wrote The Mercy and The Bourne Ultimatum, discussed Contagion, his career journey and finding his passion.
This is what Burns shared with the budding filmmakers…
ON MAKING CONTAGION…
“Ahead of filming Contagion, I did a huge amount of research as any screenwriter would do when taking on a subject like this. Along the way I was fortunate enough to meet some incredible and prominent epidemiologists and virologists. I made a deal with them that I would not cut any corners on the science when filming this. There is a scene that didn’t make it into the movie where Matt Damon is approached by an unknown wealthy person who wants to buy his plasma to make an antibody cocktail, we cut it out as it opens up a lot of questions; it’s interesting as plasma based therapy is mentioned throughout reports regarding covid-19.”
“Steven Soderbergh and I had just finished shooting a film called The Informant! Where I revealed the idea, I had for my next project (Contagion) a science-based film around a global pandemic, and within a couple of sentences of explaining the plot, Steven was in! Jeff Skoll, a philanthropist had a major interest in global pandemics, and it was through Jeff that I met the best scientists in the world, whom I am still in touch with today. It took around 3 years to make.”
THE DRIVING FORCE
“The stories that I tell, choose me as much as I choose them. Nothing is easy, which is important to remember when picking projects. I have friends who come up with something very formulaic and they get made quickly; most of the work I have chosen to work on tend to have a gestation period that are many years long. The only way I get through that is passion. If I am not passionate about it, I will never make it through the five years of disappointment, searching for finance etc. In some ways Contagion was the easiest thing to get made.”
FINDING MY PURPOSE
“I graduated from university in America, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to write fiction, but I didn’t want to stay in academia and become a professor. I began working in Advertising which was a safety net at the time. For me, it almost became my film school because when I started writing television commercials there were a lot of people in the film industry who in between projects would go work on television commercials as they paid well. I met incredibly talented film makers especially cinematographers. I then progressed onto directing.”
Here are highlights from the conversation…
Burns is one of many virtual visitors to MetFilm school this summer, other visitors have included, Normal People’s Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, Jonathan Pryce, (The Two Popes, Game of Thrones, The Wife, Tomorrow Never Dies, Evita), writer Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Gentleman Jack), cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049 and 1917), Colin Trevorrow who re-launched the Jurassic Park franchise, Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham and Beecham House), and many more.