Making the Movie They Let You Make

Chris McQuarrie didn’t want to be the crime guy. The studios won’t let him be anything else.

  1. To hear Chris McQuarrie tell it, the origins of the new film he wrote and directed, “The Way of the Gun,” lay in disgruntlement, frustration and anger. We pick up the story about four years ago, shortly after he was awarded the Oscar for his screenplay “The Usual Suspects.” At that point, the project that most enthralled Mr. McQuarrie, who appears to be one of those formidably intelligent people who can produce a trove of well thought out, cogently stated reasons in support of his opinions, was to direct the life story of Alexander the Great.

    But the then 27-year-old McQuarrie, author of a screenplay that was nonpareil in its genre, was finding no one who would let him direct a movie about a 20-year-old who had conquered the world. “It was probably a bad idea to pursue that as the first film,” he now grudgingly concedes. “But I decided if I wanted to direct that I should direct other films first. So I came up with ideas for some smaller films. But literally every time I would go to a meeting, the only interest anybody had in me making a film was if it was a crime film. But I didn’t want to be the crime guy. So I started lowering my price, and then I started lowering my back end”—money to be earned through foreign distribution, cable television or video sales—“and then I started lowering my standards, and finally it got to the point when I was in a meeting and I said, ‘I will take no salary, I’ll take no back end, I’ll eat craft service and I will live in the jungle while I ...