5 fascinating things you should know about ‘SNOWDEN’

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, and Tom Wilkinson in SNOWDEN. Courtesy of Open Road Pictures.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, and Tom Wilkinson in SNOWDEN. Courtesy of Open Road Pictures.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone is an activist through and through. You can see it in his films like PLATOON, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and JFK. Now you can add SNOWDEN to that list. The film tells the tale of Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a whistleblower who exposed illegal surveillance the NSA was utilizing. Depending on what you’ve read before, the most wanted man in the world right now is either a saint or a sinner – a patriot or a rebel. But Stone’s thrilling, electrically-charged film will tell Snowden’s whole story and might just make you rethink what side you’re on.

At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, Stone and his cast shared with us a few interesting insights as to what went into the making of this film.

5. Stone had originally turned SNOWDEN down. A cursory glance at the director’s resume will show you his films get people talking. Of his process in selecting material, he said, “I follow what’s interesting to me. I thought it was an interesting story, but I said avoid it, don’t do it. When Glenn Greenwald offered me his book, or asked me to come in on it, I said ‘No.’ I knew this was going to be a hot potato. I don’t want anything to do with it. I got burned on other stuff. So I’m not looking for the present day news. I’m looking for understanding things. More and more as I talked to Snowden, I began to realize how important this was. It’s crucial because not only of mass eavesdropping which is horrifying to me – I never made a contract with the government for that – but it’s also the cyber warfare. It’s hugely important to all of us. I think it’s going to be the next war. Nobody will know where it started and how. That’s the problem.”

4. Scripts were encrypted. Stone didn’t take any chances with security on this film. He told us, “I was worried about this movie. We went to Germany to shoot it. We took great precautions with everything we handled offline. Code, we used encryption when we could. We also sent the scripts in pieces and parts to various actors all over the world. You have to get it out there and at the same time you have to be cautious. So we spent quite a bit of money protecting ourselves.”

Joesph Gordon-Levitt crunching the numbers as Edward Snowden in SNOWDEN (photo courtesy of Open Road)

Joesph Gordon-Levitt crunching the numbers as Edward Snowden in SNOWDEN (photo courtesy of Open Road)

3. Shailene Woodley pulled real-life character inspiration from Twitter and Instagram. Though Snowden was an extremely private person, his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (played by Shailene Woodley) was on Twitter and Instagram. She stated that she felt a little pressure to play a real person before. “I’ve never played anyone who wasn’t a fictional character before, let alone someone who was still alive. So there was a pressure put on myself to not only appease the director and the studio, but also her. You want to protect and preserve the integrity of who she is as a person, but without knowing her, or without having any communication with her, it was difficult to do that. Luckily, she used to be on Twitter a lot and Instagram, and was really big on social media and had a blog. And because she’s a self portrait photographer, there was a lot of content out there in the two dimensional realm that we could pull from to create a three dimensional character. That being said, there’s only so much you really learn about a person from their social media dialogues.” Once she did meet Mills three months into production, she walked away with an interesting insight. “I really wish I had met her before because, as all of us do, she has particular mannerisms. Even if they’re small, they would have been fun to incorporate.”

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s perception of technology is optimistic. My feelings post screening was one of helplessness; we need our technology in our daily lives, and yet it’s a sort of double-edged sword as it could be used against us. Gordon-Levitt thoughtfully answered my question if shooting this changed his outlook on technology, saying “I’m pretty much an optimist when it comes to technology. I was raised to embrace computers. My dad always made sure that we had a computer in the house growing up. My brother was a computer programmer, in fact. I tend to think that the new technology available to us impacts our lives in a lot of positive ways. I think doing this movie did make me stop and think though, hey maybe it’s not all 100% positive. In addition to those positives, there could be some downsides. Really, that’s the truth with any technology. If you look back in history, any new powerful technology, there’s always sort of the ways that it gets used for good, and the ways that it maybe gets used not for good. I honestly don’t think I was paying that much attention to that before focusing on Edward Snowden.”

1. They filmed under a fake title to avoid government scrutiny. Eagle-eyed audiences (myself included), will spot a clapboard in the end credits that reads “Sacha.” Stone, who was impressed I caught that detail, matter-of-factly stated, “Well, you don’t want to put the name Snowden out there. That’s bad enough. That’s true, Sacha. The Russian lawyer’s son was called Sacha so I looked at him and I said, “Let’s call it Sacha.”

SNOWDEN is now playing.

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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.