Jack Reacher (2012) - Sniper Shooting Scene (1/10) | Movieclips

McQ: The sniper scope is two shots laid one on top of the other—a 50mm for the sniper’s peripheral vision and a whopping 2600mm for the sniper’s POV. They’re shot at a distance of about 400 feet. The hardware of the scope itself we added in post. The entire shot was done in a continuous take and broken up later. We rehearsed one day and shot the next.


I have very particular feelings about the depiction of violence on screen. And while I wasn’t going to shy away from the inciting incident of the book, I wasn’t going to make it fun to watch either. If I was going to shoot a scene like this, it had to hurt. Meanwhile, I had to avoid blood and gore to be within the limits of an obligatory PG-13 rating (this was long before the likes of Deadpool and Joker opened up the room to R-Rated fare). I focused instead on immersion. Everything in the sequence was designed to put the audience squarely in the Sniper’s point of view, unable to look away.

The sniper who trained Tom, Robert Duvall and Jai Courtney also trained both camera operators so they could simulate the motion of a sniper rifle rather than a much heavier camera. They also trained the actors playing the victims in how to die convincingly (not dramatically, but realistically). These victims were all chosen very carefully so that at least one would instill in the viewer a sense of sympathy—not just up close when we met them later, but at a distance the instant we see them.


The finishing touches came in the mix. Don Granger asked me several times to turn down the sound of the gunshots, saying they sounded too real. I told them that was because they were real. And they were going to stay that loud, which they did. There is also no score in order to maintain the sense that this was not a movie. This was really happening. The killing was not just some plot device. It was designed to unsettle an audience largely desensitized to violence.

AVC: During Reacher’s intro in the script, we see him comfort a troubled, sad woman on a bus. Was that ever shot?


McQ: It was indeed. Sadly, that character was a victim of a poorly executed set-up to a payoff that never quite worked. One woman after another admires Reacher. When he gets to the bar where he ultimately meets Sandy, he gives an attractive server the eye and she summarily dismisses him—completely uninterested. It was meant to build him up and take him down a peg. The whole concept was just too subtle and didn’t land. What you’re seeing is the least of all evils. It taught me a lot about the vital importance of absolute simplicity and zero ambiguity in visual storytelling.

AVC: Werner Herzog is such an outside-the-box choice for a villain. How did you convince him to sign on? Was the studio onboard with that casting?


McQ: I was impressed with Neils Arestrup’s performance in A Prophet and told casting director Mindy Marin I was looking for something like that—a villain we hadn’t seen before. She immediately suggested Werner, which I thought was inspired. I also never thought he’d do it. He wasn’t remotely what I imagined—Werner is actually quite charming and not at all spooky or intimidating. He said he would be glad to be involved because he had an “intimate understanding of depraved characters.”

Jack Reacher (2012) - The Zec Scene (4/10) | Movieclips

He was a supreme pleasure to work with. He loved everything about movies and never left the set, never even took out his milky eye. He would tell stories about his misadventures to the crew—just an utterly pleasant person to have around. Occasionally, I would find myself watching the monitor and notice The Zec’s reflection over my shoulder, watching the action and my every choice intently.


AVC: Rosamund Pike makes delivering exposition seem really easy in that scene in her office with Reacher. How difficult is it to find balance between emotion vs. information in a scene like that?

McQ: I no longer think in terms of a “balance” between information and emotion. The challenge—the whole point of narrative storytelling for me—is how to convert information into emotion. The scene you’ve pointed out was a turning point for me in this regard. Its rhythms are extremely particular, very technical, with lots of specificity. As a director, I’m always searching for the simplest note, the least instruction. I figure if I’ve written the scene correctly, cast the right actor, set the right frame, I shouldn’t have to explain much about how a scene should be played.


A great example of this is when Rosamund answers the phone—her moment of realization at the desk when she begins putting the pieces together. After a few takes, all I told her to do was move as slowly as she could and never, ever stop moving until she put Reacher’s note down. The transformation was instantaneous. The rest is the actor, the lens and the frame.

Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel told me it was the most profound and effective change he’d ever seen from one take to the next. The truth is, I just minimized the technical bullshit Rosamund had to remember so she could be in the moment.


AVC: That car chase ... how challenging is it to execute such a pivotal set piece in a city whose geography may not align with what you originally envisioned when you wrote it?

Jack Reacher (2012) - 1970 Chevelle Chase Scene (6/10) | Movieclips

McQ: I let the real location tell me what the action can be. All of the action in that sequence was designed around the locations where we shot it. The real challenge was that the chase itself wasn’t in the original script. In the screenplay, Reacher steals a car, drives a few blocks, crashes and takes off on foot. Tom saw an opportunity for us to do something that redefined the film. In time it became the chase that ate Pittsburgh.


The fact that we didn’t have days in the schedule to shoot the chase was quickly remedied. We retooled our second unit into what we called “action unit.” Tom and I would shoot the dialogue scenes during the day with one crew and the car chase with another at night. Only a handful of crew members worked both units. At best, I would have two hours of sleep in the morning between wrapping action unit before starting again with main. For a few consecutive nights, Tom and I worked 24 hours straight.

AVC: Wow. So how did you prepare for that sequence?

McQ: I was never more prepared. I had story-boarded the sequence meticulously. Then the Pursuit Arm showed up—a Porsche Cayenne with a camera crane on top. When I saw what it could do, I threw out my boards and rethought the entire sequence on the fly. It was very cold in Pittsburgh and the back of that Cayenne was like a womb with a monitor in it. I’d take catnaps in there between setups.


We had four Chevies for Tom to drive—two “interior” cars with armor plating and camera mounts on the outside looking in, and two “exterior” cars which were meant to be shot from the Pursuit Arm. We’d beat those cars to hell every night and the mechanics would put them back together during the day. One night, an exterior car came back in perfect condition. The mechanics ran out of time before they could dent it up for continuity. Tom and I got in and drove down the street while the stunt guys rode along side and ran into us a few times. We were back in business.

That chase was shot over a few weeks but it feels like months in my mind—a weird fever dream.


AVC: What surprised you the most about making this film or your experience in Pittsburgh?

A few nights before we finished the chase, the ADs discovered a bar that had once catered to steel workers on the graveyard shift. It opened at 7 a.m. On the night we wrapped the sequence, Jai Courtney and I took a handful of crew that could still stand and went there to celebrate. By 8 a.m., that place was on fire—packed with locals, partying like the night would never end—a fitting conclusion to that particular sequence.


If you’re reading this: Pittsburgh, I love you.

AVC: Did you and Cruise envision Reacher being a long-running franchise like Mission?


McQ: The studio offered me the choice of doing another Reacher or what would become Rogue Nation. Tom was prepared to back whatever choice I made. I came quite close to passing on Mission (and I’m quite sure there were certain people who hoped I would).

All through Rogue, Tom and I were talking about the next Reacher. It was going to be leaner, meaner—a hard R. We were eager to do it, too. But, well, let’s just say the stars didn’t align. None of that matters, anyway. We’ll just put all that energy into something else. To quote the Zec: This is what we do.