Eye in the Sky director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender's Game) knows a thing or two about working with tense situations to give audiences a heart-pounding movie experience.
The man behind the new modern warfare movie, which stars Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and the late Alan Rickman, wanted to make an incredibly intense war movie without using exploitative scenes and imagery.
Hood made the decision to focus Eye in the Sky on a possible drone attack, incorporating the still somewhat new technology into a thrilling legal drama surrounding the ethics of war. But despite not using graphic scenes of violence, Hood wanted that adrenaline-filled experience to still be there and made sure to deliver it.
"There's a huge entertainment value to having your heart race for two hours, being on the edge of your seat the entire time," Hood said. "I'm always asking, 'Can I raise my audience's pulse rate? Can I do more than that? At the end of the experience, can I leave them with a great deal to talk about?'"
Creating a conversation starter was always Hood's goal walking into Eye in the Sky. The film, which tackles the ethical issues that arise in war, uses three different groups to debate whether or not to launch a drone attack on a couple of confirmed terrorists in Kenya. A drone strike would also cause civilian casualties.
It's a nail-biting thriller, as we wrote in our review, but it's the afterthought the film will leave audiences with that makes it even more successful. Hood said that he wanted to explore a side of war that dialogue alone often failed to capture in film, including the propaganda and fear over public reaction that grip governments.
"Can I leave them with a great deal to talk about?"
"It layers on more and more questions that need to be asked as things develop," Hood said. "We have to remember that the drone is a technical weapon, but it doesn't make it the savior in the war on terror. Lives are still being lost."
For Hood, bringing an emotional side to drone warfare was incredibly important, especially when exploring how it affects the pilots who operate drones from thousands of miles away. The drone pilot in Eye in the Sky is played by Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), who delivers a stunning emotional performance. He's faced with one of the most difficult decisions that arises, and instead of pulling away from it, Hood decided to focus on the trauma it creates for the character.
"This job as a drone pilot, although his life isn't directly at risk, it's actually more stressful because you're forced to examine what you've done," Hood said. "That's why drone pilots suffer twice of the amount of PTSD. Because you're not in physical danger and your own life isn't at risk, there's an extra weighted guilt that comes with an attack."
Hood said that in order to make Eye in the Sky as realistic as possible, the filmmakers consulted with various air force pilots who had flown drones in the U.S. Air Force, as well as British military officers and government agencies. He also stressed that although they had consultants on set for the actors to turn to, they never asked permission from the government to talk about the content that was in the film.
"Alan was a passionate, kind and witty man"
"We brought in the consultants for the actors so they could gauge if their direction was correct, but that was about it," Hood said. "For the most part, we just let Alan [Rickman] and Helen [Mirren] work."
Talking about Rickman, who passed away in January, Hood said that they were lucky to have him in the film, and that he was honored to have worked with an actor of his caliber.
"Alan was a passionate, kind and witty man," Hood said. "And a brilliant actor. What Alan does with a simple eye roll or smirk communicates more than what some actors can do with words. You just feel like you know this guy."
Hood added that Rickman was a character and that his enthusiasm and off-brand humor was something that he was going to miss dearly.
"There's no one quite like Alan," he said. "And he was crucial to this movie."
Eye in the Sky is currently playing in theaters.