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Looper’ director Rian Johnson travels into mainstream with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis

Courtesy of MCT

Filmmaker Rian Johnson made his first independent film “Brick” for a mere $450,000 in 2005. Seven years later, he’s scheduled to release his assumed-to-be highest profile film to date on a $30 million budget: “Looper.”

A science fiction crime movie about a group of assassins that primarily deal in time travel, “Looper” is Johnson’s third film, and it finds him re-teaming with “Brick” star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and bringing in notable actors such as Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt.

In a college media conference call, Johnson spoke extensively about moving up in the filmmaking world. “Looper” represents his first significant foray into the mainstream.

After “Brick” rang in a nearly $2.1 million domestic gross at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo, Johnson said his second film “The Brothers Bloom,” which had a more than $3.5 million domestic gross in the box office according to Box Office Mojo, didn’t quite connect with audiences.

Johnson said he had plenty of independence to make “Looper” into the movie he wanted.

“We made it independently,” Johnson said. “So it was kind of exactly the same set-up as ‘Bloom’ definitely and somewhat to ‘Brick.'”

Despite this independence, there was some additional pressure when making a film that costs as much as “Looper,” Johnson said. He also said it all comes with the territory when you’re dealing with a subject such as time travel.

“As for the bump up in budget, it made sense for what this movie was,” Johnson said. “I think that’s the key to it for me. It all depends on what the movie is that you’re making.”

The filmmaker is adept at exploring strange subject matter, and he said this is the result of trying to explore different types of genres and stories, but it isn’t necessarily calculated.

“Just naturally you spend three to four years working on a movie,” Johnson said. “When you’re done with that, you’re kind of sick of it. You kind of just naturally want to find something really new to do and something new to think about … it’s not so much because of audience expectations as much as you just want to do something different.”

The inspiration for “Looper” came at a time when Johnson was into the work of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, whose material has inspired such films as “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall” and “Minority Report.” Johnson first thought up the idea for “Looper” many years ago but didn’t begin fleshing it out until after the release of “The Brothers Bloom.”

Johnson said the long period between the idea’s inception and execution ultimately helped the final product. In particular, he really latched onto the idea of Gordon-Levitt facing off against an older version of himself, who Willis portrays.

“So much life happened in (that time) that all those experiences do end up going into it and feeding into it somehow,” he said. “For me, it was kind of a way of getting to that older man/younger man dynamic of ‘I’m not going to turn into you’ versus ‘you’re so young and stupid and you’re doing everything wrong.’ I think from our 20s into our 30s we experience both sides of that.”

According to an article in Kansas’ The Morning Sun, Gordon-Levitt said he studied Willis’ movies in preparation for playing a younger version of him in “Looper.”

“I would take the audio from some of (the movies) and put them on my iPod so I could listen to them. And Bruce recorded himself doing some of my monologues and sent me the tape so I could listen to that. That really helped, but the most important thing for me was just getting to know him, hanging out, having dinner, talking. That was where I learned what I wanted to do with the character,” Gordon-Levitt told The Morning Sun.

Johnson said he still has a very close relationship with Gordon-Levitt, and that the lead character in “Looper” was always meant for him.

“He’s one of my closest friends,” Johnson said. “That’s always nice. But also we’re friends who, whenever we get together and hang out, a lot of times there’s something creative that we’re doing.”

Johnson also said he is optimistic that his and Gordon-Levitt’s creativity with “Looper” has a chance to become the norm rather than the exception in Hollywood.

“There actually is a real sense from a business point of view that audiences are starting to catch on,” Johnson said. “Audiences are not just snapping up the latest thing if it doesn’t look interesting. I think there is a real, genuine hunger out there for stuff that audiences will spark to.”

“Looper” is scheduled to hit theaters Friday.

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