With names like Ben Affleck, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman associated with it, “Gone Baby Gone” sounds like it ought to be the type of huge blockbuster normally associated with Alan Ladd Jr. Instead, Affleck’s directorial debut is anything but.
For starters, “we do not have any special effects,” the first-timer says.
Shot on location in Affleck’s beloved Boston, and starring his brother Casey, the film is a procedural crime drama with an intriguing moral twist. Ladd already had bought the rights to another Dennis Lehane book, “Prayers for Rain,” when Affleck approached him about adapting “Gone Baby Gone,” which featured the same lead characters.
“I went over and had a meeting with him and told him, ‘I don’t know that I can write a script that’s any good, and if I can’t, I don’t want any money,'” Affleck recalls.
But Ladd trusted his gut, as he’d previously done with such actors-turned-helmers as Ron Howard and Mel Gibson, and not only bought Affleck’s script, but hired him to direct as well. “Actors have amazing insights, and they make very good directors,” the producer notes.
Affleck had himself worked with many top helmers. “I think he’s learned from their mistakes as well as from what they do well,” says Ladd. “Actors are like sponges — they take all that stuff in. And when they get on a stage, they try not to commit the same sins.”
Ladd’s instincts about Affleck as a director proved correct. “He knew exactly what he was doing,” Ladd says. “He knew where a camera should go and what he was looking for. There was no wandering around the set, as I’ve seen other directors do, saying, ‘Well, what do I shoot next?'”
Having someone with Ladd’s experience behind the project made Affleck’s job that much easier, he says. “As a director, you’re trying to navigate the studio, which is something Laddie really understands very well, because he’s been the studio himself.”
And having a smaller film to navigate was all the more satisfying for Ladd. “It’s simpler, but more fun,” he says. “You try to assemble a cast and crew that are all top-notch, but you don’t have the money to pay anybody. So you have to get down on your knees and grovel a bit.”