21 Bridges Changed A Lot As It Was Making Its Way Through Development

JK Simmon Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller in 21 Bridges

At the center of the new film 21 Bridges rests a textbook example of a high-concept plot – which is to say an idea that can be put across simply and succinctly. In this case, the story is about the island of Manhattan being totally shut down as a manhunt commences searching for a pair of criminals responsible for killing a number of police officers during a heist gone wrong.

As straight-forward as the plot is, however, it apparently took a lot of time to work out all of the details that expanded beyond the central premise. 21 Bridges is a movie that actually changed quite a lot as it made its way through both the development and production stages – as I recently learned during a sit down with the film’s director, Brian Kirk:

One of my favorite questions to ask filmmakers is in regard to how a film evolves from the first script to the final cut, and earlier this month during the Los Angeles press day for 21 Bridges I learned that it was a project that wound up being completely different than what was originally pitched.

According to Brian Kirk, the project was originally the brainchild of Adam Mervis, who wrote the original script, and it was in that version that the high-concept plot was first executed. That proved to be a solid foundation for the movie the filmmaker wanted to make, and things really started to evolve when the movie’s big star came on-board. Said Kirk,

As we began to cast the movie, and we got Chadwick involved both as an actor and as a producer, and he and I started developing the story together, and I had a desire to make a movie where everyone feels they're doing the right thing, even if clearly they're not.

Being both the lead actor and a producer, Chadwick Boseman obviously had a fair amount of sway behind the scenes and input into the film that was being made – but he wasn’t the only performer or member of the production beyond the core filmmakers who were given the chance to have their voice be heard in the development of the story..

When 21 Bridges’ ensemble was coming together, Brian Kirk not only accepted input from his high-caliber stars, including Taylor Kitsch, Stephan James, Sienna Miller, and J.K. Simmons, but he also found himself heavily influenced by the advisors who were brought aboard to ensure a certain level of reality in the production of the cops vs. robbers story. The director explained,

I wanted to pull all the actors voices and try to get them all to kind of bring their best game to the table. To that end, Taylor, Stephan, Sienna, J.K., all had levels of input into their characters - plus the NYPD advisers, all ex cops. Once they began to become involved and we really wanted to bed the movie in the most authentic place possible. So we listened to their voices, and took all of that on board.

All of this input was taken into consideration alongside the new work that was being done by screenwriter Matthew Carnahan. This further changed the movie that 21 Bridges was going to be, with Brian Kirk offering up an example by mentioning an interesting relationship that develops in the film between Andre Davis, the lead detective calling the shots during the manhunt, and Michael, one of the on-the-run criminals. Said the filmmaker,

By that time we were also working with Matthew Carnahan, wonderful writer, who kind of just elevated everything to the next level. And then as we shot the movie, and the movie, when it's working, takes on a life of its own. The dynamic between Andre, played by Chadwick, and Michael, played by Stephan, just grew and grew in strength and resonance, and affected the way that we were looking at the material significantly.

It’s a Hollywood saying that a movie is written three times: during development, during photography, and during post-production – and it turns out that’s another area where 21 Bridges is textbook.

Having described how the film changed during casting, and shooting, the last stage was editing, and Brian Kirk detailed how is process and collaboration with 21 Bridges’ editor turned the movie into what is going to be playing on big screens worldwide:

Oftentimes after working five nights, I'd sleep until two o'clock on Saturday and then go in the cutting room. I had a great editor, Tim Murrell, who was prepared to work round the clock, 24/7 and we would kind of catch up on Saturday and then reassess what we were doing the following week. In that way it just kept developing…It's all about pushing the story as far as you possibly can.

After all of that development work, 21 Bridges is now ready to be seen by audiences everywhere – and you’ll get such a chance this weekend, with the film arriving in theaters on Friday, November 22nd.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.