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The secrets of 'Collateral'

Director Michael Mann reveals much in DVD

From Doug Ganley

Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in "Collateral."
Jamie Foxx
Tom Cruise
Michael Mann

NEW YORK (CNN) -- "Collateral" has paid off.

The film, which starred Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, was both a critical favorite and box office success when it was released in August. Now the kudos are paying off in award nominations, including a recent best director award for the film's helmer, Michael Mann, from the National Board of Review, and a Golden Globe nomination for co-star Jamie Foxx.

"Collateral" was released on DVD December 14. CNN's Doug Ganley sat down with Mann to talk about the film and the extras on the DVD release.

CNN: What does it mean to you to get an award like the National Board of Review's?

MICHAEL MANN: I think ... it's very significant to be honored this way by the National Board of Review. Particularly ... because they've been around for a long time. It's a really responsive group and it's very significant.

CNN: What does an award mean to the movie nowadays?

MANN: It makes your day. ... If something truly moves me and I did my job and well enough, it moves other people too, and that's nice to know. ...

You have to have your eye on the ball and the eye on the ball is the work, so ultimately the validation must come from the work. You have to do the work for the work. But it's great, you know."

CNN: What does the DVD offer?

MANN: DVDs offer us this fabulous ability to get behind the experience of the film. [You] see some of the thinking that went behind some of the craft work and some of the dedication and all this. In a way, you could almost become part of the group that's making it.

I [wanted to] do a documentary that's really about [how a film is really made]: why I'm trying to make you feel a certain way without knowing you're feeling that way by manipulating the background that's going past Tom's head just before he dies ... or how we wanted to see in the dark in ways that motion picture film can't do and here's how we went about [it]. (Mann shot much of the film in digital video and wanted to give Los Angeles a particularly colorful neon look.) ...

And it's got a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff with Tom's training and Jaime's training so that he could get the sense of driving a cab for 14 years everyday of the week [and get a feel for the vehicle]. ... And then Tom gaining the physical skills ... a lot of the weapons training.

But the other skills are also in this too. ... We had exercises in which [Cruise] was a FedEx delivery man and we'd have hidden cameras and his mission was to pick something up, make a delivery to somebody in, say, a very crowded central market in downtown Los Angeles, without that person realizing he was Tom Cruise. All of that's in there.

Director Michael Mann works with Jamie Foxx on the set of "Collateral."

CNN: So you're opening up the curtain and letting the audience see in the back. Do you enjoy that?

MANN: I do if it's interesting. If it's just "everybody's wonderful," no. But if it's substantial, yeah, I do. [And so we] try to make it substantial.

CNN: You're not afraid of exposing any trade secrets?

MANN: I don't think [they're] secrets as it is. [They're] a fascinating look into how people do this and what's on their mind and what they really care about and the frustrations of it and the difficulty of it. It's not easy. And I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about everybody, everybody working on the picture.

CNN: What was the biggest challenge for you as a director?

MANN: In this film there were three. One was how much could I get you to understand that you feel all the dimensions of the other person. ... How much can I manipulate this short, intense 10 hours to make you feel all the dimensions, all the history about Vincent without necessarily you knowing that you're doing it, but still you feel that you know. ...

Secondly was the change of registers. The film goes from pretty, I think pretty moving -- and it's in the screenplay this way -- pretty moving events like the death of Daniel. [But] when [Cruise's character] shoots him, and it goes from uh real pathetic tragedy to some outrageous comedy without any transition, and could I change registers without compromising either one.

And maybe the third challenge for me was evolving the hardware, the technology to be able to see into the night and I could get that on a video monitor.

CNN: Jamie Foxx is really coming into his own ...

MANN: This is Jamie's year. I mean, [Golden Globe nomination for] supporting actor in "Collateral," and his work in "Ray" is wonderful, it's just wonderful.

CNN: How good of a villain is Tom Cruise?

MANN: He's great. It's a great prescription to have an actor explore places he's not been, to be on a frontier because it just charges everything up, so Tom's work in "Magnolia," for example, is terrific, and I think his work in "Collateral" is just fabulous. It's way more dimensional than people realize. He's doing three things in some of these scenes at the same time. It's very, very complex and very difficult and I just think he did a spectacular job.

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