Comic-Con International 2016 - "Snowden" Panel
Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Zachary Quinto attend the "Snowden" panel during Comic-Con International 2016 at San Diego Convention Center, on July 21, 2016. Kevin Winter—Getty Images

Snowden's Oliver Stone and Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Pokemon Go and Surveillance

Jul 21, 2016

Three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone and the cast of his upcoming film Snowden discussed the privacy issues that affect everyone with a smartphone—especially those playing Pokemon Go—during a panel for the film at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday.

The film follows the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who after initial hesitations cooperated with Stone on the film. During the panel, which included stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Zachary Quinto, one audience member asked what the cast members and Stone thought of the security concerns associated with the popular mobile game Pokemon Go, eliciting laughs from the audience.

"It's not really funny. What's happening is a new level of invasion," the director said. "The profits are enormous here for places like Google. They've invested a huge amount of money in data mining—what you are buying, what you like, your behavior. It's what some people call surveillance capitalism." Eventually, he says, that information will allow corporations to manipulate our behavior. "That is what they call totalitarianism."

Stone said that he had trouble getting funding for the film. "It was turned down by every major studio. The script was good, the budget was good, the cast was good," the director said. "We call it self-censorship. I don’t think there was an enemy like the NSA lurking in the background. It was self-censorship." Indeed, he chose to film the entire project abroad.

Though Stone assured the audience that the government's perspective is included in the project, all the actors on the panel said that they agreed Snowden was a patriot, not a traitor (with the caveat, as Gordon-Levitt put it, that the situation is more complicated than a tweet or a headline would make them).

"The question is we’re promised privacy in the constitution and if the government is going to change those rules, they need to be open about that," said Gordon-Levitt, who donated his acting fee on the movie to the ACLU.

The movie, which will screen for the first time at Comic-Con on Thursday night to a private audience, will likely generate headlines. "I really didn't want to do this film," Stone, who has made several controversial biopics, said. "If it's current, you get killed with lawsuits. Often what happens is even the protagonist turns against you. I've had trouble with rock movies—the egos are amazing." But Stone changed his mind after he met Snowden three different times.

For his part, Snowden showed very little interest in the movie. "I met him for the first time in late January of 2014," says the director. "Over the period of three more meetings until may, it was a process of cat and mouse, of him trusting the process. he wasn't particularly interested in the movie."

But he eventually agreed, and Gordon-Levitt, who plays the man in the film, met him. The actor, who called Snowden "an old-fashioned gentleman," said he was surprised by his positive outlook. "He's actually really optimistic about technology and the future," the actor said.

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