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Snowden was the odd man out at San Diego Comic-Con. While most filmmakers and actors visit the convention generally to promote a comic book movie or an adaptation of some kind, director Oliver Stone and Open Road Films brought a biopic about Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to Hall H. The oddity in the lineup was an hour-long discussion almost entirely dedicated to privacy, surveillance, and only briefly, Pokémon Go and totalitarianism.

Below, read our Snowden Comic-Con panel recap.

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Oliver Stone on Edward Snowden

No clips were shown during the presentation, but the panel — which included Stone, Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley (who plays Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills), and Zachary Quinto (who plays journalist Glenn Greenwald) — began with a video highlighting defining moments from Oliver Stone’s filmography. The intro was a reminder that Stone is no stranger to characters like Snowden. At one point during the montage, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) shouts he’s just trying to be “a good American,” and many of Stone’s characters would say the same about themselves. Oliver Stone, without question, believes Snowden is a good American. From everything that was said about the film and Snowden, the filmmaker’s respect for his subject was unmistakable. “I’ve seen him over the period of two years. He’s never wilted in the face of opposition,” Stone said. “He only grows stronger.” Edward Snowden is, of course, the former 29-year-old government contractor who blew the whistle on the NSA.

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How Oliver Stone made Snowden happen

The director first met Snowden in late January of 2014, in Moscow, Russia, where he’s lived in exile for almost two years now. Whether he was familiar with his work, Stone couldn’t tell. Snowden isn’t the kind of person that would say. “He keeps to himself and lives on his computer,” according to Stone. Initially, Snowden wasn’t interested in a movie about his life. His first meeting with Stone lasted four hours, and by May, after a few more meetings and after getting to know Stone, he was convinced. The director then brought in screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald, to help him tell the controversial figure’s story. Most of the budget came from France and Germany. Every studio in Hollywood turned the project down, but the director later cracked a joke that he’s not a filmmaker studios hire.

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Telling Edward Snowden’s story on the big screen

What’s apparent from the trailers and the panel is that Snowden is a movie with a lot of jargon and exposition. In addition to condensing years of someone’s life into a two-hour movie, Stone and Fitzgerald had to, to a degree, make all of that information accessible. “The screenplay was a nightmare,” Stone said. “Complications, simplifying it and keeping it interesting and exciting as a thriller. By February, we were shooting, and we kept revising the screenplay during shooting and into the editing, in fact, as I tend to do.”

What Stone doesn’t tend to do is shoot digitally. The director has been a greater supporter of shooting on film, believing film captures a more lived-in quality, brings a greater richness to the colors. “It’s not quite as good as film, but it’s good enough,” he said. In case you’re concerned Stone has forever abandoned film, that didn’t sound like the case, and some scenes in Snowden were shot on 65mm. Plus, something about telling Snowden’s story with a digital camera—the ALEXA 65, to be exact—feels right.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden

When the first trailer dropped, some people had mixed thoughts on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voice as Edward Snowden. It is a bold choice, but it made more sense in the second trailer and, I believe I can say, in the film as well. When asked if he ever did the voice for Edward Snowden, Gordon-Levitt responded he never asked him about it, although he is curious what he thinks.

Snowden is a story “that’s happening right now” and “under our noses.” Again, not the typical kind of material we see at Comic-Con, but repeatedly, Edward Snowden was referred to as a hero and a patriot. And praising a real-life hero at Comic-Con made for a welcome change of pace.

Snowden opens in theaters September 16th.

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