An epic interview with the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer: From 'Cloud Atlas' to 'Jupiter Ascending'
Lana laughed, remembering the meeting. "At first, we were freaked out. We'd never heard that before."
Tom added, "And from Tom Hanks, of all people."
Lana continued, "'Did you just say you're doing this movie?' 'Yeah. When do we start?' 'Ummm… our people will call your people?'"
Andy smiled. "'You know what, we'll be right back.'"
One of the things I took away from that New Yorker piece was that getting this film financed was an act of will that took all three filmmakers to make it happen, and while it frustrates me that we live in a world where "sprawling science-fiction film from the makers of 'The Matrix'" is in any way a difficult decision for the money-men, it gives me some small solace to know that it is hard out there for everyone. I think the film industry is, as a business, worse right now than it has been since I moved here in 1990. It is a brutal, unforgiving marketplace right now.
"Before we went to the international money, every single studio passed," Lana offered, agreeing that it is a tough time to be pushing boundaries. I told them about my infuriating experience of trying to get a film made with Michael Clarke Duncan as the star, and how I ran into the upsetting idea that black leads are almost impossible to pitch to the international financiers. "Imagine how Spike Lee feels," Lana said. She knows there is pressure on them to make money with this film and not only for the sake of the movie, but for other filmmakers trying to push the envelope on any sort of broad canvas. "Hopefully it will inspire other people to take a few more risks. We felt that while we were making it. If this movie works, if this kind of strange international equity money from all over the world, if we somehow pull this off and it pays these people off, it will inspire other people to try the same kind of a thing, because it will prove there is an audience for this sort of risky material. And if it doesn't, then it will end up being one of those cautionary tales which will continue to reinforce the conventional wisdom that risky material is too risky."
The evening before we spoke, they had premiered the film to a huge reaction at the Princess Of Wales theater, a rare festival appearance for them. I told them I thought it was a step in the right direction. Lana laughed. "You mean the ten-minute standing ovation?"
Andy seemed moved by the response. "The only other experience we've had that was anything like that was the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in San Francisco at the Castro Theater for 'Bound.' We had 900 of our lesbian sisters standing and cheering. It was fantastic."
Lana positively beamed at the memory. "Grabbing us and hugging us and saying, 'We've been waiting for this movie our whole lives.' That was like… we thought we would never top that, which is one of the reasons we don't go to many premieres." Her voice changed a bit as she continued, "But the publicity thing is another issue…" It was obvious that she is still ambivalent about the entire notion of opening themselves up to press scrutiny, of making themselves part of the marketing, and of doing interviews in general.
I thanked them for taking the time to sit down, telling them that it's something I'd wanted to do for a while, and I said I hoped it wasn't too painful an afternoon.
Lana shook her head. "Look, we started off talking for fifteen minutes about cinema aesthetics. That was a joyful experience. Nobody even says the word 'aesthetics' in Hollywood or at press events. That's one of the reasons we left."
Andy put on a "dumb guy" voice, revving up to a question with a long "'Duuuuuhhhh, where do you get your ideas from?'"
Lana leaned forward, keen on making her point. "I love cinema. I love it as an art form. I think it's unfortunately in this place where it's in a downward trajectory, and you either have these intense, obscure art movies… like I think Roy Andersson is one of the most important filmmakers of our time period, and no one will talk about him. No one has hardly heard of him. And on the other end, you have these movies that everyone sees, and I can't find much to say about them."
It was pretty clear that the Wachowskis aren't interesting in chasing a gig like the "Justice League" movie that many fans want them to do, and I told them that it's true for any part of our industry. For example, there are things I want to write about, and there are things that drive internet traffic, and those two things aren't always the same. Finding some balance between them is part of the job of writing online in 2012, and I doubt it will change any time soon.
Lana said, "Well, that's what I wanted to say. I love that you fight to write about things that are part of that upward trajectory. We were talking about aesthetic development and '70s cinema and '2001,' and it reminds me that there was a time where I was growing up and reading Cahiers du Cinema, and I was so excited by what they were talking about. Film writing shouldn't be about snark. It's about trying to investigate cinema's potential as it relates to art." And as we stood, the interview over, Lana embraced me for a moment, then stood back.
"I read your review of 'Prometheus,' and I really liked it. But I noticed that at the start, you have like three or four paragraphs where you're talking about the business, and then the rest of it, you're talking about the art. Be aware of what a great forum you have. Less business. More art." One more embrace, and then a handshake from Andy and another from Tom, and we were done. As I headed for the door, Lana made the point one last time. "Keep on fighting the good fight, sir."