The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer on the Complexities Of Organizing Multiple Directors and Units to Make ‘Cloud Atlas’
Posted on Monday, October 22nd, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four part series in /Film’s interview with Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, the writers and directors of Cloud Atlas. Look for a new part each day leading up to the film’s release October 26.
Film fans would be hard-pressed to find two more perfect late nineties movies than The Matrix and Run Lola Run. Both were groundbreaking, visually stunning and instantly memorable. Each officially announced its director(s) as a force to be reckoned with. Those directors, of course, are Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. Since then, each director has made several solid films (Heaven and Perfume for Tykwer, Speed Racer and the Matrix sequels for the Wachowskis) but none have quite lived up to the insurmountable heights of those signature films.
That changes with Cloud Atlas, a sweeping, epic film that challenges the way stories are told all together. Based on a novel by David Mitchell, Tykwer and the Wachowskis took six radically different but related stories and rearraged them to be digested as one fluid story. The film jumps from one timeline to another, with each scene informing and enlightening the previous one, even though they’re set in totally different periods and genres. Actors portray upwards of six roles, each giving the viewer a hint of how these beings relate to each other, and how they affect the others – and human history – in radical and exciting ways.
How is a film of that magnitude possible? Here, in the first part of our interview, the directors talk about the difficulties of shooting a three-hour movie with six separate stories simultaneously in different parts of the world and then putting it all together into one cohesive story. Check back later this week for the rest of the interview.
/Film: I’ve got to say I felt a little bad, because I saw four movies this week and I can’t think of any of them, because I’m still thinking about CLOUD ATLAS. The thing I wanted to talk about first is the editing. The movie quickly starts jumping from story to story; it moves so fast. I got such a rush watching it, because of that. Is that something… I mean it’s obvious for me to watch it and have that feeling. Do you get that feeling in the editing room when you guys are sitting there with your editor and you’re finally seeing all of these parts come together in the ways that you planned for so long? Do you get that rush that the audience would get?
Lana Wachowski: We got it first in the writing, and actually first in the creation of the structure where we started thinking that it could work. Just putting the cards suddenly next to each other and going “Wouldn’t that be an amazing cut?!?!” I mean there were cuts that we had from the very beginning when we first sat down and made all of the cards and put them next to each other. Then there was a process of excitement when we started designing the film and thinking about it. He came in with this idea of this beautiful dissolve from Frobisher to Sixsmith reading the letters and those sorts of transitions and cuts and connections happened in the planning of it and then the third form of pleasure… and this is great, because when David Mitchell saw the movie, he was like “You take something that is a ubiquitous element of structure like a sentence,” an edit is like a sentence and he said “You turn it into this secret pleasure, that is like a gift and if you think about each one and you see them all it’s like you’re constantly getting these presences through the whole movie that’s just in the nature of the juxtaposition and the connection.”
Absolutely. That’s exactly how I felt about it.
Tom Tykwer: If you’re talking about the editing, it’s also you have to point out that Alex [Berner], who did it, did an enormous job. It was enormous. He had to collect material from two main units shooting, constantly burying him with material every day, like tons of hours and he kept up with it. We were in it in this particular way, but having someone who always knew while we were actually discussing it in the editing room and thinking about ideas who always was on top of it. “Oh, I know where that is” and picking the pieces together from this huge tree of material and always knowing where to root it. It was a real luck. It was a real true find that we got him in this space.
It was like the three became the four of us, which is like what the whole process was. Even with the DPs or the production designers, it was always like “Can you join our circle of creative love and share in the joy of sharing?” He was amazing. I mean always consider the amount of stuff that had to work on his mind and three minds separately were coming at him with “I have this idea. Let’s try this…” and then we could always take a break, at least a thinking break, but he was all constantly thrown at with ideas.
So [Tom is] shooting half the movie and [Andy and Lana] are shooting the other half of the movie, what were some of the things you had to keep in mind to keep it cohesive? Did you want them to live separately, as they are separate genres, or were there certain principles you had to keep in mind as you were filming to make sure it all gelled?
Andy Wachowski: We were in constant communication. We had prepped the movie and we had planned the movie together and we knew where we were making specific transitions from story to story, but, you know, we were there with our Skype pads doing camera moves and always reviewing each other’s dailies and saying “That’s a good idea, I’m going to use that for this.”
Tykwer: For us, it was really important to… Filmmaking in the entirety of its process… We’d been working four years constantly on this. I mean we started reading the novel six years ago and we starting writing the script basically four years ago, which means this is the period of time we spent with this. Of this, it’s a bit more than three and a half months of filming, which is comparatively very little.
Of course the way we work, because we are very much prep driven directors, we like a lot of prep, we enjoy very much the designing part of it, we love getting all of these people involved that bring in their ideas. We cast the movie close together with Laura Kennedy and really met every actor, the three of us. It was always this situation where there’s this one guy and three directors. Every situation was like that. Every rehearsal was done like that. Then you go and you feel like the shooting, even though of course there’s still stuff that you can make decisions on with each other, the shooting mostly belongs to the actors. I mean the most important element that then happens is what they come up with and what they discover throughout the filming process itself and so we feel like because we had done our homework, which we felt we did, it was really a great ground for them to then step on and fill it with their life and their particularness. And then you go, and even though we didn’t always see each other every day, but sometimes we were on the same stages next door to each other, that of course was very nice, the most beautiful days. If we had been able to maybe afford it, we would have ended up having shot everything with the three of us, but it was technically and economically… It would have been insane and would have expanded the shooting period to a hundred and twenty-five days, on which you wouldn’t have gotten all of these big name actors for the little money they got.
Check back Tuesday for part two, where I ask if Cloud Atlas is a love letter to the arts.