To avoid any confusion as to what the basic idea of what The Wachowski Siblings (Lana and Andy) and Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas might be, they released an extraordinarily long trailer – almost two and a half minutes longer than the average trailer. Still, a movie that has actors playing multiple characters in six multigenerational intersecting storylines may be a little difficult for the average audience member to grasp.
Now in a profiling interview with The New Yorker, the Wachowski Siblings are detailing the entire (the good and the bad) filmmaking process.
Before the Wachowskis and Tykwer could start the task of filming the unfilmable, they had to take care of some major issues. Developmental problems including important members of the cast being ill, pitching the ambitious project to studios and actors, securing financing, and dealing with problems on the set, which included weather problems and temperamental waters. You can read more on this and the Wachowskis themselves in prolific article in The New Yorker.
When describing Mitchell’s novel, both Wachowski’s had this to say:
“‘Cloud Atlas’ is a twenty-first-century novel,” Lana said. “It represents a midpoint between the future idea that everything is fragmented and the past idea that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.” As she spoke, she was screwing and unscrewing two halves of some imaginary thing—its future and its past—in her hands. If the movie worked, she continued, it would allow the filmmakers to “reconnect to that feeling we had when we were younger, when we saw films that were complex and mysterious and ambiguous. You didn’t know everything instantly.” Andy agreed. “‘Cloud Atlas’ is our getting back to the spectacle of the sixties and seventies, the touchstone movies,” he said, rubbing his bald dome like a magic lantern. The model for their vision, they explained, was Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which the Wachowskis had first seen when Lana, then Larry, was ten and Andy seven.
Nearly eight years since the novel’s release, we are now at this point where the film weeks away from release. The novel was first introduced to the Wachowskis by Natalie Portman, while they served as second unit director’s for James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta. The two instantly fell in love with the book and were “drawn to the scale of its ideas, to its lack of cynicism, and to the dramatic possibilities inherent in the book’s recurring moments of hope.”
But the biggest problem that stood in their way, was the narrative structure for the novel. The chapters start off chronologically but towards the middle of the book it reverses and ends where it all began. To alleviate this problem, the Wachowskis’ broke down the scenes on multicolored index cards and spread them across the floor, with each color representing a different aspect of the story, character, or time period. Even with trying to write for a film that seemed unfilmable, the two were able to crack the code and start writing.
They discovered that by having the same actors playing in different storylines, they would be able to convey the story much easier. According to Tykwer, these actors were “playing souls, not characters.” But as appealing as the chance was to play six different roles, the Wachwoskis’ admitted that film star Tom Hanks was a little bit hesitant about the film:
“The script was not user-friendly,” he told me. “The demands it put upon the audience and everybody, the business risk, were off the scale.”
However, Lana revealed that she reeled him in by saying Cloud Atlas is like a combination of Moby-Dick and 2001: Space Odyssey.
Now that they got a few actors on board, they still had to cross another major hurdle: distribution. The siblings were already sent back by Warner Bros. to fix some of the narritve problems’ plaguing the film, but after scoring Hanks for six roles, they came back insisting “that a project as narratively complex as “Cloud Atlas” had no precedent and therefore no template.” They also presented the idea that “individual acts of kindness have unforeseeable repercussions.” With that WB was on board, but now came the most difficult issue: securing financing.
The Wachowskis’ projected the budget for Cloud Atlas be around $120 million. So they searched for more investors and distributors. But with just as many investors putting money in, just as many were also pulling out. But then they sent the script to James Schamus, the head of Focus Features, NBCUniversal’s art-house-films division. After reading the script, he offered to handle all the international distribution for the film.
Here’s how he describes the script:
“The true genius of the screenplay is that it’s ridiculously narrative. They’ve managed to keep almost every little block of storytelling a cliffhanger. They’ve managed to make you feel the kind of propulsive movement that makes you want to keep coming back.”
When Schamus presented a long cut of the film to potential distributors at the 2011 Cannes, he was met with a near 45-minute conversation of enthusiastic reactions and congratulations. Despite all the positives, the film managed only to muster up $15 million and even scared off a few investors in the process. They also managed to rake in $35 million from four Asian investors. But that still wasn’t enough. Eventually, the Wachowskis’ invested some of their own money into this project. Things weren’t looking good, but the Wachowskis’ perseverance never subsided, and soon they were able to secure enough money form investors to start production for the film. By December 2011, they were able to complete principle photography for Cloud Atlas.
Three months later at a private screening for the film, WB executives gave an enthusiastic round of applause, even going as far as to track the filmmakers down just to let them know how they reacted. To which Lana said “That almost never happens.”
With that kind of a response (even from the studio execs who will distribute this film), who could really say that they don’t want to watch this film. The star power, the ambition, the fantasy, the redemption story, the romance, Cloud Atlas seems to have a little bit of everything for everybody. Cloud Atlas makes it official debut at the Toronto International Film Festival later this week, and opens in theaters on October 26th.
[Source: The New Yorker]