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'Cloud Atlas' Q & A: Wachowskis and Tykwer Talk Indie European Filmmaking, Multiple Roles (VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 26, 2012 at 4:28PM

While "Cloud Atlas" is meeting mixed response, the three-hour epic was a delirious joyride for me. Truth is, except for the flat "V for Vendetta" and the final pixel-struck "Matrix" movie, I've admired all of the Wachowskis' output, even "Speed Racer." These filmmakers have it all: strong writing chops, an instinct for entertaining audiences, and compelling visual style. They know how to create characters you care about, to fashion an engrossing narrative that carries you along, and to make your eyes pop with stunning cinematography. What they saw in David Mitchell's novel "Cloud Atlas" was an opportunity to weave six seemingly disparate but related stories in vastly different time zones into a sumptuous cinematic feast.
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Keith David and Halle Berry shooting "Cloud Atlas"
Courtesy of Pacific Cost News Keith David and Halle Berry shooting "Cloud Atlas"


TT: It's her backstory, it's in the same movie.

AW: Or even more simple she's the native slave and then is Dr. Ovid in the neo-soul sequence, where she's basically helping the underground railroad of fabricants to move along into the real world.

AT: So in organizing the six stories, obviously you were adapting a book, you shuffled your index cards.  Was it in the post-editing phase that you figured out the actual structure of the movie or was it close to what you had written?

AW: it was a constant sanding down, the script -- there are things in the script we cut, certain pierce of the story together they were rock solid we knew they would not change, but then as you move along as you get into the pre-production phase, you get out your next grade sandpaper, it gets a little finer and you get into the editing room and there are some problems we had with tone, you couldn't cut from Cavandish doing something very slap-sticky to a cannibal eating baby, necessarily, even though there was a piece of dialogue in those two scenes that connected it brilliantly in the script, maybe it didn't work so good.

AT: Some of the transitions are absolutely stunning, just exhilarating to see.

TT: And that was big process in the editing of course we did have some big discoveries in the editing -- if that transition doesn't work, is it just the tone change or can we make it work differently? We realized that we couldn't cut from a dramatic moment once.  It was the scene in the 30s where there is the composer, because it was the same actor, because you see Jim going to Jim. And you can switch tone but there is still an interconnected substance.

AW: Or Nurse Noaks and Bill Smoke.

AT: My favorite is Broadbent. Could pull out one of those six strands, was that ever discussed?

TT/AW: No, no.

AT: Because everything was too woven together?

AW:  The movie was the same genetic material as the book, so if you're breaking done the book, the genetic material of the book, and rebuilding it structrually different for a mosaic, the thematics are transferable.  But if you end up taking out those chains, we think it would fall apart.  I mean the they did characters, the way we apply actors in the different roles, we think it would have broken down.

LW: We even had this idea of the trans-migration of soul, we thought that it was kind of interesting we thought the transmigration of art form from one medium to another medium.

AT: Did you feel a certain freedom? Warner Bros. helped you do this, you couldn't have done it without their $25 million.

LW: The freedom came out of the transcendence from our conventional approach by bringing Tom in.  He made a movie about threesomes called "Dry' that reinvigorated the couple.  He came in and it was like another -- it expanded the playground in this way Andy and I hadn't yet experienced.  That was a gift.  It has been sad to have it end, as hard as this movie was, and I'll tell you, it was one of the hardest things we've ever done, it was also one of the most joy-filled, mind-opening, heart-expanded experiences of my life.

AT: And you'll carry it forward then, in a good way? What's your plan?

AW: Just going forth with love in our hearts.

LW: Hope there are people like you out there that go to see that film… There is something what we love about the idea of what if no one goes to see this movie.

AT: My question is what was the most expensive of the six episodes -- is it the period piece or the futuristic piece with all the visual effects?

TT: I don't think we know.

AT:  Some people call this movie New Age, what do you think of this?

LW:  Again the categorization, the desire to define things.  When we were young, the books that we read that informed the love of narrative were quite long sprawling books.  Dickens had to be called Dickensian because he was so beyond everything else that was out there, you had to invent an adjective to define him because he was so undefinable.  Victor Hugo - "Les Miserables" - was such an immense sprawling work that it almost helped to hold French society together because everyone could embrace the France represented by that book.  I have never been very attracted to super minimalized works of art that are about very small things.  There are some very elegant ones but they aren't the ones I go to again and again to reencounter my sense of self, my identity.  I've read "Moby Dick"  pretty much my entire life and every time I read it, I find something new and extraordinary that I can't believe I missed the least time I read it.

TT: When you say New Age, for us it was very important and it was strong in the book that you know that you can read the book and the film both from a secular and also from a spiritual persecutive and it makes sense in both ways, because it's very much trying invite the individual that's open minded to wrap their head around it and make their own thing of it.  It's an offer rather than a delivery.

AW: How about omni-age.

AT: I think your achievement here is actually how accessible and fun and utterly open to interpretation this is.  You're not hammering anyone on the head with anything. I did not get New Age from this at all, at all.  I wasn't even that obsessed with what the interconnections were - I got caught up in each character and their arc and story and where they were going.

LW: Yeah, we like that. That there's room for these other, like Dickens you can connect to any facet.  That's what's joyful about it.

This article is related to: Cloud Atlas, Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.