"Cloud Atlas" is one of 2012's most interesting films. With six storylines (ranging from the 19th century to the post-apocalyptic future), actors like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in multiple roles, and three directors, the adaptation of David Mitchell's award-winning 2004 novel will either be one of the year's best works or one of its most confounding. (Judging from the epic, brilliant and gorgeous first trailer, hope for the former.) Which is why it's no wonder that Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer almost couldn't get "Cloud Atlas" made in the first place.
“It is hard to grasp how often this movie has been dead and resurrected,” Lana Wachowksi told Aleksandar Hemon in the latest issue of The New Yorker. "Cloud Atlas" is the most expensive independent production ever, with a budget of over $100 million. Despite Hanks, Berry, Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon in the cast, and the braintrust behind "The Matrix" trilogy as the driving creative force, the film couldn't get proper studio funding.
“The problem with market-driven art-making is that movies are green-lit based on past movies,” Lana said. “So, as nature abhors a vacuum, the system abhors originality. Originality cannot be economically modelled.”
As Andy Wachowski later echoed, while discussing the frustration of seeing investors pull out: "You bet on the movie you like because you have taste. It’s not like buying Shell Oil. You get into the movie business because you like movies. Not because you like money.”
The Wachowskis aren't the first members of the Hollywood community to discuss how difficult making anything other than a franchise film has gotten in the current economic climate.
"It is a whole different ball game. There was a mind-set back then where studios were satisfied to get a mild hit and were happy about it; it helped them build their catalogues," director Spike Lee told New York in July. "But people want films to make a billion dollars now, and they will spend $300 million to make that billion. They are just playing for high stakes, and if it is not for high stakes, they figure it is not worth their while."
Lee joked that the only way he'd be able to make "Malcolm X" today is if the minister and activist wore "tights and a cape."
Outspoken star Shia LaBeouf made similar comments about the studio mentality in a recent chat with The Hollywood Reporter.
"There's no room for being a visionary in the studio system. It literally cannot exist," LaBeouf said. "[The studios] give you the money, then get on a plane and come to the set and stick a finger up your ass and chase you around for five months."
Not that any of this -- nor the difficulty the Wachowskis and Tykwer faced while making "Cloud Atlas" -- should come as much of a surprise. Consider this quote from Adam Fogelson, chairman of Universal Pictures, in Ben Stiller's recent New Yorker profile:
The bigger the budget, the cleaner the concept needs to be. Because you need to appeal not just to all four quadrants, but to people who speak every language under the sun. So ambiguity and darkness are tough.
In the end, Warner Bros. picked up the North American distribution rights for "Cloud Atlas" and footed a portion of the budget. The rest was handled with independent investors.
For more on the making of "Cloud Atlas" and the personal lives of the Wachowskis, head over to The New Yorker website. "Cloud Atlas" debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival and arrives in theaters on Oct. 26.