interview with Larry and Andy Wachowski
Nat Whilk and Jayson Whitehead
Gadfly January 1998
| The 1996 Bound established
first-time directors Larry and Andy Wachowski as some
of the more inventive filmmakers in cinema today. With
their debt to history (Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston,
Billy Wilder), their inexperience ("We're college
dropouts") and their unconventionality ("We
like Roger Corman movies"), they bear more resemblance
to movie directors of yesteryear than the often bland
film school products of today. The Wachowski brothers
took a time-out from their new movie, The Matrix
starring Keanu Reeves, to talk with us about their films
and the movies and directors that have influenced them.
Gadfly: Everybody's influenced by the past. Some of your
shots are great in Bound. What films moved
you to develop your cinematic view? Was it Orson Welles,
something you learned in film school, or what?
Larry: Well, we're college drop-outs. I don't know, we
really like Billy Wilder movies. Sunset Boulevard
made a huge impression when I saw it when I was young.
Same with Lost Weekend. I always really liked Hitchcock
movies a lot.
Andy: Strangers on a Train.
Gadfly: That's great film.
Larry: A great movie. And they're trying to remake it.
I just can't understand that. Psycho's a great
Andy: We're great fans of Polanski. Repulsion is a great, great movie. A great-looking movie.
Larry: Huston is another big one from the past. Huston
movies. Treasure of the Sierra Madre was always
one of my top ten picks.
Gadfly: How about Scorsese, people like that?
Larry: More modern?
Probably like early Coppola stuff, Godfather...
Andy:...and Conversation. We were heavily influenced
by that toilet scene. (laughs)
Gadfly: How did both of you get started in the film industry?
Larry: We read Roger
Corman's book How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood
and Never Lost a Dime and were inspired. We like Roger
Corman's movies. (laughs) And we wanted to try to make
a low-budget horror movie, so we wrote a script that was
called Carnivore, and it's about eating the rich.
We thought that it was probably too expensive to make
when we finally finished it, so we showed it to some people,
and some agents really liked it, but they asked us to
write something more commercial. And then we wrote Assassins.
It got a lot of attention. It got made, sort of.
Gadfly: Did you like the way Assassins turned out?
Larry: It was horrible. We call it our abortion. It happens
all the time, I imagine, but we were very unhappy with
the rewrite. And we tried to take our names off of the
movie and found out that you don't actually have the right
to take your names off. The Writers' Guild doesn't protect
that right. And we got into this big feud about using
pseudonyms. The studio gets to decide whether or not they
will let you use a pseudonym, and in the end they wouldn't.
And that was all rather unfortunate. But it got made.
Gadfly: Did you have any trouble getting Bound to the screen?
Larry: As much trouble probably as most movies have. All
movies, I think, have trouble. It's a strange thing getting
a movie made. It takes a lot of good fortune and things
coming together at the right moment. I mean, Bound
totally almost fell apart if it wasn't for those two women
saying they would do it. Jennifer Tilly didn't want to
be Violet. She wanted to be Corky. We flew out to where
she was and it was like the last, last shot, and we tried
to convince her to be Violet. We thought we did a really
bad job of it...
Andy: To this day, she couldn't
tell us a reason why she said yes.
Larry: She did, and "God bless her." But that's
really the main reason it got made. Because they both
said yes. And that was hard, because no actresses were
really interested in the parts.
Gadfly: Why was that? Was it because of the sexual orientation
Larry: Yep, pretty much. I mean, you can sort of understand
their position because they're heavily influenced by agents
and managers when a slightly controversial thing comes
along. We were first-time directors, and it could have
easily been cheesy soft-core porn. It was a big leap in
faith for those two women to say, "Sure, we'll do
it." But we thought, well, the script seems to work
well, and so many scripts don't work well...
Andy: Yeah, we were actually disappointed in the outcome.
You know, we'd have appointments scheduled for that day,
and women would just not even show up, and we imagined
that they'd read the script on the way over and get to
the sex scene and the script would go flying out the window.
Gadfly: Do you think the lesbian theme ultimately helped
or hindered the film?
Larry: From a commercial standpoint?
Larry: For whatever it was, it was about lesbians and
we weren't going to change it. People asked us to change
it. People at other studios would read the script and
say, "If you change Corky to a man we're really interested."
And we were like, well, that movie's been made a million
times, so we're really not interested in it. And in terms
of the movie overall, we think it works pretty well.
Gadfly: The screenplay was very, very good, but do you
think it would have worked the same way without your innovative
use of the camera? Don't you think the camera added a
tremendous amount to the way the movie moved along?
Larry: I think so. We're of
the opinion that film is still first and foremost a graphic
medium and should be about images more than it should
be about talking heads. Talking heads are nice and all,
don't get me wrong, but novels do talking heads a lot
better than movies do. And I think that movies should
take advantage of the fact that they are about images
and pictures. I don't think people take advantage of that
enough. It always disturbs us when people criticize Bound
for being too stylized. Nobody ever criticizes movies
for being totally boring-looking like an ABC after-school
Gadfly: Well, we criticize them for that. After I saw
Bound, the first thing I thought was how in the world
did you guys get the camera to move down that telephone
cord into the next room? Was that computer graphics or
Larry: No, that was a speed aperture device. It's a pretty
cool little device that is very cheap but nobody really
uses. We really like it. We used it three times in the
movie actually. It changes the speed of the camera and
opens the aperture so you can shoot at different speeds
in the same shot.
Gadfly: Another thing I noticed when I was watching the
film was that a lot of the camera shots start very high
and are shot down at the characters. Was there a special
reason for that?
Larry: Uh, we think it looks cool? (laughs) You know,
when we started the movie, we had the idea that the opening
shot was going to be this down-shot of a closet where
you really wouldn't know where you were exactly and you'd
be trailing along this pull chain which would be giant
in the foreground, and we wanted foreground and background,
and we wanted the closet to seem like it was a hundred
feet deep. And that sort of overhead feeling carried over
into the rest of the movie.
Andy: It's about the boxes people make of their lives
as well, and we wanted actually to be able to see that
Gadfly: Was that the philosophy of the movie? You know,
you mentioned all those great directors of the past. They
all had a philosophy. What was your philosophy?
Larry: We think that
not only gay people or queer people live in closets. Everybody
does. We all tend to put ourselves into these boxes, these
traps. And so what we tried to do is we tried to define
as many of the characters through the sort of trap that
they were making out of their lives. Getting out of the
closet was meant to take on a bigger meaning than just
the typical gay meaning.
Gadfly: When you decide to make a film, what is your purpose?
What do you set out to do when you're writing the film
or directing it? With Bound you didn't think you were going to have a Spielberg
blockbuster, did you?
Larry: No, but we don't want to be Jim Jarmusch either.
I think you need to have a certain financial responsibility
when you make a movie because it's such an expensive medium.
If you put up all the money yourself, then you should
be able to do whatever you want. But if you go and you
get all these other people's money, then you should be
trying to at least turn a profit of some kind. So we didn't
think that we were going to be Spielberg with Bound, but we thought that it could make money.
I suppose our first thought is always that we want to
make a movie that's never been mad—just something
that's different. We go to the movies all the time. We
see almost every movie out, and they are just so boring
often and so unchallenging and uninteresting and take
no chances... And put as much violence in as we can. (laughs)
Gadfly: How much was your budget on the film?
Larry: Four and a
Gadfly: Bound was an excellent film. It was innovative,
it was new, it had that fresh nice feel to it. There's
always that big question of the sell out, the big-budget
type thing where the motive becomes less innovative and
more to make the money to establish yourselves. Do you
feel that tug and pull now?
Andy: Well, we did. But the fact is we've been basically
sitting on this movie for three years. We finished making
Bound two and a half, three years ago. The Matrix
is the movie we wanted to make.
Larry: It's a big-budget movie,
but just to give you an idea that it's not a typical big-budget
movie, not another studio in the entire freakin' city
wanted to make it. It took Warner Brothers, who has sort
of been the studio that has been backing us more than
anybody else—it took them like two years to finally
understand the script. We had to go and draw the whole
movie. So we have this gigantic storyboard book that has
every single scene almost, and we finally showed it to
the heads at Warner Brothers and they're like, "Whoa,
hmm, wow, wow." (laughs)
Andy: Great imagery.
Gadfly: It seems like any time a movie—especially
an independent movie—is about crime that it's immediately
Larry: Yeah, and
it makes us barf like nobody's business. He's like suddenly
THE crime guy, the only guy. I was like, what the hell,
nobody made a crime movie before him? I mean, the Coens
were fucking there first. And Billy Wilder, if you go
back. It's disgusting.
Andy: Not to mention it's so frustrating because he takes
the exact opposite approach as us. He cares nothing but
for super-stylized dialogue, and that's sort of what he's
about. Where he puts the camera—it's just a steady-cam
everywhere—he doesn't care about that at all. We
think that's fine, but it's the exact opposite of the
way that we approach a movie.
Larry: It's rather frustrating.
Gadfly: What you're saying is you approach film as a total
medium, like Hitchcock...
Larry: Hitchcock storyboarded
everything. He thought the image came first, and I totally
Gadfly: How about the comparisons that inevitably are
made between you and the Coen brothers then?
Andy: It's flattering. I mean, they're great. They made
five, maybe six great movies... We've made one okay movie.
(laughs) I think a lot of [the comparison] comes because
we're brothers and people just like to lump people together.
Gadfly: I also thought the use of sound was really inventive
in Bound. Was there anything that influenced you
Larry: We like sound a lot. Thanks. We worked really hard
on that. You know, we didn't have any money, and [sound
designer] Dane Davis got as into it as we did. We think
you should push sound the way that you push images with
film. It's sort of an unused part of cinema right now
because everybody just pumps music as loud as possible.
Like The Conversation—that was such a great
use of sound to tell a story. You know, the gurgling of
the toilet when it finally gurgles up. It's just tremendous.
Gadfly: How many days did it take you to shoot Bound?
Larry: Initially we had 38.
Gadfly: As I remember, The Big Sleep was shot in
like 36 days.
Larry: It's hard. It's a hard schedule. You've got to
move the camera in complicated ways. And you really need
your actors to cooperate.
Andy: And by the end of the day you'd already thrown out
your shot list because there's no way in hell you're going
to get everything you want.
Larry: We did about 12 shots a day. (laughs)
Gadfly: When you made Bound, and the people at
Warner Brothers or whatever saw it, what was their initial
Larry: Well, it was shock, because
they had just come out with Diabolique and spent
50 or 60 million dollars making it, and they remarked
that we made the same movie, but for four and a half.
Andy: And they said it was way better.
Gadfly: Are you working on any future projects besides
Andy: Not really. We did a screenplay of a comic book
that we really like for Warner Brothers called V for
Vendetta. Alan Moore wrote this comic book at the
beginning of his career which we like a lot about anarchy
and totalitarian England. It's pretty cool.
Gadfly: So comic books had a big impact on you?
Gadfly: Listen, we think you made a great film and when
you're rich and famous in about five years...
Gadfly: ...remember Gadfly magazine, because we
really liked your film.