Glory Bound
An interview with Larry and Andy Wachowski
By Nat Whilk and Jayson Whitehead
From 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 movie.

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 or what?

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?

Gadfly: Yes.

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 special.

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 what?

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 stuff.

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 half million. 

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 called Tarantinoesque—

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 agree.

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 there?

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 response?

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 The Matrix

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?

Andy: Yeah.

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.