What does it take to produce “The Matrix Resurrections”?
This is the question that occurred to James McTeigue, a longtime Wachowskis collaborator who is returning to produce “The Matrix Resurrections,” Lana’s solo feature film directorial debut. McTeigue has been a close associate of the Wachowskis since the first “The Matrix” movie, where he served as first assistant director. He held the same role in the two sequels to “The Matrix” in 2003 and directed “V for Vendetta” and “Ninja Assassin,” films that the Wachowskis produced and wrote. He returned to work on “Speed Racer” and on Wachowski’s Netflix series “Sense8,” where he directed episodes alongside Lana and Lily and another frequent collaborator, Tom Tykwer.
It was at the end of “Sense8” that the idea of The Pit was formed, a kind of hive mind that includes Lana, novelist David Mitchell (who wrote “Cloud Atlas”), Aleksandar Harmon and Tykwer. The Pit returned for “The Matrix Resurrections”, imagining a story in which Neo was once again bored, the office drone Thomas Anderson (now a slightly famous video game designer), who must step out of his rut, accept the truth. that machines control humanity (an idea that is echoed in his video games), and reunite with the love of his life Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). It’s a lot to keep track of for a producer, and that’s before deliberately more flexible action sequences, scenes set in the human world, and half a dozen new characters are considered. Phew.
McTeigue spoke to TheWrap about Pit, how Lana Wachowski has evolved as a filmmaker, where he sees the franchise heading next (if it gets anywhere), and how that collaboration with Unreal Engine came about.
Some minor spoilers follow.
Did you ever think you’d get a call from Lana saying that we were going to make another “Matrix” movie?
James McTeigue: I would not have thought about it. Besides being friends, we do movies and TV series together, so during all that time when we were doing “Sense8” or when I was doing things with them before “Sense8”, we never had an argument about making another “Matrix” movie. . . That never crossed the horizon.
What was it like working with The Pit? Was there a change in the dynamics of the movie prior to this one? Or how was that whole experience for you?
You know, it felt natural. I mean, David, Aleksandar and Tom, we all did the same version of Pit on “Sense8,” the Netflix series. And so when it came time to do “The Matrix,” I think the central idea came to Lana pretty well formed. And then when they started writing it, when Sasha [Editor’s note: Aleksandar goes by “Sasha”] and David walked in, it was more like the way it was “Sense8”. It felt very easy and natural. There is never any shame of ideas within the Well. I think the best thing about this is that you get all these perspectives as different and in the same way you always have a creator. There is also room for outward expansion in writing. And I think that’s what they bring to the process and to great minds. They all are, David, Sasha and Tom, they are great minds. It is a pleasure to hear you. Ideas emerge.
I had read that the action sequences were almost improvised this time. Could you talk about that whole process?
Well, I don’t know about impromptu.
I think the way we make movies develops a bit from the first movies. The trilogy was completely scripted, sometimes within an inch of its lifetime, because it had to be somehow. There were great sequences that we were trying to come up with, when we got to the second and third movies, and we were doing the second and third movies together, that’s how we made movies back then. And I think if we go forward to 20 years and the things in between that we’ve done in that amount of time, I think as filmmakers, hopefully we will all move forward. There is a lot more freedom in the way we make movies now. There is some concept art that we always do, that is always part of this script.
So I think by reading the script, you start to define what the action is. And then once you start doing the concept art, you further define what the action is. And then for all the department heads who need to know how to do complicated sequences like that, there are sometimes some storyboard thumbnails. But a lot of this comes from a lot of input from the creative people around us. And then to put together great action sequences like we did here in San Francisco, and to shut down the entire downtown area for weeks, you really have to know what you’re doing. That does not mean that there is no room to be able to change things and be flexible about it. But I guess it’s not quite as buttoned up as it used to be. It is still highly planned.
Do you prefer that way of working or do you prefer to have everything in a diagram again?
No. I prefer that way of working because it leaves room, and the people we work with know that there may be things that we want to change or that we need to change, especially if something is not working. Then there is the ability to change it. It is not so pigeonholed that you can no longer change it. And we like to do that. I think part of that comes out when Lana and Lily started working with John Toll, he really gave both of them a love of natural light. Almost every other Matrix movie was made on the sound stage, except for some of the freeway chases. So that informed the making of the movie this time. It gave cinema a different aesthetic..
“The Matrix Resurrections” leaves things open for future adventures of Neo and Trinity. What do you think of that ending? Are you pushing for future installments?
Well, not at the moment. I think we just wanted to get this movie out and it’s open for interpretation. I like the way it is a piece of music, right? You can contribute whatever you want, like, why are Neo and Trinity going through? When they said it changed some things. What is that, like in the 60 years that no one could find Neo, what happened there? You know what I mean? Obviously, Niobe gives you some background on what those in-between years are like. But for us, right now, it’s just about this movie. We were interested in doing this movie, but we are also aware that it is a great franchise. But for us, it’s just this movie right now.
Well, it’s not just this movie because you were involved in this crazy Unreal Engine demo, which is so perfectly “Matrix” because whether it’s the video game you guys shot throughout the sequels or “The Animatrix,” there’s always some kind of peripheral material. Can you talk about that Unreal project and how it fits into the “Matrix” supernarrative??
Well it’s always fun to play with what’s real and what’s not real or what is Unreal Engine. And we thought it was a fun concept because some of the guys at Epic Games are “Matrix” alumni, they ran our visual effects department.
John Gaeta is the creator of the entire bullet time sequence. And then in the second and third movies, we really took some of the effects to the next level. And then when we started talking to them about it, we told them it wouldn’t be fun to do something. And those guys are really on the cutting edge of technology with the Unreal Engine, and isn’t it fun to collide the real world with the digital world, like we do with “The Matrix”? And have a real Keanu, but also have zeros and a Keanu, like a full digital Keanu, full digital Carrie-Anne.
It also plays on the fact that Thomas Anderson works at a game company within the movie. And then to expand that into a game we talked about, we thought it was a nice twist.
“The Matrix Resurrections” is in theaters and on HBO Max right now.