American audiences are more vocal than Australians, and it is quite acceptable to
whoop, to jab the air with a fist and to generally holler if the film is getting through
to you. But Andrew Mason was still somewhat taken aback ("stunned" he says) by
the very vocal reception The Matrix received at last week’s Premiere in Westwood, the
smart end of West Hollywood.
It was followed by a party, of course, "and conventional wisdom has it that you
can judge how the film industry responds to your film by how many people turn up to the
party and how long they stay," says Mason. "Well, by 3 am, when George Clooney
and Keanu Reeves and a bunch of others were telling the staff it was a bad idea to shut
the bar, I figured the film was well received. The party was still going strong at 3.45 am
when I left."
Mason says the general opinion in the industry seems to be that for the last few years
action audiences have been cheated a bit – "and this film does look as though it
delivers on that score."
"If they needed to run up the wall defying gravity and
flip over, they had the confidence to do it."
Among the myriad eyeboggling special effects, good old fashioned fight stunts need to
be special to stand out – and there are some doozies, not least the climactic fight
between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). The choreography is a
collaboration between Hong Kong based specialist Yuen Wo- Ping and the directors themselves,
who are keen fans of Hong Kong action flicks.
"But the only way for these scenes to work is for the actors to put in an
astonishing level of training," Mason explains. "Which they in fact did; Keanu,
Hugo, Carrie-Ann and Laurence all spent five months solid…five days a week. They got
very fit – and if they needed to run up the wall defying gravity and flip over, they
had the confidence to do it."
As Mason adds, they were supported by wires in case they faltered, which were later
digitally removed, but they had to be able to perform the stunt in the first place.
And the directors ensured there were enough wide shots to show the georgraphy of where
the actors are very clearly – something they borrowed from the best of Hong
kong’s films (and from Fred Astaire, who insisted that his major dance sequences had
enough wide shots to show the actors’ geography).
With the enormous amount of stunts, visual and digital effects, The Matrix was looking
unaffordable at script stage.
"It freaked everybody out,"
When filmmaking brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski would talk about how they wanted to
make the film a few years ago, studio executives would pass out. "It freaked
everybody out," says producer Andrew Mason. "It sounded way too expensive."
But the script had been optioned by the formidable Joel Silver, and "Silver has
the force and the authority to propel a project," Mason remarks. The Wachowskis had
written the script for Silver’s production of Assassins, hence the connection. Silver
also had the gumption and the track record to lure Keanu Reeves to the script, which added
a certain momentum, but the film was still impossibly ambitious in budget terms.
"Then at some point somebody introduced me to the Wachowskis," Mason
explains. The somebody was an agent who was working at Warner Bros, but had known Mason
– and also worked with the Wachowskis. Mason had just finished producing Alex
Proyas’ Dark City, all shot and digitally designed in Sydney.
"I was able to persuade them to come to Sydney"
"I was able to persuade them to come to Sydney and they responded to the
city’s architecture, to its general geography, to Australia’s filmmaking
expertise, the competitive costs and above all, the great spirit of co-operation and
enthusiasm. In fact, they were more excited about coming back for the cast and crew
screening than for the premiere!" he adds.
Mason denies the film cost US$60 million, as per Variety’s review of the film, but
refuses to say which way the figure is in error. He does say, however, that the underlying
notion that it was an economical budget for the result is already prevalent around the