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Speed Racer - Joel Silver interview

Joel Silver at the UK premiere of Speed Racer

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SUPER-producer Joel Silver talks about why working with the Wachowski brothers is so amazing and what they were trying to achieve and create with Speed Racer.

Q. What was the appeal of Speed Racer?
Joel Silver: The idea was to make something really exciting and fun for the whole family. The Wachowski brothers wanted to make a big family movie and I think they did it. They wanted a movie that everyone can enjoy – you wouldn’t just take your kids to it and drop them off and pick them up. It was always the intention to create a great experience you can have together.

Q. This movie has been very much based on a games console format. Do you think it’s a style that will be copied?
Joel Silver: Well, the technology is changing every day and part of the technology of making games is just part of the process. When we made The Matrix in 1998, we shot the first bullet-time shot with cameras all lined up in an arc around the character. Those still frames were then put on the computer and connected together. So, it was really rudimentary how we did that. Now, it’s a very different look. We have a Wii game coming out for Speed Racer and we provided them with a lot of the assets from the movie that have been incorporated into the game. I just think it’s all about learning together.

300, for instance, looked like Art of War and felt like that game. And I think that we’re seeing a new world. These games are hugely successful. Kids are seeing them and accepting a visual style that can then be translated to movies. I just did a film with Guy Ritchie called RocknRolla, which is coming out in the Fall, which is a very conventional movie. It has very few visual effects; it’s English gangsters and it’s a great movie. But I think we saw with The Matrix that people accepted this concept and immediately incorporated it into a lot of other movies being made. I think they will with this movie too. The fear of CGI is “what will it do to the actors, or the stories?” But the intention with this movie was to create a live action anime and I think they did that.

Q. What did you think when you first saw the finished film?
Joel Silver: Well, I’d been struggling with Speed Racer as a producer for almost 20 years and they knew that because we’d talked about it in the past. At that point, we’d also done four movies together: the three Matrix films and V For Vendetta. So, they called me up one day, asked about Speed Racer and said: “Well, we have an idea…” They then went and shot a pre-visualisation of what a race scene would look like. They used all the visual effects guys they’d used on The Matrix and they came back with a five-minute sequence that was really exciting – shocking, weird and strange. So, then we showed it the studio and they said: “Well, is it Roger Rabbit? What is it exactly?” I said: “Look, they have a way that they want to tell the story.” They subsequently sat down with the brothers so they could explain how they saw the movie and that they really wanted to take the idea of an anime and turn it into a film. Anime inspired them.

The reason that they loved Speed Racer is because they felt that it was the first time they’d actually seen anime. They’d grown up on cartoons like The Flinstones and things that were not like this. So, when they first saw Speed Racer it was different. When they first started showing me what they wanted to do with The Matrix, they showed me scenes from Ghost In The Shell [a very popular anime]. They were inspired by that and wanted to create a live action anime, so when the studio saw it they said: “Let’s take a shot.” In truth, it was actually more complicated to shoot The Matrix than this. It was 60 days in a big green room. The gimbal wasn’t the most comfortable experience but it wasn’t a lot of wire work and fighting scenes. The really heavy lifting on this movie happened after we finished shooting, which was the physical process of creating those looks and colours and how the movie should appear. I think it is groundbreaking in many ways but it’s a new way of telling a story. It is inspired by gaming and by anime and just by the brothers’ desire to do things differently. It’s exciting to watch them create a new form of cinema.

Q. Why aren’t the Wachowski brothers doing any press for this?
Joel Silver: The Matrix was the first movie we did together and they did everything – junkets, tours and everything. But they didn’t like it. They didn’t like explaining the movie and telling what they were thinking; they wanted the movie to take the lead with their art and their creation. They didn’t want to have to present what they did. So, they said to me: “Listen, if you really want us to make these movies with you, we don’t want to have to do this anymore. So, it’s very simple – if you do that for us, then we’ll continue to make movies with you. If you don’t, we won’t.” But we love them and they are around. They’ll be at the premiere. But they just don’t like to talk about it and we’re happy to support them in that. If you’re hinting at the mystique surrounding them, they don’t cultivate that, they just want to let the movie speak for itself.

Read our review of Speed Racer