This is the third year Richard Kelly has attended the San Diego Comic Con to promote Southland Tales. I’ve been conducting an informal poll over the weekend, and the consensus seems to be that this is some kind of record. The cynics amongst you might say this is a dubious achievement, and, if Kelly were once again flogging the film sans release date, I would have to agree. But last week, Samuel Goldwyn announced its intent to give Kelly’s long-in-postproduction sci-fi epic a fair hearing with the moviegoing public, almost a year-and-a-half after the film was eviscerated at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival (The New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis and Film Comment‘s Amy Taubin were the only major critics to publish positive notices). Free at last. Free at last.
Now the question is "Can the film possibly be any good after such an ignominously lengthy delay?" Considering said delay was largely caused by Kelly waiting for more money to finish the film’s visual f/x, why not? As for why it took so long for the f/x check to clear… well, I’ll let Richard explain.
Q: It’s good to see you.
Richard Kelly: Likewise. I actually have a definitive release date now, and I’m not like the boy who cried wolf.
Q: Last year, I remember talking to you on a couple of occasions. It was after Cannes, there was no release date, and it was like "What’s it going to be?"
Kelly: We were in full damage control mode.
Q: It seemed kind of unfair. You had a very small group of people who’d seen the movie, and they had passed judgment on it for the rest of us. And in the meantime, talking to you two months after Cannes, I could see that the wheels were still turning. You were still working on the movie and trying to figure it out.
Kelly: I needed more money. I needed a lot more money to finish all the visual effects to make it what I wanted it to be, but I realized they were never going to give me the money unless I got the running time down. "Get the running time down, we’ll give you the money." That was the deal. It was really long. It was still running at, like, two hours and forty-three minutes or something. So I figured out how to cut twenty-five minutes out of it; I worked really closely with Sony, and we got the movie into a lot better editorial shape. It took a lot of time doing it, and then they gave me the money. And now we’ve finally finished all these new visual effects, something like ninety-odd new visual effects. And I’m just so happy now. I feel like we finally finished it, like, where I know it’s done.
Q: What was the f/x house?
Kelly: Thomas Tannenberger is our visual f/x supervisor, and he formed a new company after Cannes called Gradient. They’re right down on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach. They’ve been great. Everyone… everyone stopped getting paid on this movie a long time ago. I think the people who’ve worked on this movie have probably lost money – not overall, but… they’ve given their time and they want to see it through to the very end. They put their art into it, and they want it to be great. Our visual f/x guys have really bent over backwards.
Q: At this point, you must feel a great deal of pressure to honor their work.
Kelly: Yeah. I give them my next movie is what I do. (Laughs) That’s one way. But I think there are a lot of movies that come through the visual f/x pipeline that maybe feel a bit more assembly line in terms of what they’re creating. But with [Southland Tales], they get a chance to do some really provocative stuff that is maybe worth the effort and worth the time they devote to it. I like sitting with the the artist and letting them give ideas and being as collaborative with them as possible. You just don’t want to show up at the visual f/x house, bark orders and storm out; you don’t want to be that guy. You want to be a collaborator. That’s the funnest part. Any movie I do, I want to make sure I have a healthy CGI budget. Not that it all needs to be… it could be transparent; it could be stuff you don’t see really. But you still need CGI to do it.
Q: I remember all the way back to the set visit for Southland Tales. That was very interesting. I was aware of the script and what it was in general, but talking to the actors, they were like, "Well, it doesn’t matter. So much is changing everyday, but we’re just just going with it because we love Rich." Did you maybe let the film get away from you too much? Was is chaos? Was it organized chaos?
Kelly: Part of it was the graphic novels: I hadn’t finished them. And in my mind, I couldn’t get out of the fact that it was a six-chapter story. Part of what we’ve added near the beginning of the film is a prologue animation sequence. It’s around two minutes long, and it gives you a recap of the three years since the nuclear attacks and what’s happened in the first three chapters, the essential elements. The film always needed that, like how Blade Runner has that crawl at the beginning that informs you about the state of the world. We used something like that. But it was just never… there until I finished the graphic novels on a narrative level, and it was never there on a visual f/x level until we had the money to do it. It’s definitely been organized chaos, but, in the end, it’s organized. I’ve definitely gotten it organized. I think with the actors, the last thing I would ever want to do is let them down. I can’t wait for them to finally see that it’s definitively being released, because the last thing you want to do is have people work for you for scale, and then the movie never gets released. You’d feel like an asshole; you’d feel like you wasted their time, or you let them down. I’m just glad for them to know that their work wasn’t wasted. I hope that when they see the film a lightbulb goes off and they go, "I get it! I get what you were trying to say and do!" The scope of the film is so ambitious that it’s taken me several years to solve the riddle of it. Organized chaos, but in the end organized.
Q: It sounds like you’re happy, though. I ran into Eli Roth earlier this week, and he was really excited for you.
Kelly: Eli has a cameo in the film. And he dies. I won’t say how he dies, but he has a death scene in Southland Tales. He’s only on camera for three seconds, but… it’s pretty cool. I’ll say that.
Q: Now that you’ve got Southland Tales into a form that you like, are you quite ready to move on to The Box?
Kelly: I can’t wait. Here’s the thing: when you’re in post this long, you reach a point where you become angry at your own movie because it’s not quite what you want it to be. But then you get all this money for visual f/x, and you fall in love with it all over again. You’re like, "Oh, I can fix that!" Or "Oh, I can add that!" It’s made me fall back in love with the movie again in a great way; it’s given me a great second wind. And it’s also made me look forward to jumping right back into production, because when you’re in post for so long, you go a little stir crazy. So with The Box, we’re going back to my hometown in Richmond, Virginia, and it looks like we’re going to be shooting at NASA down in Langley with their full cooperation. I’m really excited. It’d be nice to not have so long in between movies, so I can continue to do this for as long as I can.