'Mirror Mirror' Director Tarsem Calls 'Eye In the Sky' the Antidote to 'Crap' He's Been Given in the Past

4:08 PM PST 03/28/2012 by Todd Gilchrist
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The director of "The Fall" and "Immortals" says he wants his follow-up to the Snow White adaptation to be a more grounded, plot-driven film, made in the style of Michael Haneke or Roman Polanski.

Tarsem Singh, director of the Snow White adaptation Mirror Mirror, told The Hollywood Reporter that his intended follow-up, the wartime thriller Eye in the Sky, is meant to be a departure after tackling projects that have emphasized visual rather than narrative considerations. "I had just been looking specifically for material that wasn't on paper, that was not written well," Tarsem said Tuesday. "I wanted that because I want to be able to put enough of my DNA in it and I am very aware that I'm putting the cart ahead of the donkey. But now I'd like to do non-visual films, and I'd like to go reflect on people."

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Despite his insistence that Eye in the Sky will mark a significant departure from the look of his previous work, Tarsem said that he's not going to adopt the gritty, handheld style that many moviegoers associate with true-life or ripped-from-the-headlines stories. "I think enough people know my DNA and how I shoot," he said. "As much as I love some of the Paul Greengrass films, it's not going to be Law and Order shaky-cam stuff. I'd rather go much more [Michael] Haneke, I'd rather go much more [Roman] Polanski; it's not going to be something where you shoot tons of footage of and have the editor direct it for you."

"I think everybody's terms of reality for the last decade and a half have just been a shaky camera because they're so used to holding these things in their hand," he observed. "And that every time you do that to camera people are much more transported into it being like a real event. But hopefully that will die one day."

When asked if he might employ cinematographers such as Darius Khondji, who worked with Haneke on the director’s Funny Games remake, of Jeff Cronenweth, who has collaborated frequently with David Fincher, Tarsem said he refuses to make himself beholden to a particular aesthetic, instead preferring to focus on what's on the page. "I just think now if you're going to a cameraman to tell you what you want the film to feel like, I think you already lost the battle, especially if you come from the visual background I do," he said. "I think I'm very specially [attuned] to what it needs to look like, so I'd say it doesn't look very shaky, but it isn't going to be so image-oriented. It's going to be much more story and character-driven, and I just thought for something like that, that had better shine on paper."

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Tarsem’s previous efforts include The Cell, The Fall and Immortals – three films hailed for their visual style but frequently criticized for weak storytelling. He admitted that he actively sought less complex material in the past so that he could imprint his influence upon it. "I told the guys involved at CAA that it’s going to get difficult for them, because from now, guess what? I would like to read responsible scripts," he recalled. "People were like, 'wait a minute? You mean we’ve given you crap?' and I said yes. And I was okay with that because I was very much into trying work it along as we were going. But when the money is little and it's a contemporary event and I didn't have any visuals to fall back on, it had better rock on paper."

The filmmaker said that Eye in the Sky appealed to him because it looked at the process of waging war both from a strategic and visceral perspective. "I kind of had an idea that I'd like to do a war film that just had the two perspectives, that were like, one side is so [disconnected], just drop these little things, and downstairs it's a completely different world, you know -- so how do you come to terms with this? And then this came along. And I wouldn't say how timely it is, but it is profound and really, really moving." That said, he revealed that the demands of the film in terms of casting and production costs place it in a strata that Hollywood seems to shy away from these days.

"It's much tougher to make something like that because the whole middle section is just wiped out -- it's Mission: Impossible or it's Paranormal Activity," he said. "It's $110 million or it's $2 million. And the middle section, if you want to make a smarter film, is much, much, much, much more difficult. [But] it isn't [a project where] once you get that actor it happens. It's an ensemble. So when you go for something like that, it's going to be even more difficult to get made."

Meanwhile, Tarsem has been attached to several other projects which he says he’d like to make, but they’re either in early stages of development, or being delayed so that he can focus on getting Eye in the Sky into production. "I love Samurai Jack," he said when asked about adapting the animated property. "Cow and Chicken and Powerpuff Girls, I just love Cartoon Network because of my nieces and nephews. And I just think that thing is so [Akira] Kurosawa-influenced that I would like to do something like that but that’s in very preliminary conversations."

In terms of Travis Beacham’s Killing on Carnival Row, another project to which he's been linked in the past, Tarsem said, "I would love to make it happen, but I was very conscious that my next film cannot be a big visual piece if I can help it. I would like to do a small film right now before I do that, and that requires quite a lot of prep, that particular film. [But] if everything comes together and you find a date for it, then yes it will happen. I do like the script a lot, and I hope it comes together."

After grossing more than $216 million worldwide, Relativity is no doubt eyeing the possibility of a sequel for Immortals. But Tarsem indicated that he felt like he accomplished everything he wanted to with the first film, even though he admitted that he likes working on studio films like that one and Mirror Mirror. "If I think I haven't said enough in [the first film] I'd go back, but doing films for me was so much more easier now, apart from The Fall, which was such a personal tale that I had to make, that it was difficult," he said. "But making studio films has been such an easy process for me. Everybody keeps thinking that 'you’re doing one film every six, seven years, now you're doing one every like year', and the thing is, I shoot more than 300 days a year, they just happen to be in studios or commercials that you don't probably know are mine."

"I just love that process of actually filming, so I will end up doing a lot more films," he continued. "And the studios are kind of like what Churchill said about democracy -- it's a really evil system, but it's the best one we have, so I really embrace that. And they're really smart people making these choices, and it takes a lot of money to make the kind of films that now reach a bigger audience. But I would like to do more movies, and if they’re bigger ones, I’d like to do them at studios."

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