Matt Reeves is in London right now, safely waiting until production on his highly anticipated Warner Bros. feature The Batman can resume after closing down four weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many filmmakers and content creators taking cover, it’s a good time to hit pause, assess, and even develop.
“We’re not officially editing right now” says Reeves, providing an update to Deadline, “We’ve actually shot a quarter of the movie and I have been pouring through dailies, looking at takes, and what’s to come.”
When The Batman flies again before cameras is anybody’s guess, but such is the fate for a number of films taking safety from COVID-19. When production stopped on March 14 for the Robert Pattinson Gotham crusader movie, filming was expected to segue from London to Liverpool. Whether Batman would ultimately need to completely relocate outside of the UK to a safer enclave in the world, Reeves says, “It’s way too early to say. I can’t imagine we wouldn’t finish in London. The situation is fluid.”
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Whether The Batman riffs off Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, one of Reeves’s favorite comics, or feature the Flying Graysons, Robin’s family, Reeves laughs. “I can’t give you the answers to any of that.” Many assume Reeves’s Batman will pay homage to Batman: Year One, given hints he’s dropped on Twitter. What we know story-wise about the current iteration: Colin Farrell stars as the Penguin, Paul Dano as the Riddler, and Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman. The pic isn’t an origin story. Rather, it’s about Bruce Wayne trying to find his footing on becoming a genius detective. Reeves told me at TCA summer 2018 that the pic, which he was writing then, was “noir-driven, in which Batman is investigating a particular case that takes us out into the world of Gotham”.
As he’s diving into dailies, Reeves says he has no plans to re-write anything that he’s already written.
“It took me two years to work on that story, and it’s a very specific mystery noir that’s been really thought-out by me and my partners.”
However, what the down-time from filming allows Reeves to reconsider is “the tone of things. It happens any time you shoot anything. The unexpected — happy accidents and things you didn’t quite expect: That is the lightning in a bottle for something that is alive. I would say that the changes really have to do with ‘Oh, seeing the tone of this’ with these scenes we haven’t done which connect to that part of the storyline. It feels like there might be an opportunity to explore some of that unexpected tone that we found. With these movies, you never have enough prep time, because they’re so complex and so enormous in so many ways. It also gives me a moment to think about the larger sequences that have yet to come up and how I want to realize those,” adds Reeves.
The production suffered a great loss, and that was esteemed dialect coach Andrew Jack, who died after developing COVID-19 in the wake of Batman‘s stoppage.
“He was a lovely and special person and it’s one of those things where it makes you re-prioritize and realize how fragile everything is. I’m tremendously focused on the movie, and, of course, it’s nice to be able to stop. But the real thing I’ve been thinking about is the state the world is in, and hoping that everyone is going to be OK and that everyone is going to social distance and do everything to be safe, because it’s a very scary time,” the filmmaker reflects.
If the imagery in the series trailers’ and one-sheets felt familiar, even resonant of Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, it’s because the entire series was based on Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag’s artwork, specifically his book Tales From the Loop, which features images of children and families in retro futuristic landscapes that teeter between the past and tomorrow.
In fact, many filmmakers, like Jeff Nichols and Roger Avary, have been influenced by the 36-year old Stalenhag’s drawings. In fact, Avary, in prepping his feature adaptation of Neal Shusterman’s 2007 YA dystology Unwind, was looking to take great visual cues from Stahlenhag’s work. Tales From the Loop also shoots in Winnipeg, Canada, which serves as the ideal place to replicate Stalenhag’s upside dream world in its architectural clash of 1930s Chicago, brutalist, futuristic and dystopian landscapes. Not only was Avary also planning to shoot Unwind there, but it’s also the noted locale for some of David Cronenberg’s cinematic oeuvre.
Stalenhag’s book Tales From the Loop came across the desk of 6th & Idaho’s Adam Sorin, Reeves former assistant, who brought it to the label’s attention.
“We optioned a book of imagery, not knowing what it could become,” said Reeves, who showed it to Legion series scribe Nathaniel Halpern, who became promptly wowed, returning with a full breakdown of how the season, episode by episode, would go. Each episode title was the title of one of Stalenhag’s illustrations. In building out the world of Tales From the Loop, Halpern also drew inspiration from Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 short story cycle, Winesburg, Ohio, which largely doted on small town characters. Like Winesburg, Tales From the Loop would also zero in on themes of isolation and loneliness, in which the psychological insights of its characters outweighed the overall plot.
Tales From the Loop is set in Mercer, Ohio, a factory town which houses an underground lab, and a machine, “The Loop,” which unlocks and explores the mysteries of the universe as well as interludes consigned to the realm of science fiction. Russ, played by Jonathan Pryce, is the creator of “The Loop” and an endearing patriarch. Great cliffhangers abound in each character-driven episode (which can largely be watched individually or out of order), i.e. a young girl by the name of Loretta (Abby Ryder Fortson), mysteriously loses her mother, who was an employee at The Loop. In the wake of that tragedy, Loretta meets her older self (Rebecca Hall), who has a family and is the daughter-in-law to Russ. In another episode, two teen boys, the nerd and the cool guy, find an abandoned hollow metal device which can swap their souls, while in another, Russ’s genius rises to a god-like result. Even though the danglers aren’t ever resolved, the aftermath of the characters’ plights linger on, as you see them in supporting or background player roles of future episodes. Reeves, like the details on his Batman, remains mum on season 2 of the anthology series, only to say that “it’s connected through a different lens.”
“In essence, it’s a science fiction show where the story isn’t about the narrative reveal, nor about its twists, but using the genre as an examination of intimate, human experiences and making them personal,” explains Reeves.
“The series provokes so many questions and it’s not about the answers, because that’s the whole idea of the human condition. We live in an unknowing state. There’s deliberately a lot of open-ended questions, some of which circle back in interesting ways, but not in such a way to give you a reductive answer. It’s grappling with the mysteries of life. One of the things that I have wanted 6th & Idaho to do; I came late to genre filmmaking because I always imagined myself like Hal Ashby. I wanted to make sad comedies and the world changed so much. Even though I liked genre stories, I never imagined myself in that realm. Then I realized how personal you could make genre stories: you can use the surface of the metaphors to make that the shiny object that draws everyone in, then you can do something very personal. That’s what I did with The Planet of the Apes movies. So, I really wanted to find filmmakers that saw that same opportunity to do something very human in the genre space,” adds the filmmaker, who has tapped such helmers as Jodie Foster, Andrew Stanton, So Yong Kim, Charlie McDowell, and Mark Romanek for Loop episodes.
6th & Idaho has a multi-year exclusive film deal with Netflix, with several projects in the works. While Reeves’s priorities lie with Batman, he says that he’ll “direct something for Netflix at some point.” Among the many projects is the Hailee Steinfeld musical feature Idol and the sci-fi-police procedural-romance Shondaland co-production Recursion (which will be a film and a series).
The one 6th & Idaho Netflix project that was primed to go before the COVID-19 shutdown was the Brian Helgeland-directed feature Button Man, based on the John Wagner and Arthur Ranson graphic novel. Development is ongoing for all the 6th & Idaho projects at Netflix, but not even remote casting is occurring on any of them yet, because “Everything is in a much slower mode,” says Reeves.
Timing is everything, and as the world draws closer, yet far apart, in battling the current COVID-19 climate, Tales From the Loop offers both a moving and eerie echo as we wonder about the unexplained, the uncertainty, and the frailty of human life.
“Given how we have been forced to literally stop our lives in a way that hasn’t happened for one-hundred years, it’s a very surreal experience,” comments Reeves about how Loop mirrors our modern day, “It’s one of those things that you take stock on the meaning of things and how transient we are.”
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