“The Matrix 4” is reuniting writer-director Lana Wachowski with stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss, but one creative from the original movies sitting the new film out is cinematographer Bill Pope. The Wachowski sisters first worked with Pope on “Bound” before teaming up with him for “The Matrix.” Their work together on the 1999 action film proved groundbreaking (see: the invention of bullet time), but the highs of collaborating on “The Matrix” were not matched while filming the two sequels, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions.” During an interview with Roger Deakins on this week’s “Team Deakins” podcast, Pope said shooting “The Matrix” sequels were “mind numbing and soul numbing.”
“Everything that was good about the first experience was not good about the last two,” Pope said. “We weren’t free anymore. People were looking at you. There was a lot of pressure. In my heart, I didn’t like them. I felt we should be going in another direction. There was a lot of friction and a lot of personal problems, and it showed up on screen to be honest with you. It was not my most elevated moment, nor was it anyone else’s. The Wachowskis had read this damn book by Stanley Kubrick that said, ‘Actors don’t do natural performances until you wear them out.’ So let’s go to take 90! I want to dig Stanley Kubrick up and kill him.”
According to Pope, the Wachowskis adopted a “shoot more takes” mentality on the two “Matrix” sequels and it made the experience “sort of torture.” The cinematographer said he had to sit through “90 takes of many things” while shooting the sequels and shared his belief that “you’re not gaining anything [by doing multiple takes].” Pope shot “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” back to back, which only added to the exhaustion of production.
“There is something about making a shoot that long, 276 shoot days, that is mind numbing and soul numbing and it numbs the movie,” Pope said. “You think about ‘The Hobbit,’ where they [shot] one, two, and three, and the movies are just numbing. In the books you don’t feel that because you pick it up and put it down. In a movie shoot it’s too long. There’s a limit from what you can take in.”
While the experience of making “The Matrix” sequels was punishing, Pope looks back on the two films with respect. As the DP told Deakins, “I just transferred them all to 4K for archive purposes at Warners. and I wrote the Wachowkis and Keanu and Carrie Ann that we did a good job [on the sequels], we should be proud of them.”
Pope, whose credits also include “The Jungle Book” and several Edgar Wright features, is currently waiting to re-start production on Marvel’s upcoming tentpole “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” He previously wrapped filming on Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of “The Boys in the Band,” which is now in post-production. John Toll, the Oscar-winning DP of “Legends of the Fall” and “Braveheart,” is serving as cinematographer on “The Matrix 4.”