MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The Wachowskis gambled their entire initial budget to shoot the opening scene of the Matrix to prove to Warner Bros. that they should give them more money to finish the film.
The Matrix was a major surprise hit when it came out in 1999. Few people were familiar with The Wachowskis, who wrote and directed the film together, and yet the movie was a gigantic success and ended up winning a stunning four Academy Awards!
For filmmakers who had only done a small budget crime noir, Bound, the film was a big risk for Warner Bros. However, movie legend has it that it was even bigger gamble for the Wachowskis.
Here, from Uproxx, is a story that has been told on many different sites, but few tell it quite as succinctly as Uproxx did, so we’re using them (note that they used the credit that the Wachowskis used back then, which was “The Wachowski brothers.” Since Lana and Lilly have both transitioned since they wrote and directed The Matrix, we’re using how they currently credit themselves, which is “The Wachowskis”)…
The Wachowskis sold Warner Brothers on the project with the $10 million opening sequence. When the brothers first approached the studio about the project they had a projected budget of $60 million. The studio balked at the idea of giving them that much and instead offered them $10 million to shoot the film. The brothers spent the entire $10 million on the film’s opening sequence and impressed the studio enough that they were given the initial asking budget to finish the movie.
It is true that the opening sequence, which shows Trinity escaping from the Agents after someone tipped them off to her whereabouts, played a major role in the history of the film…
However, it is NOT in the way that it is often described.
First off (and perhaps most importantly), it WASN’T the only thing that they filmed. It was the first major action scene filmed, but the movie was not filmed in order. There were a few other scenes filmed before this one.
Secondly, they spent four months of pre-production having the cast all train with martial arts teachers for the film. Now, would you really spend four months in pre-production when you were planning on filming one scene as a gamble?
What actually occurred, and this is born out by the commentary track for the DVD release of The Matrix, is that the Wachowskis were spending a lot of time on the film (four months of just having the actors train in martial arts is a lot) and Warner Bros. was starting to get antsy about the schedule on the film.
So the Wachowski took the first action scene that they shot (the Trinity one), spruced it up, added special effects to it and sent it to Warners to give them an idea of what they were working with. Warners, of course, loved the scene and soon backed off of their worries about the schedule. It was clear that the Wachowskis were putting together something special here.
Most likely, “The Wachowskis sent the opening scene to Warners to calm them down” somehow changed over the years, telephone-style, to “The Wachowskis spent their entire initial budget on just the opening scene.”
The legend is…
Thanks to Jason for the suggestion!
Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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