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After a hugely heralded premiere at Sundance in January, Shane Carruth's Upstream Color is finally making its way toward theaters on April 5-- and with it, a man who's been shrouded in mystery for almost a decade is making his way back toward the light. Carruth's no recluse or even Malick-style introvert, participating in post-screening Q&As and a handful of interviews to promote Upstream, but the cult that's grown around him since the 2004 premiere of Primer kind of makes him feel that way. Coming out of nowhere to premiere the twisty sci-film at Sundance that year, Carruth began to very quietly make himself a landmark of modern indie filmmaking, and then spent nearly a decade making nothing at all.
That's the opposite trajectory you expect, in a world where Sundance sensation directors routinely become the next Christopher Nolan or Marc Webb or Colin Trevorrow. But while Carruth appeared to be in hiding, he was hard at work on what might have been his own version of the huge movies those directors went on to make, a sprawling and effects-heavy sci-fi film called A Topiary that, as Wired writes it, "consumed him." But in what might be one of the most depressing recent Hollywood stories, even a combination of Sundance buzz and big ideas and two very famous backers couldn't make the movie a reality. Read how A Topiary fell apart in this bit from Wired's article below:
After Carruth finished a first draft of the script, he gave it to director Steven Soderbergh, a fan who had reached out to Carruth after he saw Primer. Soderbergh asked his friend David Fincher to serve as co-executive producer. With their names and their blessing, Carruth made a mock-up trailer for investors, one that incorporated some of his own effects work plus images from many of the Spielberg movies he watched growing up. With a budget in the low $20 millions, Carruth began meeting with possible backers, a process that ended up consuming yet another year.
Eventually Carruth lowered the budget to $14 million, but when the money failed to materialize, he gave it up. "It just sort of broke my heart," he said.
Luckily the saga has a somewhat happy ending, with Upstream Color not just coming to theaters, but existing entirely the way Carruth wants it. He wrote, directed and starred in the movie and deliberately eschewed traditional distribution methods, preferring to put it out there himself. Though he's not talking specifics about the budget, the Wired article reveals a lot of how he made that happen, including going into production before anyone knew it existed. Give it a read, and don't be afraid of Upstream Color spoilers-- aside from an oblique mention of pigs, there's none to be found, and I doubt this is the kind of movie that could be spoiled anyway.