All everywhere, all at once: Daniels’ interview on the multiverse

SXSW: Daniels explained their long-term commitment to their unique version of “The Matrix” and why they were striving to maintain its gay character for a China release.

Filmmaking duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, otherwise known as the Daniels, had cobbled together an ambitious script for their new film when the Marvel opportunity presented itself.

“There were meetings with Marvel about ‘Loki’ that we didn’t even take,” Scheinert said in an interview alongside Kwan at the SXSW Film Festival. “We were trying to make our own multiverse movie.” Kwan interjected. “No, the meeting was set and we went, but the moment we went we said we probably weren’t going to do it,” he said. “We were trying to shoot our own movie at the same time.”

It was “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, the dazzling and unclassifiable saga which opened the festival on Friday. The directors’ first feature together since the similar blend of emotion and surreal humor that distinguished their debut feature ‘Swiss Army Man’ in 2016, the second feature stars Michelle Yeoh as a woman who learns… she can simultaneously experience infinite dimensions and uses the power to attempt a reconciliation with her estranged teenage daughter (Stephanie Hsu). The film, which premieres next week, promises to satisfy a growing fan base that has followed them for years while bringing their vision to an even wider audience. “We’re pretty sure this month is going to be life changing,” Scheinert said.

Produced by A24, who signed a first TV deal with the Daniels after taking over the project, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” marks the latest example of singular filmmakers and their ability to crush genres into a silly-soft de own them. Needless to say, they don’t regret dropping the Marvel show, even though they weren’t quite sure how “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” would pan out. Instead, the opportunity to helm a bigger-budget project with similar conceit put them on notice to finish tinkering with their epic storyline.

“Everything, everywhere, all at once”

Allyson Riggs, courtesy of A24

“They were trying to do Douglas Adams-esque sci-fi,” Kwan said of the “Loki” concept for Disney+. “It was kind of scary to get these offers and be like, ‘Damn, this is what we’re working on!'”

The Daniels imagined “Everything Everywhere All at Once” during the press tour of “Swiss Army Man”, although during this period Scheinert also made his solo feature “The Death of Dick Long”, and the pair made stand-alone television episodes. During this long gestation period, each film that came with some resemblance to their plot made them nervous. This included another Marvel entry, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which, like their own plot, weaves together expansive martial arts combat beholden to genre classics. Above all, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” builds on “The Matrix” with its unlikely protagonist’s gradual realization that reality is more complicated and flexible than it seems, but even a new “Matrix came out before their own tribute.

“This movie is 100% a response to ‘The Matrix,’ obviously,” Kwan said. “We wanted to make it our version. It was crazy to think oh, ‘We took so long that the Wachowskis beat us to it.’ »

But the Daniels watched “The Matrix Revolutions” last year with their own movie in the bag, and they smiled through a mini-talk about the results. “I loved it,” Kwan said. “I know it’s a mess, but there was enough in there to make me really happy.” Scheinert shrugged. “I think there’s a ‘Matrix’ movie,” he said. “It’s one of the best films ever made.” His resistance to the recent sequel was also informed by their own navigation in the industry. “I’m not a fan of many series or trilogies,” Scheinert said. “I like a seated experience that starts and ends well. I don’t need more ‘Die Hard’. I have ‘Die Hard’.

If the pair end up going after a pre-existing IP, it would be as odd and seductive a choice as the original films they make. Kwan said they dreamed up a list of sequels they could consider, and the only one that really got them excited was a pitch to Paramount about a follow-up to “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

Wait, really?

“I loved this movie growing up,” Kwan said. “We pitched it to Paramount. They said no. I loved this movie growing up. The idea was born from a broader impulse. “I want to do a romantic comedy,” Kwan said. “We tried to replace the idea with other rom-coms, but this is the one for us.” He added that the executives who received the pitch from Paramount have since left and are eager to give it another shot. “Everything is described,” he said. “If anyone wants to make this movie, I want to use the original cast and the movie soundtrack.” But he added a caveat. “It has to be theatrical only and cut by a director,” he said with a smile. Scheinert intervened. “And $200 million!” he said.

It may have been ironic. But the Daniels are keen to discuss the fact that even a job for hire has to be funneled through their own unique filter. “We also have a ‘Terminator’ sequel,” Kwan said. “Some people were like, ‘What would you do with a ‘Terminator’ movie? And I was like, ‘I would never – oh, wait a minute…’ He stroked his chin and smiled. “Our only real rule is that we don’t want to get bored with everything we do, because we’re sure the work will suffer a lot,” he said.

The pair tend to talk about the blockbusters that inspired them to grow up through a critical lens that is also reflected in their directing. “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” for example, was a response to other multiverse sci-fi movies that bothered them. “My pet peeve is time travel when you introduce it and just kind of pretend it’s no big deal,” Scheinert said. “It would be so serious! As if logic broke down and time didn’t move forward and a million people could turn back time a million times, it would be absolute chaos.

The 2009 “Star Trek” reboot irked it because of its own multiverse twist. “When the ‘Star Trek’ universes overlapped and there were two Spocks, I was like, ‘OK, if I was here, I would be so philosophically scared of more than that.’ I’d be like, ‘What time is it?’ It always feels like a missed opportunity.

The bottom line was that the Daniels better develop concepts from scratch. “Then we can just throw away anything that doesn’t work,” Scheinert said. “I respect people who are able to play in someone else’s sandbox, but it’s kind of daunting because if there’s a pre-existing fanbase for a character, and a lore, a mythology and I’m not allowed to throw away anything that doesn’t work, it seems harsh.” They were thrilled to have a new home at A24 to develop TV ideas – though (like many first-look deals today) their options for producing films were less certain.

“It’s the hardest thing,” Kwan said. “We’re developing TV stuff with friends and we’re really excited that something will come out of it one day. With movies, we’re always lost at sea. Our brains have been waiting for this movie to come out to really figure out what we’re going to do next. At least now, with A24, they didn’t have to wonder what to do if another Marvel TV deal popped up. “We don’t really like meetings,” Scheinert said. “Just having a home is a kind of comfort.”

While it remains to be seen how “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will perform when it hits theaters later this month, their decision to stay the course on the project seemed to be validated by the ecstatic response during the SXSW premiere, where the post-screening Q&A lasted over 30 minutes and the audience ignored Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis and the other cast members on stage to ask the Daniels adorable questions instead. The conversation mirrored the Daniels’ films themselves, with an element of absurdity that gave way to sweetness and a surprising amount of depth. Kwan in particular has juggled issues of intergenerational trauma and violence against the AAPI community with aplomb.

“I’m flattered and honored, but I like that the movie speaks for itself and I’m hopeful that I can just shut up and let it be,” Kwan said in his interview the next day. “I don’t know if we want to be the ones involved in it, but this movie is going to create a lot of conversations, whether we’re a part of it or not. It’s so important to talk about it, but sometimes I feel ill-equipped.

There was one aspect of the film’s impact that the Daniels wanted to guide, and it involved the plot surrounding the sexuality of the teenage character, who is gay. While “Everything Everywhere All at Once” had yet to find a distributor in China, the couple were adamant they could only do so with censors allowing their sexuality to remain a part of the story. “It’s not up to us to decide if the film will be released in China, but all we’ve said is you can’t cut the gay storyline,” Scheinert said. “That’s all we told overseas distributors.” Their commitment echoes comments made last year by Chloe Zhao, who also insisted that the sexuality of the character of Phastos in “The Eternals” remained intact. The film was never opened in China. “If they were to censor other stuff and we had a gay story there, we would be so thrilled,” Scheinert said. Kwan added, “The movie doesn’t work without him.”

For now, they were still enjoying the glow of a finished film that actually played for audiences. Kwan was moved to screen the film with an audience that included his father, who showed martial arts films as a child. “My dad was so happy last night,” Kwan said. “Just seeing something I did with Michelle Yeoh in it – my dad is a very stoic man, but he smiled all night, and it was wild.”

A24 released “Everything Everywhere All at Once” on March 11, 2022.

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