Wrapping “Sense8,” one of Netflix’s most unusual series, was bittersweet, the key crew told the audience at the Camerimage film fest in Poland Thursday. Writer-director-producer Lana Wachowski confessed she began her career with sibling Lilly when both wanted total control of elements in front of their film lens and worked like “mushrooms in the studio,” afraid to venture outside.
But after the elaborate studio work of “The Matrix” and its sequels, she said, the experience of filming “Cloud Atlas,” “Jupiter Ascending” and the “Sense8” series turned her approach around 180 degrees.
“We had no idea what was going to happen,” she said of the spontaneous style the crew developed while filming the Netflix show in authentic locations around the globe.
Often tearing up the original production plan to incorporate great natural lighting that might dissipate in minutes and compelling locations they stumbled across, the crew developed a fluid technique that often confounded producers and colleagues.
Cinematographer John Toll, who coordinated the intensive shoots, said local assistants the crew hired were “really happy to see us arrive – and really happy to see us leave.”
When assistants where brought in for locations that ranged from Seoul to Nairobi, Mumbai, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Mexico City and Chicago, said Toll, “They were kind of in shock. We knew what we were doing but nobody else did.”
The punk-like filming ethic extended to quickly shooting orgies on public land in San Francisco before police could arrive at 6 a.m. to tell them that’s against the law, Wachowski said.
Just as often, the team would film in real night clubs or incorporate real street crowds, as when thousands of partiers at the Sao Paulo pride march began chanting their favorite character’s name, calling out “Lito! Lito!”
The series, created by Wachowski with J. Michael Straczynski in 2015, was canceled after the second season aired in May this year, but fans were so disappointed they demanded a final episode to wrap up the stories, which the crew recently wrapped in Naples.
Throughout the production, Toll managed to keep his highly flexible crew on their toes, ready for many an unexpected development as they scrambled to get all the material needed for each location in just one visit. The budget and schedule would not allow for returning to any of the eight psychic character’s homes around the world, Toll said.
So Wachowski developed a technique for almost physically attaching herself to the back of Steadicam operator Daniele Massaccesi, forming “this weird, four-legged creature with one eye.” Meanwhile a second camera would follow behind to get any cover shots they might have missed.
Actors had to become comfortable doing scenes without the chance to rehearse them and with no specific marks to hit in their blocking, Wachowski said, admitting it freaked out some of them. But over time, the key crew and performers didn’t just adapt to the method but came to embrace it.
Wachowski, who has always cherished the process of writing more than filming, she said, eventually came to realize that the improvised shoots were turning into a creative force in themselves.
“Directing became closer and closer to the process of writing,” she said.
Toll’s willingness to take on such exhaustive methods to capture authentic locations and constantly changing plans was hardly what Wachowski would have expected from a veteran DP with four decades of experience, she said.
Most such established professionals would prefer to stay in their comfort zone, Wachowski said. “I and my sister Lilly are interested in uncomfort.”