How Tarsem Singh's obsession became a movie
Film director Tarsem Singh admits he's been obsessed by the idea of telling a story about storytelling for 27 years.
The resulting film called "The Fall" opens in the Twin Cities this weekend. It's been critically acclaimed for its stunning beauty. The cast and crew went to extraordinary lengths to make it.
St. Paul, Minn. — "The Fall" is a story about a young immigrant girl in 1915 who is in a Los Angeles hospital after breaking her collarbone.
She's bored and spends her time wandering around the other rooms.
She meets a young man who has found a note she lost. He's bedridden by a leg injury. She's angry that he's read her message, but he tries to change the subject by telling her she was named after Alexander the Great.
He starts telling her fantastical stories about masked bandits, daring rescues. It's all just to make her come back, and maybe help him with a somewhat desperate plan.
Director Tarsem Singh says it's very carefully constructed to examine a single theme. On the phone from London, he says he wanted to explore how the stories people tell really depend on the way a listener reacts and interprets what they hear.
"When you're telling people a story, if you are telling it to four people, 10 people, 20 people, if it's not recorded, if it's live, you kind of use them as a gauge," he said.
He decided the best way to tell his story was through someone who was immobilized talking to someone whose reactions were immediate and clear. That's how the hospital and the child came up. However he knew he needed the exact right child.
Tarsem travels the world making commercials and videos. He got into the habit of sending out talent scouts at every location he visited. That's how in Romania he came across Catinca Untaru a six year old girl who was perfect.
"I called my brother and I said 'We've found the person, but she's going to be a different person in six months. We need to make the movie right now," Singh said.
He gathered a cast and crew at lightning speed and moved everyone to a hospital they'd found in South Africa. Tarsem Singh says he knew he had to maintain a very particular atmosphere to nurture the relationship between the actors playing his two central characters, Alexandria and Roy.
"I just wanted to keep the air around him slow, so the girl would react naturally," he said.
So he made a big decision. He had his lead actor, an unknown called Lee Pace, pretend he was really paralyzed. Pace and Singh only revealed the truth to the rest of the cast and crew after the 12 week shoot.
In the film the audience hears Roy's stories and sees Alexandria interpretations. He tells a story about the wild west, but she's Ukrainian, who's been working picking oranges with a mixed group of immigrants, including a friend from India. Alexandria's version is very different from Roy's.
"So you've basically got a Western happening in India, through a Ukrainian girl," Singh said.
Tarsem Singh says he was so pleased with what he had, he considered just leaving the story in the hospital and dumping the fantasy scenes he had planned.
Then he split with his girlfriend. He decided to spend the money he'd been saving for marriage on making his movie.
Just as he had been looking for a child star on his travels he had also been scouting locations. He wanted to use real places, not models or computer generated special effects. Tarsem Singh didn't have a lot of money, but he did have a plan.
"I would only do commercials that would take me to the part of the world where I needed to go," he said. "And I'd shoot the commercial and then our costs would be taken care of and I'd fly the actors in and do a little part there."
They eventually shot scenes in 24 countries. There are deserts, jungles, and ancient cities.
"Were there problems? You name it, we had it, " Singh said. "We got stoned from places, we got thrown out of places, we had riots in places."
But for Tarsem Singh it was worth it. He admits his film "The Fall" is polarizing: people either love it or hate it. The good thing he says is the people that love it, tend to come back with their friends.
- All Things Considered, 05/30/2008, 4:50 p.m.