The Matrix sequels have confirmed the beautiful relationship between Sydney and the film world
by Michael Bodey
The blockbuster sequels to The Matrix leaves town this weekend, after 11 months in which we learned more about Keanu Reeves' penchant for motorbikes than his secretive film production.
A wrap party on Thursday night at Tank nightclub marked the end of principal photography and the beginning of nine months' furious post-production on the effects-heavy sequels to 2000's four-time Oscar winner.
The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, are due in cinemas in May and November next year, although producer Joel Silver has said it will be one movie cut in half.
The closure to filming on the sequels won't end Sydney's participation though. The NSW Film and Television Office will use the scifi series as a major selling tool around the world, using the line "Sydney is The Matrix" as its tag in promoting the city as a film location.
But The Matrix has made Sydney more than just a viable film location. It is now the city-designate for big-budget films requiring massive sets and art departments. The Matrix sequels used 152 sets on 14 sound stages, six at Fox Studios and eight warehouses.
Fox Studios Australia chief executive Michael Harvey says the film used two of the biggest sound stages in the world and "maxed them right out".
"We have become an international capital for art departments and set building because of Moulin Rouge, Star Wars and The Matrix," says the NSW Film and Television Office's Kingston Anderson. "Inventive films can do it in Sydney because it has the artisans."
And artisans have profited from the $400million-plus production. Some local technicians earned more than $30,000 a week for their expertise.
Consequently, the expertise and professionalism has increased. For instance, this is the first Australian film in which every local subcontractor has been required to have its own public liability insurance.
"They're a highly professional film with a huge budget and all the crews and services have had to perform at that standard," says Harvey.
Andrew Mason, an Australian executive producer of The Matrix recently admitted Australian crew still taught Americans different work ethics, including the two-day weekend and shorter work days.
He's told Hollywood producers the work ethic is summed up by: 'You're in charge? F*** you!'.
"Unless they embrace that egalitarian attitude they will have a difficult time here," he says.
Sydneysiders have also become blase about the hitherto glamorous filmmaking process. The two films slipped into Sydney as easily as a free-spending tourist. Explosions, low-flying helicopters and street closures (one of which last month effectively cut the CBD from Circular Quay for half a day at a cost of $250,000), barely raised an eyebrow.
Suddenly, after such proficiency, the stakes have been raised by film agencies and businesses wanting to attract "runaway" productions from the US.
The NSW Premier's Department this week announced The Matrix sequels were worth more than $200 million to the local economy, including 800 full-time jobs for 18 months (excluding actors), 2500 part time jobs, work for 60 actors and 10,000 days of work for extras.
No wonder an interstate competitor recently nobbled a Sydney visit by a US producer.
Sydney residents have been more relaxed than a lounging lizard about the hype accompanying the huge film project.
The stars, Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Jada Pinkett Smith, have taken to the city in a very un-Hollywood fashion. Consequently, locals have let them be in our couldn't-give-a-hoot fashion.
Whereas previously some big names have kept themselves in a constant surly state of eastern suburbs paranoia, The Matrix's US stars have relished the city's delights on Harley Davidsons or in convertibles.
"Well, I'm a proper Sydneysider, mate," Fishburne said at a recent press conference. "I've had to be." He first came here for 10 months in 1998 before returning for almost 12 months on the sequels.
"Keanu said something when we were doing the first movie, about Sydney," Fishburne said. "The thing that made it so perfect for the movie is that it's a future city, a city of the future,"
Yet the film's creators and directors, Larry and Andy Wachowski, have managed a year of J.D. Salinger-style reclusiveness. "They're just not interested in being in the spotlight," says a friend. "Their films speak for them."
Reportedly, the brothers will not undertake any future interviews about their philosophy-infused blockbusters.
"They don't want to have to explain it, they think the movie explains it," Silver says.
Indeed, the onset gossip has been just as astounding for its scarcity. No rumours of tension, tantrums or technical stuff ups have hounded the film which was originally code-named "The Burly Man".
Two extras agreed the directors had been pictures of calmness, despite the high stakes. "They were pretty cool and in control," says one.
The only edict appeared to be a warning that actors and crew weren't allowed to touch the Wachowski's stash of comics. Whatever...
Caption: Lights, camera and action: (from left) shooting scenes for The Matrix sequels in Sydney; explosives called for great technical expertise; as did a helicopter ride which nimbly buzzed through the CBD and neatly ducked and weaved its way through the high-rises
International man of mystery: Keanu Reeves takes a breather on the streets of Bondi
Happy snaps: Keanu Reeves poses with delighted fans and takes time out at a Bondi cafe