He has only made one movie in his entire professional career yet director Tarsem Singh is already being helmed as one of the most visually-stunning filmmakers to ever step behind the camera.
Best known for his work in the TV commercial and music video industry (he directed R.E.M.’s 1991 video “Losing My Religion,” which won MTV’s Video of the Year), Singh’s only credit as a feature film director came in 2000 when he created the warped world locked inside a serial killer’s mind in “The Cell,” which starred Jennifer Lopez.
In his second film, which was shot in over 20 countries, Singh not only directs but also writes and produces “The Fall,” a mythical adventure that follows the unique friendship between a little girl (newcomer Catinca Untaru) and an injured stuntman (Lee Pace), who uses vivid storytelling to trick the child into bringing him morphine.
Originally from India, Singh, 47, talked about his new film, why he almost became homeless making it, and why he may never make another film for the rest of his life.
What was your intention when you decided to cast a first-time actress (Untaru) as one of your lead roles?
I wanted everything to be as realistic as possible. When I found the little girl she was so amazing. I later found out that the casting director had made a mistake and told her she would be working with an actor that was handicap; a Hollywood star that couldn’t walk. Then I realized why she was acting the way she was. It was so phenomenally natural. She had the magic in her.
I read that you financed this film by yourself, which automatically makes this a labor of love in my opinion. How did this work out for you?
When I made the film I wanted to go on this magical mystery tour. I told my brother [executive producer Ajit Singh], “Call me if you have to sell [my] house.” Four years later, we had liquidated almost [all my assets] and I asked him, “Did we come close to having to sell the house?” He said, “Almost.” Then when we brought [the film] to the U.S. we didn’t have a distributor, so I asked, “What will it cost?” I just think [“The Fall”] is a cinematic experience you have to see in a cinema. It’s a very polarizing film and I wanted to get it out there.
No one can deny that “The Fall” is beautifully shot. From a visual sense, do you consider filmmaking an art form?
It’s a film that I think is very original looking. I had this style in mind for some time. I wanted it to be theatrical. The landscapes are basically made by the art department. I was very interested in the visual form and the structure of the storytelling.
Are you comfortable with people considering you a “visual director” or do you want people to see you as a director who can create more than just a beautiful scene?
You are what you are. I just happen to come from a visual background, so I am exorcising those demons.
As a child, who was your favorite storyteller?
It just dawned on me recently, but I did have a school teacher when I lived in the Himalayas who told our class mesmerizing stories. She would use her body language and mix things up all the time. Telling a story is very much like being a deejay. A deejay may not play music someone particularly likes but they get them to get up and dance.
With an audience of 3.6 million, do you ever think about tapping into the Bollywood arena at all?
It isn’t my cup of tea. I used to like watching it every now and then but I don’t know anyone in that world. I watch it now and get kind of bored.
Are we going to have to wait another eight years to see another film directed by Tarsem Singh?
I don’t know. You can’t push a button and say, “I’m ready.” I might get something in three weeks and say, “That’s the film I want to make” or it might take another decade or two. Or it might never happen. Right now I’m in love with a lovely woman and having a lovely time in life.