New Details Emerge for Shane Carruth’s Sci-Fi Epic A TOPIARY; David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh Were to Executive Produce

     March 19, 2013


Writer/director Shane Carruth is one of the more enigmatic filmmakers working today.  After bursting onto the scene with his cerebral Sundance hit Primer in 2004, Carruth seemingly disappeared.  He finally emerged late last year by announcing that he had completed production on his Primer follow-up, Upstream Color, and that film was set to debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  Those looking for a more straightforward plot with Upstream Color were sorely disappointed, as Carruth crafted a film that was quite possibly even more complex than Primer, but it’s an unendingly fascinating piece of work that requires repeat viewings.

In the interim between the release of Primer and Upstream Color, rumors started to surface about an ambitious sci-fi project that Carruth was working on called A Topiary.  The filmmaker spent years developing the wildly ambitious pic but had trouble gaining financing, and he has seemingly given up getting the project off the ground altogether.  However, in a recent profile on Carruth, some highly intriguing plot details regarding A Topiary have been revealed.  Hit the jump to read on.

shane-carruth-a-topiaryEmbedded in a fascinating new profile of Carruth by Wired is a very tantalizing synopsis of what the plot of A Topiary entails:

It’s a tale told in two parts: The opening section follows a city worker who becomes obsessed with a recurring starburst pattern he sees hidden everywhere around him, even in traffic grids. He eventually joins with other believers, forming a kaffeeklatsch-cult that’s soon undone by greed and hubris.

The second half follows a group of 10 preteen boys who discover a strange machine that produces small funnels, which in turn can be used to build increasingly agile robotlike creatures. As their creations grow in power and size, the kids’ friendships begin to splinter and they’re forced to confront another group of creature-builders. The movie ends with a massive last-minute reveal, set deep in the cosmos, suggesting that everything we’ve just seen was directed by forces outside the characters’ control.

Carruth worked on the script for years, even using a 3D computer program to design the creatures himself and visiting VFX houses to learn how he could do all of the film’s visual effects himself.  He gave his first draft of the script to director Steven Soderbergh, and the filmmaker agreed to serve as executive producer on the pic alongside David Fincher, another fan of Carruth’s.  However, when Carruth began meeting with studios and investors to raise the $20 million budget needed to get A Topiary off the ground, Carruth ran into some frustratingly ambivalent opposition:

“Nobody ever said no,” Carruth says. “It was always enthusiasm and amazement and ‘We can’t wait for this!’ Meanwhile, no money’s sitting in the account.” He kept lowering the budget, getting it down to about $14 million, but even that couldn’t secure an investor. “If this were the ’70s, people would be throwing money at him,” Soderbergh says. “It’s just a different time now.”

a-topiary-shane-carruthCarruth became discouraged and finally made the decision to move on to something else:

Worried he’d be forever stuck in a loop of endless meetings and fruitless go-aheads, he walked away. “I decided that if nobody was gonna say no, I was gonna have to say no,” he says. “It sort of just broke my heart.”

It’s disappointing to hear that Carruth has seemingly put A Topiary to bed, and I selfishly hope that the thing eventually gets made.  With Kickstarter at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now, this seems like the perfect project for the indie fundraising site.  There would be no studio involvement (Carruth is releasing Upstream Color entirely on his own), so the money would be going directly to the production without any qualms about studio ethics, and I don’t see why the film couldn’t raise a few million dollars to help get it made—especially without people like Fincher and Soderbergh involved.

Alas, right now Carruth seems focused on the release of Upstream Color.  It’s a wholly original film that defies convention, and I look forward to seeing it again so I can continue to formulate what I think it’s about.  You can read Matt’s review from Sundance here.

Head on over to Wired to read the full profile on Carruth, which is a fascinating read.


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