I feel like the pilot of a 747 that's been flying through a hurricane and is finally coming in to land," Richard Kelly says of his most recent film, Southland Tales.
It has been two years since Kelly began production on his labyrinthine black comedy-cum-thriller, about the Apocalypse, set in Southern California. Back then, the young Virginian was a rare hybrid: a cult hero whose acclaimed debut Donnie Darko whetted the appetites of the intelligentsia and earned his follow-up a competition slot at Cannes 2006.
But a lot changed after the world premiere on the Croisette, principally the film itself. It was, by the Kelly's admission, too long and incomplete. Critics called the 160-minute cut perplexing and pretentious. He had fallen at the second hurdle of his career, some said. Kelly sucked it up, went home and set about finishing the film.
A trimmer, complete version that he describes as "more epic and how I wanted it to be" will open through Samuel Goldwyn Films in association with Destination Films and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group (Spwag) on November 9.
"It will be worth the wait," Kelly says of the new version, which he estimates will come in at 143 minutes. "I've always believed in this film. It was a huge deal to be nominated for the Palme d'Or but the film wasn't ready. You stay positive and take it like a man. It was tough getting back to LA and having people say, 'It's OK, your movie was a disaster but just move on.'
"They thought I was being delusional to keep on with it, but if anything, that made all involved feel that not only were we going to recover - we were going to triumph. It's tough for the actors who worked for scale, tough for everyone, which is why I'm so glad we got to finish it properly."
Spwag acquired domestic rights shortly after the world premiere. Kelly edited the film down but by last December it was clear he needed more effects shots. Over the next four "agonising" months, Sony and Universal (which was on board from the start and holds select international rights) duked it out over who would foot the bill. Finally Sony stumped up $1m for more effects - the film's total budget is $17m - and work resumed.
"Southland Tales is a six-part story in which the first three chapters are told in separate graphic novels and the last three take place in the film. Whereas before you were dropped into the film without knowing what was going on, now we've added a two-and-a-half minute animated sequence that takes you up to 2008, when the film takes place. It flows more now. There was also a lot missing about the state of the world in 2008, so I've shot a lot of material explaining this through newscasts.
"If you liked Donnie Darko, this has the same complexity and mind-fuck quality, with more of a comedic and political edge."
Samuel Goldwyn's president Meyer Gottlieb adds: "It's a fascinating picture. Richard's a unique talent and this is going to satisfy the core audience of his fans and we hope to push it to a wider, under-30 demographic."
By the time the film gets its platform launch, Kelly will be about to start production on psycho-thriller The Box with Cameron Diaz.