Director Julie Taymor’s musical film Across the Universe has garnered a cult following since flopping in theaters nearly 10 years ago, but the 63-year-old Oscar nominee said during the Tribeca Film Festival that her thematic vision for the 2007 film was almost changed by studio executives hoping to replicate the success of Disney’s High School Musical.
During a Wednesday night Tribeca Talks presentation with Jodie Foster, Taymor elaborated on the painstaking process of taking an idea for her 1960’s-centered, Beatles-themed musical with a diverse cast (Evan Rachel Wood, Martin Luther McCoy, T.V. Carpio) from concept to theatrical release.
“On one hand, you did see my cut. On the other hand, hardly anybody saw my cut” Taymor said, laughing as she referenced the film’s poor box office returns after an audience member asked if there was a version of the film Taymor liked better than the one released by the studio. “This was a case of [the studio] smelling the money. It wasn’t that it wasn’t working, [the studio] thought if we got rid of the black people, the lesbians, the politics, the Vietnam War… if we got rid of all of those things, we could have High School Musical.”
Though the High School Musical edition of Across the Universe is something she never wanted to release, Taymor told Foster she valued the creative risk of the project when it came to pushing others to see things they didn’t expect.
“When you’re regurgitating the same old, same old, you don’t grow as a culture. My work is to transform the audience, that’s the journey of the director,” she said. “We take life experiences and show [them] from a different perspective, so when you talk about reality, that’s not about putting a mirror on society… it’s just slicing it up differently.”