Inside 'Cloud Atlas' directors' Chicago workshop

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'Cloud Atlas' directors

"Cloud Atlas" directors Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski, at Kinowerks on Chicago's North side. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune / October 24, 2012)

That? I ask, pointing to an autographed Bears helmet.

“Willie Gault signed it,” Andy says. “He wanted to be in ‘Reloaded,' but we couldn't make it work.”

The Chip and Dale statue?

“Susan Sarandon gave us that,” Lana says. “She likened us to chipmunks.”

The two early-'90s Macintosh computers, placed side by side?

“Believe it or not, we wrote ‘The Matrix' on those,” Andy says.

Beyond the long hallway, a kitchenette, editing suites, a 409-seat screening room and a conference room with a table imprinted with recycled circuit boards — the lighting scrims above the table are imprinted with what looks like the duo's signature stream motif, the data streams.

“Have you seen the back yet?” Lana asks, and we push through a set of doors that lead to a basketball court and, around the corner from the court, a cramped green-screen studio. “We can do small things here,” Andy says. “Because of trains, it's not great for sound.”

The place is so spotless and quiet it feels like an Ikea after hours; couple this with the Wachowskis' secrecy and the dark holes that stare down from exposed ductwork — holes where one could hide a video camera — and I also get a slightly paranoid feeling. But, oh! The elevator. Wish you could see the elevator. It's a pneumatic tube, a metal cylinder surrounded by metal mesh. It acts like a Shop-Vac, pushing the small metal disc you stand on to the roof, where you find a pretty garden.

The basketball court is made with reclaimed bamboo; the walls of the offices are made from a log salvaged from the bottom of Lake Superior. None of which is a surprise if you know what they did before making films.

They started a construction business. Ketcham, the architect, tells me, “They were young painters and carpenters. They built my house. I got their flier. They were called Cheap-O Painters, but did such a good job and were hard workers, I hired them later. But they were just kids then, trying to pay off college debts.”

Reading Foucault and Derrida on their breaks.

Back in their office, the Wachowskis, Tykwer — they look somewhat like a road company “Breakfast Club,” reclining and hunched forward in various degrees of expectation and boredom. They worked on “Cloud Atlas” by shuttling between the Wachowskis' Chicago and Tykwer's Berlin, where the film was shot.

They talk for a bit about this, about the similarities between “The Matrix” and Tykwer's “Run Lola Run,” which Lana says she saw in the old Fine Arts Theater on Michigan Avenue, then left, bought another ticket and saw it again.

I ask if they were big moviegoers growing up here. The siblings lighten somewhat. Lana: “Our parents took us to a lot of films. We have one legendary triple feature.” Andy: “All three at the Colony Theater, right?”

Lana: “No, it started at the Colony.”

Tykwer: “Does it still exist?”

Both: “No.”

Lana: “One of the theaters was the Adelphi.”

Andy: “It started on the South Side, then … Near North?”

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