It is only with his two most recent films that Tarsem Singh (known through his work only as Tarsem) has begun to gain some recognition with the general movie-going public. Doubtless a director with such a limited filmography would never have been permitted to control such magnanimous budgets, as these films were given, if it were not for the stunning undertaking of The Fall.
The Fall was not a tremendous financial success (except in the art house circuit) and featured no actors who had even neared the status of being a household name at the time of its theatrical release in 2008, but the film has a striking impact on all who view it. Critic Roger Ebert named it one of the great films of that year. He has written about the film on numerous occasions and calls it "an extravagant visual orgy, a free fall from reality into uncharted realms. A movie [to] see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it."
The Indian-born music video director had begun work on the film some two decades before the release of his opus. Traveling and making connections he intended to utilize when the time was right. The movie was financed with millions of dollars from his own pocket as he wanted to have complete artistic control of its production.
Certainly the intensely visceral director would not have been able to create what he did with the burden of production control. The movie was shot in over 20 different countries across Europe, Africa, and Asia and he ignored Hollywood tradition, paying his cast and crew on equal basis.
The years of writing and scouting for locations culminated to production when Tarsem finally found the little girl (Catinca Untaru) he needed for the lead role. He had always known that role was the key and when he saw her he knew production had to begin immediately, stating that in even four months she would not be the same girl - the one he needed.
The story centers around the relationship between two patients at a hospital. The young girl with a broken arm and a suicidal man (Lee Pace) who has been paralyzed performing a movie stunt. Tarsem felt the relationship was essential to film's success and worked very hard to establish an authentic environment. When the characters first meet the actors are also meeting for the first time - Catinca could not even speak English yet.
To aid in the organic development of their relationship all of the segments in the hospital (a large portion of the film) were shot in sequence. It was Catinca's first time around a film production and she did not fully understand what it meant. In order to preserve this, studio sets and stages were avoided and even the interior scenes were shot on location. Tarsem went still further into method-inducing by having Pace actually pretend to be paralyzed in front of the cast and crew - indeed he hired an unknown actor to be sure only they two would know he wasn't paralyzed. The entire production team remained unaware that he could actually walk until nearly half-way through the production.
Tarsem kept a very close hold on all artistic decisions. In both of the two documentaries made on the creation of The Fall he can be observed meticulously surveying (and often bodily interjecting to manipulate) costume production, choreography, photography and virtually every aspect of the production.
His years of planning The Fall had kept him from many other films. His desire for complete control left him wary to commence the project and it might have waited much longer were it not for his personal friendship with filmmakers Spike Jonze and David Fincher who told him to either make it or stop talking about it. Both of the prestigious directors were instrumental in the release and publicity of Tarsem's creation.
Tasem has mused that every director working in music videos and commercials talks about one day using their own money to make their masterpiece movie, but no one ever does.
Then David Fincher adds "[You] happen to be the fool who has done it."