Quint chats with Alex Proyas about KNOWING, DARK CITY: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and DRACULA YEAR ONE!
Published at: July 25, 2008, 12:41 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. On the way to my first interview of the Con, I got a call from Beaks telling me that Frosty Skywalker of Collider fame got beaned by a falling beam moments before and was rushed to the hospital.
So when I got up to the secret little special people balcony to interview Alex Proyas about his upcoming Nicolas Cage flick KNOWING that was on my mind. The flick is about a time capsule filled with drawings from an elementary school class that is unearthed 50 years later and might contain precise and accurate hints at all the major disasters that have occurred since the capsule was buried, including disasters that haven’t happened yet.
This interview was before his panel and we began by talking about Frosty getting pegged on the noggin by the black curtain and metal beam.
Quint: I assume he’s okay… I haven’t heard anything horrible.
Alex Proyas: I’ll be nervous any time I am standing near a black drape, that’s all.
Quint: Yeah, avoid the black drapes.
Alex Proyas: I will be looking around very skittishly.
Quint: So, is this your first con or have you been here before?
Alex Proyas: I have never been here before no. I have been to smaller, more humble versions of this event in other parts of the world which are always fun. I hear it is great, so I am looking forward to it.
Quint: Its nuts. It is getting so ridiculously huge now. What are you bringing? Are you bringing footage?
Alex Proyas: It’s effectively an extended trailer, because it is very early days for us. We literally wrapped a few weeks ago, so we are really at an early point. There’s not a lot I could show that is finessed, you know? There has been a trailer floating around for a few weeks and we have elaborated on that. We have added more stuff in. Hopefully it will give people a bit of an impression.
Quint: I love the premise, just the basic synopsis that is out there. It feels like a dark OUTER LIMITS type story that I love so I…
Alex Proyas: It’s pretty dark. The trailer really only gives you an impression and the premise only really gives you an impression, to me it takes a very unexpected turn. The premise is really just for the setup… It’s like the first act of the movie effectively and it goes into a very, I hope, a very unique direction and that’s why I’m making the movie, because of what it delivers rather than what it promises.
Quint: Yeah because that’s the danger, sometimes there will be a great premise with a really iffy promise and that goes back to the history of film. I have this column that I am doing on the site called “A Movie A Day,” where I view a movie that I haven’t watched before and I have been watching a lot of these old noirs and you see great movies like OUT OF THE PAST and then you see a less great movie with a great premise, but something is just off.
Alex Proyas: Sure.
Quint: I have no idea where I am going with that.
Alex Proyas: No no, I am with you. So often, because I am a fan, too, along with everyone else, there is a premise that doesn’t deliver and you are sort of disappointed, because the hook is what gets you in. It’s like a pop song where you have got a hook or a melody that gets you in, but I am going to get into the lyrics.
Quint: Yeah, you want it to be memorable.
Alex Proyas: That is right, exactly.
Quint: That’s cool, so how long have you been attached to the project? Has it been a while?
Alex Proyas: It has been about five years. I mean everything I do always has a very long gestation period.
Quint: So, were you on when Richard Kelly did his draft?
Alex Proyas: I believe so. It’s based on an original script by a chap called Ryne Pearson, that’s the basic premise of it, but I have very much taken it into a whole different direction. I actually read the script, probably about ten years ago. It has been floating around for a long time and the first time around I didn’t really… The setup was there, the whole thing of a time capsule and these predictions that have come true and further ones that are to come true, but I had a bit of an epiphany with it and really took it somewhere else beyond that and that is kind of why I ended up making the film.
Quint: You would have to find something to hold on to if you were going to be with it for five years.
Alex Proyas: Exactly. I mean everyone and every movie you make and particularly for me, because I don’t make a lot of movies, I want everyone to be as much of a memorable experience for me as much for anyone watching the film.
Quint: I think of a lot of the filmmakers working today, you are definitely one out to make an impression. I remember vividly seeing DARK CITY for the first time. We had not seen a film like that in a very long time, where it’s kind of like a jumping off of the great early Gilliam movies, you know? It’s like we just don’t have those movies that are kind of dark and complex.
Alex Proyas: Well the studios don’t want us to make them and in fact I am just about to release the director’s cut of DARK CITY and that’s coming out next week.
Quint: On Blu-Ray?
Alex Proyas: It’s on Blu-Ray and it’s about ten or eleven minutes longer than the theatrical version of the film and it was a great process to go back into the movie, because the movie was compromised when we made it. It didn’t test very well and the studio got very nervous and we had to make some concessions to it and I had forgotten how many I actually made and I was actually quite surprised to go back to the director’s cut and look at it and go “Well, it’s really quite a different movie.” The movie that I intended to make, the one coming out, it was two quite different films, so I am really happy that I was able to go back to reinstate what was there originally.
Quint: Do you think having that distance helped? Because it has been what ten years or so? Do you think that you made a different cut now than you would have made had you had the complete freedom to release what you wanted at the time?
Alex Proyas: I don’t think so, because I literally went back and… yeah there is always that possibility, but I actually went back to the original cut, the pre-test screening cut and I pretty much reinstated that. I didn’t actually change… I may have made some amendments here and there, but not a lot and it really showed me that the film that I made was actually not dissimilar to the one I probably would make now.
Obviously technology has changed and visual effects have improved and all of that sort of stuff that we know about, but really my process was undermined because of lack of confidence I guess. I am probably a little braver maybe now than I was then. I have a little more experience and I am probably more willing to stick to my guns now than I was then possibly, so it is all of that psychological stuff that comes in as a filmmaker, but beyond that it’s pretty much what I intended on originally.
Quint: Are you still fighting with studios?
Alex Proyas: Well I had a major brawl with Fox on I ROBOT. That was quite… I was going to write the book and all of that stuff at one stage, but life is too short for that stuff, you have got to move on, but that was a particularly arduous experience. That was definitely the worse studio relationship I have ever had on anything.
Quint: Fox is pretty notorious for that.
Alex Proyas: The most unbelievable level of meddling I could possibly imagine. I won’t bore you with the details… I have started, you might not be able to stop me, but just sort of a disdain for filmmakers really which is the crux of the issue and that was tough.
Quint: Do you think in ten years time you will be able to scrounge together a different cut of that movie?
Alex Proyas: The irony is that I am still proud of that movie and I actually feel I made the best possible movie I could have made; it was just the personal toll that it took on me to get to that point. It’s not like I would change the movie very much really. The process was just so unpleasant and difficult and unnecessarily so and I am not the only guy in the world who has Fox stories to tell, but this experience has been diametrically opposite to that. Summit, who I think are going to be a highly regarded genre studio, because they really respect genre movies and they have given me an immense freedom and at the same time an extraordinary support, so that has really reignited my belief in that there are good guys out there that you can actually work with as a filmmaker.
Quint: You are also a writer as well for some films, correct? But you didn’t write…
Alex Proyas: I rewrote KNOWING considerably, yeah. I mean everything that I do, I am involved, whether I am a credited writer or not, I am pretty heavily involved. I think it is really important to do that and so… I do like working with other writers, the majority of the development process on KNOWING was done with a buddy of mine, Stuart Hazeldine, who we have collaborated with before, we have co written a couple of things that didn’t get made.
We did an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and we are currently working on an adaptation of the TRIPOD trilogy, so we work very well together and Stuart also wrote a pilot for a TV series that never happened as well. It is a process that I enjoy. He does the lion’s share of the actual sit down behind the computer, but we hash everything out in immense detail. I like writing. I enjoy it and I often rewrite things on the set, but it’s just… for a director, the hard part is how much time that entails. Literally you are either, to a certain extent, you are either a writer or a horror director. As much as I would just love to sit at home in my study and just write, it’s a very pleasurable part of the process, at some point I get distracted by having to make movies as well.
Quint: I would have loved to have seen how you would visually adapt a Poe story.
Alex Proyas: It’s interesting because we re-envisioned it as a quest, because you obviously know the story. It’s quite a short story and all takes place in Prospero’s castle, so we made that our third act and the basis of most of the movie is a quest to get to the castle and we had some pretty cool stuff in it, because it is set during the plague and the heroes are essentially four riders who ride black horses who where these big masks to protect themselves from the plague and they are like the horsemen of the apocalypse riding through mounds of burning corpses and all of this sort of stuff.
I didn’t pursue it, even though I was happy with the script, I didn’t pursue it because this was before LORD OF THE RINGS came out and then when Peter’s movie came out I felt like it was in the similar vain in some ways. Now I probably wouldn’t think that, so it may be something that I might come back to at some stage.
Quint: What else is on your plate? What else do you think you are going to do? You are obviously going to be busy with this for the rest of the year.
Alex Proyas: Yeah, this comes out in March and so we are pretty much in the thick of it now, but the next project for me is probably going to be this project entitled DRACULA YEAR ZERO for Universal.
Quint: I have heard that’s really fantastic script.
Alex Proyas: A great script, yeah. I was very impressed with the script when I read it and it is one of the few times that I have looked at a script and gone, “Well, there’s not a hell of a lot I can make better.” It took me by surprise in that respect, you know? We are tweaking it of course as you always do, but a lot of it is more production based tweaks, but it’s a really good script. It’s essentially the origin of Dracula and it’s mixing Prince Vlad’s story with the Bram Stoker legend and it’s just a really clever reengineering of those elements.
Quint: That’s really cool. I think that’s all about I have got, so I will let you get going on to the panel.
Alex Proyas: Alright, cheers!
There you have it. Lots of interesting topics covered in under 10 minutes! That’s one down and about 20 someodd more to go before I wrap this weekend up! Keep your eyes peeled for some really interesting interviews and panel coverage… WATCHMEN is tomorrow… I’m about to tinkle!