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Hollywood director inspires next gen of filmmakers

Visionary director, Alex Proyas spoke to us about his passion for filmmaking, working with some of Hollywood's top actors, and how the industry has adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Man standing in empty parking lot.

From an early age films had an impact on Alex’s life, when at the age of six he was taken to see 2001: A Space Odyssey by his parents. “Even at that age, my mind was blown. I just loved the escapism and how you could be transported to another world,” Alex said.

As time went on Alex became inquisitive about how movies were made. “I kept bugging my parents to buy me a Super 8 camera. Eventually they gave me one for my birthday, and I started making films with that,” Alex said.

Before his transition to feature films and some of his best known work, Alex directed advertisements and music videos for artists including Sting, Fleetwood Mac and Crowded House. This led to an ARIA award for best music video for Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream it’s Over’ in 1987. The success that Alex had with commercials and music videos, he explains, were his “passport to Hollywood films.”

“I was lucky to make a number of high-profile music videos that got me to the US. I had already made a low budget feature film in Australia, Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Cloud, but it was the commercials and music videos that got me seen in the feature film world,” Alex said.

During Alex’s film career he has directed big budget films The Crow, Dark City, iRobot, Knowing, and Gods of Egypt, and worked with some of Hollywood’s top actors. It was Will Smith and Nicolas Cage though that left the greatest impression on him.

“Will is hilarious – when we were filming iRobot, he kept me laughing to the point where I couldn’t concentrate and we’d have to stop filming. He’s got a great personality, and loves having fun by doing different impressions of the crew,” Alex said.

“Nick was terrific too – when we were filming Knowing. He’s a surrealist and has a great sense of humour that aligns very much with my own.

“They’re both lovely to work with. They take their jobs very seriously and they fully embrace the story – which makes them good people to collaborate with,” Alex added.

In today’s world of smartphones and the greater affordability of video technology, Alex believes “there’s no justification to not make a film, if you really want to make one. It’s about how much energy you’re able to throw at it, how good a communicator you are at dragging people into your sphere of madness. That means exciting your cast and crew, and getting them on board with the story you’re trying to tell”.

With a unique style to his films, Alex confirms that storyboarding each shot of the film is a crucial part of his process, which all up and coming filmmakers should go through. “These days it’s very alluring to get your phone out and start making shots, without knowing how those shots go together in a scene.

“Storyboarding is something that is really important, especially for young filmmakers. If you’ve got a crew on set, you have to get them to trust you, and how you do that is by doing pre-planning and not making it up as you go,” Alex added.

With the film industry being heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Alex has used it as an opportunity to develop a film studio that brings all the different disciplines of film under one roof – from shooting and editing to visual effects and sound. The first film that will be produced in the new studio is Mask of the Evil Apparition – which comes out later this year.

“Rather than travelling to a physical location, we shoot on green and LED screens, creating the entire look and feel of the set on a computer. It’s a very lean, expedient way of making a film without compromising on quality. I used these same techniques for iRobot in 2004. A lot of big productions use the technology, but we’re making it indie friendly,” Alex said.

With the film industry going through changes, Alex believes there are “enormous opportunities” for filmmakers. “It’s about finding out where those opportunities are. I would urge directors to find a way to make films here in Australia.”

Film students looking at a camera on a green set.

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