Interview – ‘The Crow’, ‘I, Robot’ director Alex Proyas reflects on his career, using AI in films, and the struggles of studio filmmaking

On the 30th anniversary of The Crow, and the 20th anniversary of I, Robot, it’s fitting that filmmaker Alex Proyas is the recipient of the 2024 Chauvel Award for his contribution to filmmaking in both Australian and abroad. Receiving his accolade at the Screen Industry Gala Awards on April 18, Proyas opened up on stage about his career before premiering a series of his most recent short films during the Gold Coast Film Festival.

In attendance at the Gold Coast Film Festival’s opening night, Nick L’Barrow had the opportunity to sit down over a drink with Alex Proyas in an exclusive, extended discussion to discuss the current climate of Australian filmmaking, working with Will Smith on I, Robot, and how he makes movies for one person only.

Nick: Have you ever been to, or filmed anything, at the Gold Coast before?

Alex Proyas: No, but I did come to the see the studios years and years ago. It just didn’t work out.

Nick: It has seemed like over the last few years that Australia, but South East Queensland in particular has been an ever growing hub for filmmaking. We’ve seen a large variety of productions. How have you seen the Australian film industry change and evolve of the last few decades of your career?

Alex Proyas: You can’t put everything into the same overall shell. Like, all the big runaway Hollywood productions – yeah, great, it’s fantastic. And we’ve got the resources now, the studios, the infrastructure, to cater to the projects.

But I think for our homegrown stuff, we’ve got a long way to go. We’re also fighting the very nature of a shifting landscape in filmmaking. We are all independent filmmakers in this country, right? Unlike Hollywood, they have day jobs in the film industry. Here, we do it as a hobby. We get paid, and we’re very happy. And I do think we need to do a lot better here at helping homegrown talent.

I have an interesting experience because I’ve done both very small budget films locally here, and the big Hollywood films. And I know I get enormous support when I’m brining $80 million US into the country, right? No so much when I’m not doing that. I think that’s a real problem.

I think we need to keep working diligently in fixing that problem. Filmmakers need – Australian filmmakers – need all the support we can get. Even more so because it’s such a precarious industry globally, but here we feel the brunt of that much more so than perhaps others.

How do you find navigating the international studio system?

Alex Proyas: It’s horses for courses. Making movies is never easy. It doesn’t matter what level you’re doing it and who you’re doing it with, it’s always a slog. That’s why I say support is the way to do it. That goes for fellow filmmakers. I make an effort to never say anything bad about anyone else’s film, because I think any film being made is a miracle. We should support each other.

That’s something the American’s actually do pretty well, because they’re all trying to make money out of it, right? Here, we don’t do that so well. The Australian psyche is one where we’re always kind of scared of other people, we’re scared of competition. We see people as competition, which we’re not. Rival filmmakers are not competition. We’re fellow artists all trying to do something fun. So, I think supporting each other as much as we possibly can, I think that’s really important.

That’s the Australian psyche. I equate it to, you know, when someone opens an Italian restaurant, and they have a business that appeals to people who want Italian food. And then another person opens up a rival Italian restaurant across the street. The first guy gets really pissed off and thinks it’s competition. What they don’t realise is that they’re not competition, but this is the birth of a Little Italy. It means more people are going to come and get Italian food. It’s good for everyone.

That’s something that Australian’s inherently don’t understand. It’s something that Americans, as a culture, they understand this notion of making sequels, making franchises, doing all that stuff, it’s an extension of the same idea. If more people are doing more of the good thing, that’s great.

I think it’s a psychological problem. And it’s because we – well, I don’t – but you guys probably do, British and Irish heritage. Their mantra is very – Bono had a great story to tell. And I don’t like Bono. I don’t like his politics or whatever, nor do I like his music particularly, but he had a great story to tell.

In America, if you’re not making a lot of money, you look up to the rich man’s house on the hill and go, “One day, I’m going to be so rich, I’m going to own a house like that guy!” In Ireland, you look up at the rich man’s house on the hill and you go, “Well, I’m going to go up there and fucking kill that rich guy and steal his fucking castle!” And to a certain extent, that’s the Australian psychology too.

It’s shifted a little bit over the course of the decade, sure. But we still try and hold people back in our own industry, because they’re perceived as competition, and rivals, which we’re just not.

Nick: Where does something like the Gold Coast Film Festival fall into that infrastructure? Is an event like this something you feel helps build that support and community the industry needs?

Alex Proyas: I think it’s all part of the process of getting people, getting filmmakers, together. Getting film investors and financers, everyone involved in making it a celebration of filmmaking, you know?

Nick: And you’re showcasing your recent short films here, plus, congratulations on being the 2024 Chauvel recipient.

Alex Proyas: Yeah, it’s a great honour. It’s fantastic. I’m in very good company with the people that have won it in the past. And the short films came about because I wanted to show people something they maybe hadn’t seen. I’ve been making short films and experimenting with different techniques and stuff. I’m most proud of my recent stuff. It’s been worth it. No one has told me what to do and what to change! I’ve paid for it all myself, which isn’t the best feeling!

Nick: The price of creative freedom, right?

Alex Proyas:  Honestly, for the fun I’ve had making these films, it was worth it. It’s great that they’re [Gold Coast Film Festival] open to showing this sort of stuff, because to me it’s all about the future.

What does it look like? Where are we taking all of this? That’s what I’m most excited to talk about. What do we have to change to fix the broken model? How do you shift that? How do we change that? How do we make sure we increase income and revitalise the ability for independent filmmakers to earn a living doing this?

And I’m not saying by going to work on some big Hollywood movie as a crew member. I’m talking about spearheading this creative venture. It’s really, really important to start to talk about where we’re going to take this thing. It’s all about change. We’ve got to change this. It’s just not working for anyone.

Pointing the finger at things like AI, that’s not it. That’s a new possibility. That’s not the Armageddon facing the film industry. AI isn’t responsible for that. Maybe it’s a tool to actually save the industry from that. We have to talk about it. We can’t ignore it and hope it goes away. Sure, we have to legislate it. But it’s not going away. We have to make it ethical.

There are two arguments about AI. One is taking people’s work away. If Marvel is doing it, it’s taking people’s work away and they should be severely punished. If it’s independent filmmakers, making a film that they would otherwise not be able to make in any other way, then it’s a beautiful new opportunity for a whole new art form. I don’t accept the argument that it’s plagiarism. You don’t need AI to be a plagiarist! I’ve been plagiarised many times. It’s human beings.

And the AI arguments come from a place of fear. They’re not coming from a place of seeing the opportunity that emerges from this technology. With my career, we’re working on AI projects at the moment, and we’re taking active measure to make sure we don’t steal ideas from others. It’s been quite interesting.

Nick: I’d be remised to not bring up that it’s the 20th anniversary of I, Robot – which is a movie that I watched a lot growing up. What was your experience like working on that film? And how do you feel it’s held up 20 years later?

Alex Proyas: We were actually talking about this today, and it was a very prescient kind of project. We had some MIT professors and students helping us with the development of technologies in that film. And this was around 2000, and we said we were setting the film in the 2030-something, do you believe that the robots we’ve designed and developed will be a realistic projection?

And they thought – maybe? I thought we were being conservative! Actually, two of the guys are actually now principal scientists at Boston Dynamics. So, the robots aren’t just there yet, but it’s getting pretty close.

But it was a horrible experience because the studio was terrible to work with. I got away with most of what I wanted to write. I mean, I wanted it to be more deep and meaningful. Will [Smith] was great. He was always very supportive of the serious approach to what we were doing. The studio kept saying to both of us that they wanted more gags. They kept insisting on it.

So, eventually, we said we would do it, and we would do one take that was more serious, then one take with a one liner. They accepted that which basically meant I did get to make my version of the movie, but it also meant we had to test the studios version of the movie with the gags, and their movie tested through the roof.

It was the best test Fox had ever had. It scored 96 in the top two boxes. The last one to score that high was Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, and that only got a 92. And I said to Will, “Well, looks like they’re doing the funny version”. We didn’t have a hope in hell then. We tried to test my version to at least to see how it tests, and they wouldn’t let me. And by that point we had a release date and wouldn’t have had time to cut my version. I didn’t have final cut on that movie.

Nick: Do you feel like the work you’re doing now with the short films and self-financed projects is potentially an extension of the things you wanted to do and say in those films back then?

Alex Proyas: It’s a bit like psychoanalysing yourself. I mean, everything I do has got my “stuff” in it. It doesn’t matter whether the studio pushes back or not, it’s still somewhat my stuff. I think that’s what I’m trying to do with these movies, not just making entertainment. I’m trying to make a philosophical piece that also entertains. I hate audiences being bored and thinking, “God, this is fucking pretentious bullshit”. It’s about how cleverly you can hide it from a mainstream audience.

At the end of the day, I make movies for me. Gods of Egypt? I made that movie for 12-year-old me, when I first saw Star Wars. Like you with I, Robot, I saw Star Wars 20 times growing up. It’s not for every 12-year-old boy or girl in the world, but it was for 12-year-old me. When I made The Crow, I made that for 18-year-old me because he was allowed to see that sort of movie.

I don’t care about the 25-year-old women. I don’t care about 50-year-old men. I don’t care about 10-year-old girls. I’m making them for one person who loves industrial music, who loves the Gothic style, and violence, and mayhem. If every movie was made for everyone, you’re going to fuck it up for 18-year-old me. And then maybe my work will find others who like it too.

Thank you very much to Alex for being so generous with his time, and to PJ Marketing and Media and the Gold Coast Film Festival for organising the interview. For more information on the Gold Coast Film Festival, head to www.gcff.com.au

Criterion 1
Users (0 votes) 0
What people say... Leave your rating
Sort by:

Be the first to leave a review.

User Avatar
Verified
{{{ review.rating_title }}}
{{{review.rating_comment | nl2br}}}

Show more
{{ pageNumber+1 }}
Leave your rating

Your browser does not support images upload. Please choose a modern one

Subscribe

Related articles

Trailer – Treasure

Lena Dunham and Stephen Fry star in a road...

Review – Atlas

Jennifer Lopez heads back to the big screen (sort...
spot_imgspot_img
Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

Leave a Reply