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Interview: Alex Proyas for "Garage Days"

By Paul Fischer Sunday October 1st 2006 12:38AM
Alex Proyas for "Garage Days"

Question: After "Dark City" you pretty much had you choice of doing whatever project you wanted, why did you choose to come back here and work on a low-budget rock comedy?

Answer: I didn't have my choice of any project I wanted (laughs) its very nice of you to say so. for me, I just wanted to have some fun with something you know, I love science-fiction and the fantasy genres and a lot of stuff I'm developing is in that genre. I guess I just really wanted to kind of pull back and do something for a lower budget and go back to the type of filmmaking I did in film school - small crew, make it more of a sort of a family event with people that you work with rather than this massive monster you have to maintain on big movies. I'm really glad I did it, we just had a blast and had great fun making the movie, and that really was the intention I mean obviously when you do something for that sort of budget range its pretty hard to stay in the science-fiction genre which is by its very nature an expensive area to work in. I'm thrilled that its a popular genre right now with studios and that as we do get a chance to do this stuff, its nice just to sort of do something where you don't have to think about what every set looks like or every prop that people are holding. That was really the idea, and I enjoyed doing it.

Question: Did coming back home to Australia make it easier to do a production on a smaller scale like this?

Answer: Yeah, its been interesting actually having to sort of shoot in the streets of Sydney and having to hire pubs and what have you for locations - I've become aware of how much its changed. Its become a lot pricier as a city to work in for lower budget films. I really don't know how a lot of people manage to do it, I guess there's a movement now away from Sydney with a lot of people going to shoot in Adelaide and pretend its Sydney and I can sort of see why. With the big Hollywood movies coming through town all the time, everyone's expectations for what they can get on a daily location fee is so much bigger and you go in there as a small budget film and you go "well look guys we don't have big Hollywood resources behind us" and they don't sort of care really, they sort of want to see that same amount of money they got for "Mission: Impossible 2" or whatever. So, that was a bit of an eye-opener but as far as shooting in the streets of Sydney I shot a lot of the movie around Newtown which was fantastic - I used to live there for many years, being able to glamorise Newtown (laughs) show off the 'exotic' side of it was kind of a challenge. The people in Newtown were so nice we dedicated the movie to them because they were just really cool, we were blocking the streets constantly and adding more congestion to King Street and they were like pretty easy going about it.

Question: The 'Palace Hotel' that is the main pub location in the movie, where is that?

Answer: The exterior of the Palace, the bottom floor anyway is the Hollywood Hotel in Surry Hills. We've actually added a matte painting basically for the top. I wanted the absolute iconic meccha for pub-goers in Sydney and just really wanted to invent my own that used a lot of elements from different designs so we decided to do a visual effect there. The interiors are sets we built.

Question: Was there ever any pressure of consideration about doing this film but set in America?

Answer: No, no because I don't know enough about that world. The film is very specifically influenced by my years a long time ago working in the music video industry in Australia and hanging out with a lot of friends who are in bands here so it was always so much linked with those memories and that world it would've been impossible to make it about a world that I don't really know much about. I was committed to making a local film too, you know I never really made an Australian film. Even my first film which was sort of set in Australia was kind of this post-apocalyptic world which could've been anywhere so for me it was like the film I never made in a way. I really wanted to come back here and do something - an Australian story basically.

Question: Can you talk a bit about the filming of the concert scenes at the Homebake festival?

Answer: That was the last thing we shot, though we had a break. We had to shoot the film at a certain time because I wanted winter light in the film and ironically it rains less in Sydney in winter than it does in Summer which I couldn't work out but that's apparently statistically the case. I wanted the film to have a certain look to it and winter sunlight for me in Sydney is just magic you know, its crisp and its clear and very flattering on people's faces. So I shot it during the winter months but we always knew we wanted to do the Homebake thing and it takes place December so we basically had a break of about three months and then came back for the Homeback shoot we did.

Question: Was it complicated to film?

Answer: Yeah, it was like you hang onto the wild bronco and go for your life. There was really no control, we had to just fit around whatever scenario we were given. The promoters said "you get ten minutes on stage to do what you like, beyond ten minutes the crowd is going to turn against us so whatever's going on we're going to pull you guys off stage and that's it". fortunately it all came together, and it was scary stuff you know there's always some level of control you have as a filmmaker otherwise I'd be making documentaries - I like that you can say "Stop, we'll do it again, take 2" but obviously in that case we couldn't do that we had to have enough cameras and just make sure we captured the moment.

Question: There are various 'Alex Proyas touches' in there with the drug hallucination sequences and so forth, did they turn out as expected?

Answer: Yeah, well I don't see them as touches. I didn't intend them being any kind of signature imagery its just umm...I always wanted to have this thing where you suddenly go into different points of view of the characters, and with such an ensemble cast I wanted to have moments where we really saw things through their eyes and I guess the little monologues they do through the movie was my chance to go through strange headspaces. I guess I couldn't completely let go of this world of the imagination that I like to work in - I just really wanted to see that aspect in the movie. I couldn't be completely in the real world, I had to have a little bit of a sense of fantasy.

Question: This is a film which is very family oriented, and yet there's a character (the guitarist's sexually perverted goth girlfriend) which comes out of blood-filled bathtubs and such?

Answer: (laughs). You never quite know tonally where something is heading until you start showing it to an audience. Things that I really thought that were pushing the envelope a little bit for the kind of comedy that the movie is, I'm amazed that older people were watching that stuff and found it sort of amusing - I never would've thought that would be the case but somehow its the characters in the movie that kind of take you through this pretty out there stuff. It seems to have a pretty wide age band in terms of people who liked the movie, much wider than anything I've ever made as my stuff tends to...its always traditionally appealed to young guys aged 15 to 25 and girls couldn't care less, whilst it drops off dramatically after the age of 25. This one I think a lot of people, all sorts of different people have been saying they like it a lot which is weird because its not like I designed the movie any other way than I usually do, I go in wanting to do something I like and if other people like it that's a bonus.

Question: Now that some time has passed, have you found "Dark City" has grown a wider appeal?

Answer: It has, very much so. Its interesting seeing the...because after I made "The Crow" and even when "Dark City" came out people were talking about "The Crow" as it had such a bigger commercial success than "Dark City" did, but its slowly been tipping over the years and its becoming - people ask me more about "Dark City" than "The Crow" which is a good thing as I remember "Dark City" much more than "The Crow" (laughs). Its obviously great, for a film to last beyond its initial release is a wonderful thing and the great thing about DVD now is that I don't mind people watching my movies on DVD at home because at least your getting something of the quality of the film. When it was like we had VHS as the representation of your film and television it was just horrible. Now its like if you've got a reasonable screen and reasonable sound system your seeing a pretty good version of what the movie is.

Question: Any extras to expect on the DVD such as deleted scenes?

Answer: We had very little stuff shot that isn't in the movie, pretty much the entire rough cut is what you see so everything's in there. There is miles of goof takes and silly stuff behind-the-scenes, a lot of material so we're putting that on the DVD. I'm a big fan of DVD, I love them and for me its all about extra material that makes DVD great to have and own. I went through this whole thing where I was into Laserdiscs big time and I had about 900 laserdiscs and still have and don't know what I'm going to do with them so I've been really slow on the DVDs - its really hard for me if I've got the Laserdisc to go and buy the DVD.

Question: With a lot of songs and productions taking up the "No Pokies in Bars" theme, was the one in here always planned?

Answer: Yeah, absolutely. I think they're an evil blight on mankind and its very intentional all that stuff. The interesting thing to me was when I was researching the script and going back to talk to musicians around town, the real difference between now and when I was hanging out with people in bands in the mid-80s is that back then you could really get a gig at whatever level you were at. There was always someone who was prepared to throw you on stage cause there was so many venues - every pub had its own little stage. Now its just, you go past those few pubs that have bands still and there are very very few, to see whose coming up or playing next Saturday night and its like people that have multiple albums out and are really well known bands who are playing the pub gigs so I don't know where the upcoming bands are going to cut their teeth or come from these days. To me it's obviously going to be something that our lead character in the movie would have a real vendetta against.

Question: Was there any concern about having the two leads from "Looking for Alibrandi" reunited so soon in a film?

Answer: I really didn't think about it that much as it really came down to who I wanted for the characters, and I auditioned every young actor in Australia and every young Australian actor overseas or living in other parts of the world. It really just boiled down to Kick Gurry and Pia Miranda were the right people for those roles. Once I met them and liked them, there's no way I could have anything get in the way of actually working with them. I really didn't think about it that much, but in a way its probably a good thing for the movie as people like the chemistry they have and its a very different chemistry in this movie as they're completely different characters. I don't think it can hurt the movie in anyway

Question: Any word on the release plans for the US?

Answer: That's still being worked out. Searchlight have had a great deal of success with their movies, they take a long time to get the press onboard, and show the movie around, but it takes many many months to do that. Its next year, but at the moment its kind of pushing back - it was announced for January next year but its probably going to be pushed back beyond that at this stage.

Question: Any hopes for awards?

Answer: I don't know how awards work (laughs), but being objective about it...it doesn't seem to me to be the sort of movie that gets awards. I'm not the sort of guy who gets awards anyway so you never know, but I'm not waiting for that moment with baited breath.

Question: Were there any surprises in regards to how reaction has been in early screenings?

Answer: Well women really like the movie, which I also found very interesting. I guess it's the romance of the movie, I should've thought this through I suppose but it did come as a surprise just because I go into a film with certain pre-conceived notions about who my audience is and you know we've got our own website which we've been getting a lot of feedback from people. I thought I had a pretty clear impression about the type of person who liked my films just from meeting people out there who liked them. So its always kind of weird to find another type of person who likes something of mine, but hell I'll take them (laughs). As long as someone turns up I'll be happy.

Question: I absolutely loved the closing credits dance sequence by the cast to a Tom Jones number (each one dances for a few seconds then disappears before another pops up), can you talk about that a bit?

Answer: Well I really wanted to do it in one shot of course, and I realised when we were shooting it there was this incredible pressure on...I realised the further down the chain you were as an actor, the later you appear in the scene the more pressure on you not to f*ck up because you screw up everyone else's work and have to go again. There was always some little thing that got us, we did one and we all went "thank god that we finally got it" but there was one little thing I wasn't happy with so we did it a few more times basically. Once we got one that actually worked, people kind of relaxed and things started going horribly wrong from there so we stuck with that one take.

Question: With that all over and done with, what's up next for you?

Answer: We're in the midst of working out "I Robot" which is quite complicated technically, that's the understatement of the year actually. So we're really trying to work out whether we can do it...I can't say very much about it because we're right in the middle of working out all sorts of stuff about the film.

Question: I heard a rumour last week that the project was shutting down?

Answer: Its never been 'on' for it to be 'off' so the rumours that float around are very interesting. No, we're making headway - we're slowly getting there but the visual effects are really, really challenging and I just want to know if I go into it, that I can actually pull this stuff off with total belivability. We're trying to push the envelope a little bit technically. for me I just want to make sure people totally buy it when they see the movie and its not half-assed or anything. That's really where all the work is going at the moment, and associated with that is the budget of course and trying to work out if we can do it and if anyone in their right mind would give us enough money to do it. That's where all the effort is going at the moment, but it looks very positive at this point. As we sit here right now, its moving forward.

Question: A lot of people have been adapting Phillip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke, but Asimov has remained untouched as such. Was that a conscious choice?

Answer: I read all these guys when I was younger and had my list of novels by great sci-fi authors that I'd love to one day make and "I, Robot" was one of them. I guess its just we're really now getting to the point where you can really seriously take these things on, I mean it really has...our ability to visualize some of these ideas is only now starting to come online. for someone to take on "I Robot" even ten years ago would've been absolute insanity, I think it still just is now but we at least have a chance at pulling it off with advances in visual FX. Obviously the more popular the sci-fi genre becomes to mainstream audiences, the more you can start pushing the level of ideas because "I Robot" is a somewhat philosophical concept and I want to stay true to Asimov and not do the dumbed down version so audiences need to come up to a level of sophistication where people can go and see these movies and actually have some background in which to place them and get the concepts which we're trying to get across. I think "Dark City" was dealing with some basic concepts from science-fiction that for me were quite obvious but for a mainstream audience at the time certainly weren't. A lot of people went "what? what was that about?", people who loved science-fiction got it but I think it was probably a little bit too much at the time it came out. The thing about audiences is that you never want to underestimate them, because its hard to put everyone in the same category. You just have to make sure your film, if its at a certain budget range, has to appeal to a certain slab of people out there - it can't just appeal to people who read science fiction - as much as I would love to be making films just for that audience.

Question: There seems to be more pressure now to appeal to a wider audience with films than ever before?

Answer: As the budgets go up that's going to happen - its just mathematics basically, you need more people to come in and see the movie. Its a really difficult balance to strike, that's really the art of filmmaking - more than anything else is "How do you be Alfred Hitchcock" where you make films which are hugely commercially accessible, but are also really damn good & clever, great filmmaking - that's what I spend most of my time trying to work out. One day if I'm lucky I'll crack it.

Question: Is "I Robot" the only project in development?

Answer: That's really the one that we're spending all of our spare time on at the moment, but there's a lot of other stuff that I'm working on. We just got a draft in for a script called "Drive" that's based on a Harlan Ellison story "Along the Scenic Route" which is basically about futuristic road rage which is actually really cool, I think the script is great but that's still in early stages. We did a pilot for a TV series called "Riverworld" based on Phillip Jose Farmer's stories and we're still tweaking the pilot and that should be screened, we think January of next year on The Sci-Fi Channel at this stage. Depending upon the reaction to the pilot, we'll hopefully be making a series but we'll soon see.

Question: With "Farscape" gone, will that make it easier to get local crew for a project like "I Robot"?

Answer: The pool of technical talent here is pretty small compared with everywhere else so obviously trying to mount something like "I Robot"...whenever a big project comes through town we're all like "where are we going to find the people to do our show". I think that you can only do two large scale projects at the one time in Sydney, beyond that it starts getting really really tricky cause they chew up hundreds and hundreds of people each one of these productions.

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