Alex Proyas has been directing films for over twenty five years. To most fans, he is best known as the director to one of the earlier comic book to film adaptions, "The Crow." Since then he has directed the cult hit "Dark City" starring Keifer Sutherland alongside "The Incredible Hulk's" own Jennifer Connelly and Will Smith in "I. Robot." His latest film is "Knowing" in which a teacher, played by Nicolas Cage, opens up a time capsule that holds predictions to things that have already happened and events that are about to take place. CBR News caught up with the director last month at Comic-Con International in San Diego to talk to him about the film.
Proyas is typically known for his stylistic visions, from the gothic world of "The Crow" to the sleek futuristic world of "I, Robot," but with "Knowing," Proyas has left his stylistic directing behind for a world that more realistic. "It's a very different film for me because it's very real," Proyas said. "It feels very gritty and real, and it's very naturalistic, and that was really important to me to make it that way. So it's not really about the visuals as such; it's just about the atmosphere and the emotion, and I think I am more about atmosphere than visuals. I mean visuals, I can take them or leave them, and sometimes visuals help you tell a story and other times they don't. Other times they get in the way. So this is a very conscious effort to do something quite stylistically different [for me]."
While most directors - and fans - continue to debate over CGI or real effects, Proyas is only concerned with one thing: making it look real. "I will use whatever technique makes it convincing," he explained. "I am very blase, I think a lot of people are very blase towards CGI these days. You know [that] everyone knows how it's done, and if you are aware of it being CGI, then there is a disconnect that happens. So it's a great tool, like any other tool we have, but you just have to be careful about how you use it and how good it is when you use it. I'd rather not do a shot where you go 'It's fake.'" That's my basic principle. I'll use whatever technique is necessary."
The gritty and realistic look that Proyas was looking to capture can be found in one of the film's most stunning visual moments, that of a plane crash observed by Cage's character. "The plane crash scene in the movie is actually quite interesting because I wanted to do this entire scene in one shot," Proyas elaborated. "My idea about that was to put you right into the situation, almost like you're a documentary crew following Nic through this carnage. So essentially in one shot you get this: he sees the plane, the plane crashes off into the field and we follow him into the wreckage of people on fire. And he has to save people, and part of the thing [is] blowing up, and it's all one continuous two minute take. I did that specifically to not let the artifice of visual effects and all the cuts and stuff we can do, get in the way of the emotion of the scene. And I believe it works quite well. I showed the scene to people, and people don't actually realize that it's one shot. I go, 'You realize that you've seen one take, from the moment he sees the plane right up till the end of the scene?' And no one actually realizes it, but I think they are kind of disturbed by what they are experiencing; so I took that as a positive, as I like to disturb people."
To choreograph and then film such a shot was not an easy task. "It definitely gave me a major headache to achieve," Proyas said. "It took us two days to set up and two days to shoot. We did three takes over the two days because it was a huge reset each time. The weather was a nightmare. It's all the fun of directing a movie. We got it just at the final moment; I've never experienced something like this. Everyone on the crew was [acting] like they had just won the lottery, because it was just immense relief that we actually got the shot. As I was in the middle of it, I was going "There is no way this is going to work, I am going to admit defeat in a moment."
As for working alongside the actor who has probably auditioned for almost every superhero film made in the past 10 years, Proyas has found it to be a great experience. "Nic's great. He's a really sweet guy and obviously an immensely talented actor," he said. "We had a great time; I think it's probably the best fun I've had making a movie, because we got along really well. He's very subtly funny, which is great. He has a similarly twisted sense of humor to my own, so we were very much on the same page. We were very good collaborators. Hopefully we'll get the chance to do more stuff together."
Proyas has been involved with "Knowing" since it was first written on spec by writer Ryne Pearsons. "Well, essentially, Ryne Pearson came up with the original spec script," Proyas said. "Snowden and White were writers that came in when I was first involved with the project. The main development of the script was Stuart Hazeldine, and myself to a certain extent [as] I changed the script enormously. I've been involved with this project for about five years, so I really took it in a very different direction from the first draft that I read. The first draft I read was really the hook of the movie, which is the unearthing [of] this time capsule with information."
The film taps into something fundamental: the desire in humans to know the future. "Well, it's a double edged sword," Proyas said. "You ask people, 'If you could know the day that you were gonna die, would you want to know that? Would you want to know that information?' And people are very conflicted about having that knowledge. You know that if you're given this information, somehow it's right in front of you, then what do you do with it? Can you change the parameters about what's going to occur? Can you effectively change your destiny? I think that's really an intriguing notion."
As for any themes or messages that an audience might find in the movie, Proyas isn't the type to to want to shape reactions. "I really want people to be the judge of that," Proyas said. "At the best of times, I really don't like talking about my movies as I've put so much into the movies that I sort of just want people to find that stuff for themselves." He did admit to finding himself fascinated with a particular concept in the film, that of order versus chaos. " Nicolas Cage's character in the movie character starts out believing there is no central meaning to our existence, that the universe functions along chaotic principles, and he discovers that there is actually order and there is actually meaning," Proyas explained. "It's his journey back to meaning in the movie, so that I guess is the central theme."
Recently, fans of Proyas' work were treated to a new release of "Dark City" on Blu-Ray and DVD that featured a never before seen Director's Cut of the film. Will fans of his work on "The Crow" also be treated to a special edition of the Brandon Lee film as well? "We tried to at one stage," Proyas said. "There is another version of 'The Crow,' but it became politically difficult, I say no more than that." The project was very close to fruition before it hit some stumbling blocks. "We came very close, they interviewed me for it and stuff. There was this thing that ['The Crow' screenplay writer] David Schow did called 'The Crow Chronicles' which was a documentary about the behind the scenes stuff, which is really cool actually." In the end though, Proyas felt the need to pull out of the project not for financial reasons but because of the late Brandon Lee who died during the filming of the film. "It's very important to me that the same level of respect that we demonstrated in finishing the film to Brandon's memory was carried through anything else that's ever to do with 'The Crow,' and when that's not held in the highest esteem, then I would probably [have to go]."