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Movie-Maker Alex Proyas, Master of MysteryClock.Com

The director of THE CROW and DARK CITY tries his hand at online entertainment.

By Anna L. Kaplan     November 05, 2000

Alex Proyas, acclaimed director of THE CROW and DARK CITY, has decided that the Internet is the best place for his latest venture. The website MysteryClock.Com, which launched this week, is a creative, collaborative, and inventive place for his work. Speaking from Australia, which has been his home since early childhood, Proyas explains what caught his attention: 'It really seems like it's coming of age as a medium. I guess it's the chance for some creative freedom finally. When you make a movie, you've always got some studio or financier breathing down your neck. This was really a chance to get back to doing something pure. It's been great fun in that respect. The whole idea of the site is that it's a collaborative medium. I really like that part of the Web. It's one of the things for me that's really exciting, because I am new to it. I guess people who have been involved with the Internet for a long time, creating content for the Internet, take that for granted to a certain extent. As a filmmaker, I am used to making a film, and then, unless I actually go to a theatrical screening of one of my own movies, it's really hard to get any feedback and gauge any interaction with an audience. So for me this is a great part of it.'

The site has a number of different projects. One is called 'Book of Dreams - the ultimate dream anthology.' Here users will be invited to share their dreams, with the ultimate goal of making short films of some of them. Says Proyas, 'It's something that I have been working on for a long time now, working on this series of short films that are basically revolving around the idea of someone explaining their dream. We see it acted out, and we see them acting within the dream. I have made three of these films so far. It was really designed originally as a kind of anthology feature film. My intention was always to release it as a big screen movie eventually, probably a limited art house release. It seems the Web is really the perfect medium for it. I came up with this thing before I knew exactly what to do with it, and it seems like it's finally found its little niche in the world. The idea eventually is that we would hope to gauge the interest in this particular program and perhaps release it on a DVD, once we've actually made the ten or so films that would make up about an hour and a half.'

Proyas continues, 'I think of dreams as free movies. I really enjoy dreaming. For many years I kept a dream diary. I don't really get the chance to do that anymore, because it's all about having a half an hour to an hour of free time when you wake up in the morning to write and to jot it all down. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of that in my life anymore. It's a fascinating thing really. I guess for us the key has been to try and structure dreams, and to make them dramatic, and to make them sustain a film experience, but not to lose that essence of what a dream is, which is kind of wonderfully irrational and surreal. I've noticed that when you tell someone your dream, their eyes tend to glaze over a little bit. Often dreams are not necessarily the stuff of good storytelling. But I think it's a real challenge to come up with a combination of the surreal and the narrative. We will be re-enacting real existing dreams, perhaps with a little bit of artistic license, trying to make it an entertaining short film. So far it has been actors portraying the dreamers, just simply because the dreamers themselves are not necessarily what you need in terms of acting ability. But we are always open. There is always the potential out there to really use someone in one of these films.'

Two of the areas on the site, 'Consequences - a tag team game for Screenwriters,' and 'Minute Movies - an ongoing series of very short shorts,' invite users to contribute ideas by submitting scenes or scripts. Says Proyas, 'I notice that a lot of people who are into my stuff tend to be filmmakers themselvesa large part of that audience seems to beand so it seemed like a perfect medium for having that two-way communication going on. I think that's really important. I feel if people want to contribute and want to be involved with it, it's a pretty clearly defined relationship there.'

Proyas adds, 'I am obviously aware of a lot of the sites that are up now for distributing people's short films, and I think they are fantastic. I was really excited to see some of these sites appearing, and seeming to do well, because I really believe in the short film as a very viable film medium. It's great that the filmmakers can actually get their work seen by people. That's really the most important thing, some sort of distribution. I think those sites do what they do really well, and we are certainly not in that ballpark. Our site is a very simple, streamlined version. We are more about creating stuff. Mystery Clock is my production company, and so to me, this is an extension of the production company. We want to make things. We are filmmakers more than anything else. We are not just film distributors as such. Rather than obtaining other people's short films, we are more about creating ones, and creating films, and other sorts of material that sort of fit the kind of house style.'

Another part of the site is called 'Multiverse - a flash-based animation series.' This follows the adventures of a trio of characters who are fighting evil. Proyas explains that the animation, as well as other portions of the website, were made by a company that provides visual effects for the television program FARSCAPE, as well as working on feature films like THE MATRIX. Says Proyas, 'A lot of the site has been created by a company called A.L. Play, who is a division of a company called Animal Logic, that we do a lot of work with in Sydney. They are essentially a visual effects company. They have done some work on my films and other projects, and now they are branching out into other areas as we are, so it was a pretty good collaboration.'

One of Proyas' favorite parts of the website involves 'Mind Games.' He says, 'Things that for me were wonderful surprises, through this whole process, are really not in the filmmaking area. They are really specifically in the Web design area. We have these little toys that are games that appear out of the blue and force the viewer to interact with them, which I find for me the most appealing aspects of designing the site. They appear randomly. You have no real access to these toys; they come out of the blue. There are quite a number of them there. The whole idea is you'll discover a new one each time you go back. It creates a depth to the site. We wanted to make a three-dimensional world that you can move through. As much as possible, as much as the technology allowed us to do that, I think we've succeeded.'

There are also archival areas at MysteryClock.Com, portions of the site that will probably interest fans of Proyas' work. He notes, 'Those two things, both the archives section and the extra material for THE CROW and DARK CITY, were things we wanted to give the people who are into those films and into my work as something special to lure them to the site. There are things like production illustrations for DARK CITY that are quite beautiful illustrations that very few people have seen. We have reasonable downloads so you can actually print up a small poster of some of this stuff if you wanted to. I basically put them there to give that core group of people something that they may be interested in seeing.'

Stills, storyboards and sketches of DARK CITY will be available on the site. Speaking about the creation of DARK CITY, Proyas says, 'There was a combination of miniatures and CG. We didn't have the budget that we probably should have had on that film, and we had to be pretty clever about how we created these illusions, the buildings growing and changing. If I had the budget I probably would have done the whole thing in CG, but we had to be very Spartan with our use of CG shots. You'd get like one CG shot followed by a bunch of shots that were done very simply, in camera, just with buildings that were built on rams that could move them around and slide them around, up and down. It was done very simply. It wasn't high tech state of the art stuff. We had something like two or three hundred visual effects shots on the film, and I think the whole budget for all the visual effects was like about a million dollars U.S., which is not very much these days.'

Interestingly, Proyas does not consider himself to be a great writer, which is why he brought collaborators in to write the script for DARK CITY with him. He says, 'I co-wrote it with two other writers, David Goyer and Lem Dobbs. I think I've got a pretty twisted imagination, and I can come up with some pretty wild thoughts at times, but at a certain point, for me, it's important to work with good writers. I don't really think of myself as a great writer. I have incredible admiration for someone who can put their thoughts on paper, or more importantly, their emotions on paper. To me, collaborating with writers is pretty much the way I do it. I've just written another script recently where I did pretty much the same thing, and it just seems to be the way it works best with me.'

The other well-known film that will have space in the archives is THE CROW. The tragedy of THE CROW is that Brandon Lee was killed during the making of the film. If that hadn't happened, would Proyas have done a sequel? He answers, 'We probably would have. Brandon and I got along very well, and were very good friends, and we enjoyed working with each other. I'm sure we would have done a sequel, and it would have been great. With him in it, it would have been great.'

Two of Proyas' early short films, STRANGE RESIDUES and SPINELESS, will be available on the website, as well as some of his earlier commercials and music videos. Says Proyas, 'A lot of people have asked me about my short films over the years. This was a way of getting that stuff out there, basically short films, and student films, and commercials, and the odd music video that I have been involved with over the years.'

Proyas has other work in the pipeline. He is involved with bringing the 'Riverworld' science fiction book series to television. He says, 'That's on the cards hopefully for next year. We are currently writing the pilot for the series, and I'll be directing the pilot. I'm shooting this film called GARAGE DAYS, in the early part of next year, and I hope that by the time that's done the pilot for RIVERWORLD will be ready to go and we'll be shooting that towards the end of next year.'

In the meantime, the website is moving forward, trying to keep pace with technology but not too far in front. Notes Proyas, 'The tricky part of it is not to go too far forward in some ways. Which version of which software does everyone have, and can they access the versions that you are using to create the site? It's a complex, ever-changing landscape, really. Just keeping up with that has been real eye opener. Not wanting to seem elitist in any way, we've embraced broad band technology on our site, because that's for me the exciting part of all that stuff. That's when I got excited about it, when I didn't have to wait 20 minutes to download some tiny movie file. So to a certain extent we have gone with that. I hope it doesn't cut too many people out. I hate the idea that people are cut out of something because they can't afford to do it. That would be really sad. But we are trying as much as possible to give them alternatives whenever we can.'

Proyas laughs, 'We haven't made it to make money at this stage. It's basically being driven by myself, and it's being built because I saw the creative potential. It's great fun, basically, and I love the idea that I can make films and people can see them instantly. I just really wanted to be a part of that. Having said that, it has cost us a lot of money to build. We are looking at various different approaches to how we can generate some continued revenue to keep doing what we have been doing. Obviously the important thing is to keep it alive and keep it growing, that's what we want to do. I have to say that it's a long term goal. I'm happy to kind of ride the wave a little bit and just keep the thing moving forward.'

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