Exclusive: Underrated Alex Proyas Talks Dark City, Dracula Year Zero

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Why do you think it was underrated or overlooked by so many, even as someone like Roger Ebert was hailing it as the best movie of the year?

Well, what happened to us was that the film was marketed essentially as a horror movie, and it was kind of dumped into theaters and people at the studio didn’t know what to make of it. Ironically, today if if my movies don’t have that sort of impact, of upsetting the status quo, I’m kind of disappointed. When you make movies that are unusual and challenging on some level, you’re going to get those reactions as films become more and more homogenized and the more interesting films are ignored.

As for Roger, he gets the films and is clearly not scared of having an opinion. Which many critics are. Critics often line up behind a consensus opinion, there are no original thinkers out there and I would say that Roger is really the last one left. He’ll tell you what he thinks and not what you want to hear. It’s always nice to have someone as influential as Roger who can see what you were trying to do and will stand behind your work.

Does the director’s cut DVD redeem the experience for you?

Obviously, it’s a great lesson that filmmakers can learn from my experience: If you don’t stick to your guns it can result in the worst possible situation. You change your film to make a studio happy and then it still isn’t given a fair chance at the box office. Even if you’re between a rock and a hard place, you have to stay true to your original vision.

But to have this whole DVD experience this many years after the movie came out, it’s so surreal. I’m really proud of the film, of the reactions it’s provoked over the years. I bet it’s even turned the studio a tiny profit now – though it took a long time. The wonderful think now about the shelf life of movies is that they just don’t disappear any more. If enough people like something you can always see it, and that’s what’s great about all these different Blu-Ray formats that are with us now, the movie looks every bit as beautiful now as when we made it.

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Did revisiting the movie lead you to think at all about how you have changed as a filmmaker through the years? Looking at this movie, there are such striking images. Are you a director who thinks first and foremost in terms of visuals and framing?

I do like frames, and compositions. I think some of my visuals and landscapes have always been very influenced by Kubrick, who had so many striking images. I think I’ve learned through the years, though, that the visuals are not the be-all and end-all. When I was younger I would try and ram a visual into a film at the expense of all other areas of the film. I would force actors to stand a certain way, or look a certain way because I’d want a particular image. But I think I’ve matured a lot as a filmmaker, and have learned to be a little more flexible in that process.

What was the last film that blew you away?

Well, I was just spouting off about how conservative all these films seem today, and how uninspired they are. But I was blown away by Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.

What can we expect from you next?

Well I think I’m now working on a movie about the origins of Dracula – called Dracula Year Zero. You never really know until you start shooting, but it sure feels like I’m working on it. We’re still in the budgeting and scheduling right now.

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Why I’m so intrigued by this story – when someone originally suggested it to me, I was like, I’m so not into this; Dracula has to be the most filmed character in the history of movies – is that this script has such an interesting and original take on this character. It’s all about how Vlad of Transylvania became this creature; the choices that he made to make him into this tragic character. It’s so intriguing to me, to approach this as a character study on a huge, epic canvas. The script is from these two young guys who have never really done a script before, but they basically did their thing and have reinvented the whole context of this most familiar personality.

Well, I can see why you like that – maybe it’s a good script precisely because they weren’t part of an uninspired studio system…

You know, I think that’s it. They made this exactly the way they wanted to, and it’s perfect.

No studio telling them to add a narrator…

Ha! Exactly.

Techland’s Underrated Masterpieces: Join the debate – what titles deserve to make the cut?

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