The Makings Of A Mentorship
After stirring up considerable buzz with his debut, ‘Gabriel’, director Shane Abbess is finally looking like we will see his follow up feature, with guidance from producer Alex Proyas.
It is so often that the film gods have to be cruel before they can be kind, a fact Australian director Shane Abbess (pictured) knows only too well. His 2007 fantasy action feature, Gabriel, achieved considerable exposure worldwide, a remarkable feat considering its preliminary battles with a shoestring budget and lack of government backing. Abbess poured his heart and soul into the production, working a number of menial side-jobs to get funding over the line. Despite mixed reviews, the film achieved commendable box office takings in Australia and a mass cult following on DVD in the US, and thrust Abbess into the public eye, destined for bigger and better things.
Fortune, however, did not favour his transition into Hollywood, as his strongest endeavours bore little results. Amongst various projects in development, Abbess worked on the 2011 sci-fi thriller Source Code, developing the original idea with screenwriter Ben Ripley, and initially attached to direct. However, through his allegiance to original star Bradley Cooper and changes in the film's execution, Abbess walked to pursue other projects.
It has certainly been a long time between drinks, though it seems all doors are opening at once for Abbess. The director currently has a number of projects in development, including a sequel to Gabriel, a further collaborative sci-fi script with Ripley, and most recently he has been assigned to direct the upcoming feature, Future Perfect, which he dubs "a poetic sci-fi action film" and seems to contain more than a few parallels to the director's debut feature. "It's a morality tale about an elite solider, an assassin, who finds his next target is the mother of the child he never knew he had," Abbess reveals. "That begins a process of discovery that makes him question everything in his life and ultimately rally against it. I've described the tone as The Professional meets Blade Runner meets something new altogether!"
Helping the project along in a producing role is stalwart Australian filmmaker, Alex Proyas. A heavy-hitter in the Australian film industry (with such features as I, Robot, The Crow, Knowing and Dark City to his name), Proyas helped develop the script for Future Perfect, and upon meeting Abbess, knew he had found a creative spirit to helm the film. "He's a very talented guy," Proyas tells FilmInk. "He has an enormous energy and enthusiasm. In fact, I don't think I've ever met a filmmaker with the degree of energy that he brings to the table. That, for me, speaks immensely of his ability to make a terrific movie."
Sharing an affinity for similar genres, Proyas has certainly taken a shining to Abbess, acting as a mentor, a role that he feels is important in nurturing young filmmakers. "Sometimes that's all you need, a word or two from someone you really admire saying, ‘I like what you do,'" Proyas affirms. Proyas cites George Miller as an inspiration and kindred spirit when he was starting out. "George Miller was a guy that encouraged me when I started off making movies in this country," the director recalls. "He was definitely really the only guy who was making movies that were unabashedly genre movies and making world class ones too."
It seems, though, that this relationship with Abbess is representative of a bigger obligation for Proyas. The inevitably difficult journey to crack the US for local filmmakers is underpinned by larger flaws in the Australian film industry. Proyas laments the lack of quality producers in Australia, and the seemingly recurring process of ‘everyman writes a script, and decides to make a film', which does not guarantee a good end result.
"The thing that Hollywood does well is it has producers who are actively engaged every day with finding great material, great scripts, great books, great comic books - great anything - and adapting it into movies and packaging that. Here, we don't have that, and I think that's been our fundamental stumbling block with having something we can call an Australian film industry," Proyas explains.
As a producer himself, Proyas certainly feels a sense of duty to attract as many productions to Australia as possible, labelling himself as something of an "emissary or diplomat". "I just feel like it's partly my responsibility - and others of course - to encourage as many films to come and shoot here as possible." A firm believer in the talents of local casts and crew, Proyas regularly travels overseas acting as an advocate as such, seeking to coax overseas productions to shoot in Australia.
The two biggest hindrances to this, however, are our dollar and our distance. "It's an educational process," Proyas explains, "It's a matter of just guiding [the studios] through how it works: how it's worked on my movies, and how it can work for them as well, and try to encourage them to take that chance on doing productions here." Measures such as Screen Australia's Producer Offset, a tax rebate worth 40% of Australian Production Expenditure on feature films, are what Proyas believes to be the industry's best chance of growth, through both local and overseas productions. And "with the dollar being where it is right now", Proyas hints that "we may even need to be a little bit more generous."
Abbess agrees that while the situation isn't perfect, organisations like Screen Australia handing out the funding have improved their approach. "On Gabriel, we fought against the system because we felt it wasn't there to support our approach and intended audience," Abbess recalls. "But in the years since, those organisations have really changed their mindset, and that, combined with the 40% Producer Offset, gives us a real fighting chance to make commercial fare. They are not there to fund the filmmakers sitting in their bedrooms and cafes waiting for someone to give them a handout, they're there to help the ones who got off their arses and earned their stripes getting bloodied and dirty in the trenches first."