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Interview: Writer-Director Eric Demeusy Talks ‘Proximity’

May 11, 2020Ben MK

The question of whether aliens exist has been debated by skeptics and true believers for decades. And from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to The X-Files, filmmakers have been equally fascinated with the notion. Now, writer-director Eric Demeusy puts his own spin on the classic alien abduction story with Proximity, a film that follows a young NASA scientist named Isaac (Ryan Masson) as his reality is altered by a close encounter of the third kind, sending him and fellow alien abductee Sara (Highdee Kuan) on a mission to uncover the truth.

I caught up with Eric Demeusy to chat about the making of Proximity, and to find out why the topic of extra-terrestrial life still proves so fascinating to the general public and moviegoers alike.

Your film is quite timely, seeing as how the US government recently released some footage of apparent real-life UFO sightings. Why do you think we're still so fascinated with the idea of alien encounters?

Demeusy: I think it really goes back to the big existential question of what our purpose is and what the meaning [of life] is. That really is at the root of it — wondering if this is all that there is and if we're alone in the universe. I think that's what draws people to the curiosity of extraterrestrial life, and people are drawn to conspiracies in general because it's something that's unknown. It's like you're in on a secret. I think in general people are fascinated with talking about those kinds of subjects.

Proximity is your feature debut as a writer-director. What inspired you to want to tell this story?

Demeusy: I was developing another project before this, and I was looking for something that was containable and a little bit smaller scale that we would be able to shoot with limited resources. The idea of this guy documenting himself with this meteor falling behind him was the first image that I had, and the story sprouted from there. And just thinking about somebody in a very grounded and rooted, realistic way trying to deal with the topic of UFO conspiracy — what it would be like for somebody who had actually come into contact with one of these beings, and the mental struggle it would put on somebody. Just the journey of somebody whose entire life would be consumed by trying to prove this — that became fascinating to me.

You previously worked on the visual effects for such high-profile titles as Tron: Legacy, Stranger Things and Game of Thrones. How did that experience prepare you to become a filmmaker in your own right?

Demeusy: Filmmaking was always my focus from the beginning. I went to film school, and after graduating I was trying to find a job doing different things. And I was good at animation because I was trying to learn visual effects just so I could put them in my own short films and my own projects. So I sort of fell into the animation world of doing title design and visual effects, mostly for my own projects. But having a knowledge of visual effects helps a lot because it seems so common these days. Especially with the way we made Proximity and a lot of the stuff being on-the-fly and guerrilla-style — not having to worry too much about how something was going to be accomplished in post-production [made it] another toolset.

Speaking of VFX, it's quite impressive what you how managed to achieve — especially since this is an indie film. Can you tell me more about how you did that?

Demeusy: We had, I think, 400 visual effects shots; and we obviously wanted to do them in the highest quality that we possibly could. We couldn't afford to hire a visual effects studio to do them at the level that we wanted, so we assembled our own visual effects team, specifically for the movie. We all worked in the same office, and I completed a large portion of the shots myself, working with the different artists. It helped us achieve everything at cost.

Was there a scene that was especially challenging to work on, in terms of the VFX?

Demeusy: The most challenging visual effects that we had were the creatures. That was something I hadn't done before. Doing humans in 3D is the most difficult thing, but doing a full-CG creature was definitely the biggest challenge that we had. We knew that we weren't going to be able to do these practically on-set, because of the physicality of them. So it was something that we needed to do in CG. We did motion capture for them, but on the day that we were shooting those scenes we had nobody playing the creature and the actors are just staring at a stand with a stick taped to it. It's just very minimal — and we had so many shots to finish on a deadline that doing the animation for those shots can be a lot of work.

I found the score reminiscent of John Williams' scores for Indiana Jones and Star Wars, and the android enforcement officers reminded me of THX 1138. Were you inspired by movies of the genre from the '70s and '80s (and, if so, which movies in particular)?

Demeusy: Definitely everything you just listed is an inspiration of mine. Those are all movies that I love. Specifically when we were doing the score, Jermaine [Stegall], our composer, and I had talked a lot about what kind of music we wanted. We were going back and forth between synthesized music — like early John Carpenter — or a classic score with an orchestra. I was also watching a lot of '50s monster movies; and the scores in those movies were really heavy with brass — so we leaned into that and we recorded a live brass section at Skywalker Sound.

And THX 1138 is a film that I saw a long time ago that I rewatch every now and then because the visuals are so amazing. The early work of George Lucas is really inspiring, as well as how they made it — shooting a lot of real locations and documentary-style — so we embraced a lot of that same stuff as well, when it came to not having to build sets and to shoot in as many real locations as we could.

Last but not least, how have you been adjusting to the new normal and how have you been keeping busy during this quarantine?

Demeusy: I've still been working for the last few weeks on trying to get all the bonus material ready for the Blu-ray. But then in the last week or two, I've been shifting my focus on working on the next project and developing and writing. So now I'm excited to move on to the next thing and shifting my focus to the future. There's no better time to be writing and developing and putting ideas to paper.

Proximity is available on Digital and VOD May 15th.

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