Alex Proyas

The acclaimed director talks about his upcoming end-of-the-world thriller starring Nicolas Cage

In 1958, as part of the dedication ceremony for a new elementary school, a group of students are asked to draw their own idealized pictures of the future. These drawings are sealed into a time capsule and stored there for 50 years. One mysterious girl fills her paper with rows of apparently random numbers, which she says are being whispered to her by unseen people. A half-century later, a new generation of students examines the capsule's contents. The girl's cryptic message wind up in the hands of young Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), but it's Caleb's father, astrophysics professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), who makes a startling discovery: The encoded messages predict the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years with pinpoint accuracy. As he further unravels the document's secrets, John discovers that it foretells three additional catastrophes. The last of which hints at destruction on a global scale. John's efforts to alert the authorities about the impending catastrophes fall on deaf ears and his fears intensify with the realization that Caleb is somehow connected to the mystery. Enlisting the help of Diana Whelan (Rose Byrne) and Abby (Lara Robinson), the daughter and granddaughter of the prophetic message's author, he embarks on a heart-pounding race against time to prevent the ultimate disaster.

This is Knowing, the latest end-of-the-world thriller from acclaimed director Alex Proyas. Nicolas Cage stars in this gripping action extravaganza, and it is guaranteed to give you the pre-apocalyptic willies. We recently caught up with Proyas to get an exclusive preview of this upcoming edge of your seat drama. Here is our conversation:

In dealing with a doomsday scenario, how much hope do you have to give the audience for them to stay vested in the storyline?

Alex Proyas: It is like any other potentially dark story. You look for the light at the end of the tunnel. You look for hope as expressed through the individual characters. Without saying too much more about the movie, I will make it that abstract for you.

It took eight years to develop the screenplay, and then another five for you to bring this to the screen. Why did it take so long to get this made?

Alex Proyas: It has gone through many transformations. It has been eight years since Ryne Pearson wrote the original spec script. And it has come a hell of a long way. We kept the basic setup of the story. That is the discovery of these predictions in a time capsule. From that, we have evolved it into something that is quite different from the original script. It has gone through a metamorphosis over that period of time. Strangely enough, I did read that original screenplay way back when it was first making the rounds. It didn't really strike a chord with me. I guess it's where I was as a filmmaker at that time. I couldn't see a way to make it work. Then, reading it again several years after the fact, I saw it in a whole different light. I found the inspiration and direction it should go in. I moved it into this new realm, which you will see in the finished film.

Do you think the progression of digital effects helped get it made now as opposed to a couple of years ago?

Alex Proyas: I think that is always the case. I work in a genre that is reliant on creating these fantastical images. Obviously, with special digital effects having improved so much in the last few years, the sky has become the limit. The challenge now is to make them as invisible as I can. I think audiences are so sophisticated and literate now. They know how these images are created. We have to stay a step ahead of them, and make them disappear in the background. I like to blur the effects as much as possible. I want them to be nonspecific in the way they are created. When CGI draws attention to itself, it takes me out of the story. The main task is to use the new technology, but then hide it as much as I can.

Do you ever feel daunted by audiences want and need to see something more? That they need to see something bigger and more spectacular than what the last movie offered?

Alex Proyas: No. To me, trying to top yourself in terms of action and specticle is a wash, really. What makes audiences invested in a story is how well the characters are developed. It's the old fashion stuff. It's what movies have been doing since day one. To try and out do yourself visually is unnecessary. Those visuals need to come from an investment in the story. That is always the most important thing. The pressure for me is to make a film that really holds an audience's attention. That is the main challenge. The visual aspect is a springboard from that, really.

How interested are you in time capsules and what they offer the world?

Alex Proyas: Oh, God. I don't know. I don't have a real take on that. For me, it is a device that we used to explore a dramatic circumstance in the movie. We have tried to invest it with as much credibility as we could muster. It is symbolic, really. It is symbolic of all knowledge. Of a man being given an all knowing concept of what is to come. How that is given to him. The mechanics of that are not so important. Its what he does with that information. Whether he can change the course of fate. Or not. That is really the interest I have in telling this story.

How important was the look of the time capsule.

Alex Proyas: The look of the time capsule is based on what really happened in the 50s. That was an era in the United States that remained quite hopeful and optimistic. There was some dark stuff going on as well. But I think the post war years in the U.S. were ones where everyone was looking towards the future. They were looking for something hopeful and positive. That is when the time capsule became popular. People were burying messages in a bottle for the future. So, we based the design on actual, real time capsules that were buried at the time.

How much scientific truth is in the film? Did you do a lot of extra research in bringing some of these ideas to life?

Alex Proyas: The whole discussion that takes place in the movie is one of chance versus fate. The whole concept revolves around the universe evolving in a random way. Or a specific way. That is the argument throughout the movie. Whether or not there is a plan. Nicolas Cage's character is a man of science. He thinks that the universe works on random principle. It is chaos, essentially. There is no structure. Then he encounters a series of numbers that predict these specific circumstances. And that flies in the face of everything he believes in. He has to wrestle this notion around his scientific mind. He has to come to term with the possibilities of how this idea might function. Through that, he discovers that life has some form of meaning. That is the simple version. It doesn't sound that simple, now that I am talking about it.

Was the number sequencing in reference to what has been uncovered in the bible code, and did you look to the teachings of Nostradamus?

Alex Proyas: We specifically avoid most of those theories. Because, like I said, Nicolas' character is a man of science. Most of the discussions in the movie are about the events through a numbering system. They are referenced as being crackpot theories. What they are attempting to do is find a new system to how these numbers are working in the movie. That does come from a form of science, as opposed to historic number codes.

Knowing is set to open on March 20th, 2009.

B. Alan Orange