On Aliens, UFOs & Proximity with Eric Demusey

9 May

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Arrives on VOD
May 15, 2020

DVD Release
July 7, 2020

Eric Demusey is a Los Angeles based filmmaker making his directorial debut with a young adult sci-fi drama Proximity. As part of the creative team who made the fantastic intro title sequences you see on Stranger Things, Game of Thrones and Tron Legacy, his experience showed he was ready for the next step. Plus, his passion is not limited to special effects work which gave him his start. Nearly everyone working in this industry has a story to tell.

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Instead of focusing on getting people to believe in UFOs, this movie explores the lasting effects of those who have been abducted and experimented upon for unknown reasons–hence the title. In this tale set in today’s trying times, this creator does not rewrite Fire in the Sky.

I was reminded of this story because of the introduction–where loggers in Alaska are whisked away by a UFO and the trauma we witness is far worse. Fast forward a few years later and change the setting from the boonies to a metropolis, Issac (Ryan Masson) gets his moment with an alien encounter, and tries to figure out what this all means. What he deals with has less to do with horror and more with trauma management.

When considering this movie was made on a budget, Demusey has to be creative in how to make those special effects shots work without overspending. For fans of FX films and UFOs, this movie has a lot of detail to love, and I spoke to him courtesy of Shout! Factory.

What kind of FX technologies were you using when making your film, Proximity?

ED: The most complicated thing that we did was motion capture. We had 400 visual effects shots when considering we’re a low budget indie film. You can compare everything that we did and stuff that they were doing on the first Lord of the Rings movie 20 years ago [in terms of how much hard drive data it takes to keep everything.] They were editing with I think a terabyte and a half of storage space. We had about 30 terabytes.

As far as the technique, I mean it goes back to the beginning of visual effects in the beginning of cinema.

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Planning the shot. No, this truck pictured here was not lifted.

How did you go about creating that first special effects moment, with the truck lifting up off the ground as fast as it did and actually needing it on set in the following scenes?

ED: That shot in particular was CG and then when it drops, that’s real. We actually dropped the truck for real from a crane which was an exciting day. And as we were lifting it up, we had the camera’s recording, so we got references in how the light reflected off of the truck and all that stuff.

It’s fascinating with all the details just to even compose the most simple shots. You want to practically create as much as you possibly can. You could probably do it with a miniature, I guess. With CG, especially because that’s my background, that’s my tool set.

What did you get your education?

ED: I went to the New York Film Academy in Burbank, California for a year. It was a matter of getting work in some form and either through editing, cinematography or animation.

One of the big advantages film school has is in the people. Jason Mitcheltree, my DP is a really good friend of mine and we’ve known each other for 10 years. Even one of the producers Kyle McIntyre was a classmate. The three of us are all working in different parts of the film industry.

One thing to take away from film school is the relationships that you make there.

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Left to right it’s; Jason Mitcheltree (DP), Eric Demeusy (Director), Kyle McIntyre (Producer)

What advice would you give to newcomers?

ED: Right now is a good time to get your projects written. I think there’s many people probably intimidated to write a script. It’s just a matter of doing it. Right now, it’s difficult to think about moving into production or even into pre-production, Shoot dates are really hard to plan out, or it’s going to be hard to set any kind of release date. So, without, with that little more certainty.

As for getting your film made, my advice would be to use the resources that are available to you. I think the one thing that kind of ends up being a crutch, and this happened for me before, in Proximity was trying to build for a set budget and you’re really relying on other people to give you permission–to give you the keys to go make whatever you want to make. And I think if you can just pair it down, scale it down, use what you’re superb at and use the resources that are available to you, then I think you can make a film with relatively minimal resources.

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Directing stars Ryan Masson and Highdee Kuan

How did you come up with the story for Proximity?

ED: Jason Mitchell and I brainstormed. I had the idea of a guy simply documenting himself out in the hills when, all of a sudden, this meteor fell from the sky. We shot this over the course of like two days and afterwards talked about where the story could go.

I mean-we knew that everybody in LA is going to see it. There’s going to be news cameras descending upon the area, there’s going to be military involvement … when our main character is right there, he’s going to be the first to find that extraterrestrial being, that technology. We knew that it had to be a story on how that would affect him and how would it change the way people knew him [should he reveal too much.]

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Prepare for lift off!

Where did you get your ideas in regards to all the UFO folklore that’s generally known?

ED: I was researching a lot of cases and scenarios of all the things that people experienced and described when they made contact–or claimed to. I was showing as much info reports had and on what people were describing. That’s even found in the design of our creatures and the spaceship. I wanted the film to remain as familiar as possible.

One thing I appreciated is the use of the classic grey alien than trying to come up with something new.

ED: Yeah. That was another aspect–not wanting it to be too fantastical. My movie brings up whether or not you want to believe that, especially if you were somebody that didn’t believe in that thing and then this happened to you. I wanted to focus on the effect that it has on people. You’d probably even doubt yourself. By grounding it–by using gray aliens and spacecraft that people have commonly observed–really helps ground it.

By showing real historical figures and their experiences with some kind of extraterrestrial presence and all these weird situations throughout history shows where Issac is going in terms of his obsession. And once this thing happens, he goes down this rabbit hole.

Whether you think that stuff is real, it’s fascinating to think about the idea or the possibilities and theorize about [what these alien encounters mean.] because it happened long ago nobody really knows for sure.

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Your film also suggests a simple future for Issac and his new girlfriend, then go all out, unlike a certain blockbuster film by Spielberg. What can you say about that?

ED: That’s something that I’m fascinated with telling in science fiction movies. It really allows you to look into bigger themes and ask bigger questions.

The theory behind this part of the movie is actually in how there’s a neural energy in the light beam that abducts people. It unlocks parts of your brain and so you’re able to display these capabilities that are supernatural. It could be suddenly you understand many languages, all these things that we can do. So anybody that has been abducted would have some effect of it probably depends on the person.

The thing with Isaac and Sarah is that being abducted happened to him and he can’t let it go. He’s constantly searching. The fact that nobody will believe him when he tells people drives him crazy. If he was able to prove what happened at the very end of the movie, that he’s actually had like a fifth time experience with these extraterrestrials, nobody would probably even believe him then.

No matter what he could do, it’ll never be enough proof. That’s the whole arc and what he wanted to achieve. The story is more about connections. There was never a desire to explore space or go with the aliens.

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