film set

The moving image

Nick Abrahams, Sydney
RE | Issue 13 | 2018

 

I love mainstream movies, especially comedies.

In my former life, I did a network pilot for a TV show in Japan—based on what I’d already been doing in Tokyo as a stand-up comedian—and when that didn’t get picked up for the series, I applied to USC film school in Los Angeles, where George Lucas learned his craft. Back then, they took just twenty people from several thousand applicants. I was one of them.

After that, I became a creative exec working on the lot at Warner Brothers. At one point I was reading a book a night, along with three scripts—and the next day had to go into work and say whether we should buy them. It was intense.

I worked on the development of The West Wing. It seems odd now, but people were not sure at first whether it would work.

I am about to accept an appointment as a director of the Sydney Film Festival.

 

AN ARTHOUSE MOVIE

This may not exactly qualify as arthouse, but it is my favourite foreign language film.

The Big Blue / Le Grand Bleu
dir. Luc Besson [1988]

It’s a French movie and is beautiful. It’s about freediving. There is a serenity in this movie which mirrors the experience you actually have when you’re underwater.


A MOVIE FOR ALL THE FAMILY

Alvin and the Chipmunks
[2007–15 series]

It’s live action with CGI chipmunks. The chipmunks sing: that’s the MacGuffin. I had great times with my kids watching these quite silly films. It’s not Pixar, so it’s not on the same level as a wonderful movie like Toy Story. Every writer would dream of creating Woody and Buzz Lightyear; those characters are phenomenal.

I love Up as well. And The Incredibles. And Monsters, Inc.


DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME ON THIS ONE

It takes just as much time to write a bad script as a good one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
dir. Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg [2017]

I loved the first three in this series; the fourth wasn’t too bad; the fifth was just hopeless. It’s a great shame, because Johnny Depp created in Jack Sparrow one of cinema’s great, great characters. Legend has it that when Disney saw the original footage they were going to take Johnny Depp off the movie, because they couldn’t believe what he was doing with the character.

With movies, it’s all R&D. You never know whether it’s going to be successful. So when you get these franchises and you know that No. 1 is successful and you can string it to two, that de-risks the proposition.

I understand why the studios do it. It costs so much to make a movie.


MY GUILTY PLEASURE

Viva Las Vegas
dir. George Sidney [1964]

This is an Elvis movie and Elvis is amazing in it, as is Ann Margaret. There are songs, there’s car racing, there are fun antics by the pool, and dance routines. You cannot help but feel happy.

And it’s important to me personally. To get into USC film school I had to do an analysis of a film that I loved, and I did Viva Las Vegas. The Dean of the film school was Lawrence Turman, the producer of The Graduate, so everyone sent in write-ups of The Graduate or more lofty titles. I think they thought, ‘Let’s take this strange guy from Australia— he likes Elvis movies.’


A BLOCKBUSTER BY WHY NOT?

Aaron Sorkin is my all-time favourite writer, so I’d go with The Social Network. But I also love Iron Man; Robert Downey Jr truly owns this character. And Minority Report—that’s a great story; quite a few of its technology predictions are coming true.

I’m fascinated by physics; quantum entanglement blows my mind. I loved Interstellar for its depiction of the physics of black holes. And The Theory of Everything is brilliant.

But I’m going to settle on a James Cameron movie.

Avatar
dir. James Cameron [2009]

You don’t change the film world without being strong-willed. James Cameron is a remarkable human being; he is a remarkable director. What he ended up doing with Avatar took film-making quite a bit further than it had gone before. When he started, they didn’t have the equipment you’d need to shoot those scenes, so he had to keep inventing that stuff along the way.


OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE BUT BRILLIANT

I don’t like horror films. I would never watch anything from Stephen King or the Halloween movies or Freddy Krueger. But there is a Roger Corman film, half shark, half octopus…

Sharktopus
dir. Declan O’Brien [2010]

It’s funny. It’s entertaining. I’ve probably watched it three times. It’s intended to be scary. But, you know, it’s walking that fine line. There’s a movie called Sharknado where there’s a cyclone of sharks and that is clearly a spoof, whereas Sharktopus is more of a ‘monster’ movie in the Godzilla tradition.


A ROMCOM

I struggle with romcoms because there’s a formula and, once you know it, it’s a bit hard to get past that.

There’s a clear three-act structure: you get a couple who are trying to get together but either there’s an unusual situation or they’re very different; then something happens which throws them apart; the second act is basically them figuring out they like each other, then they hate each other, they like each other, they hate each other again; and then there’ll be a big issue, it looks like they’re not going to get together; and in the end they do.

I feel like I’ve watched a lot of them. Love Actually. Bridget Jones’s Diary. When Harry Met Sally is a classic example; and yet I loved it when I first saw it.

Miss Congeniality
dir. Donald Petrie [2000]

Yes, it is a bit of a Sandra Bullock vehicle; but I want more people to see it. Sandra Bullock is a great comedic actress. There’s a scene at the end with William Shatner singing that is hilarious.


A CLASSIC TO KEEP AND  WATCH ONCE A YEAR

There is only one movie. And it has to be the Final Cut.

Blade Runner
dir. Ridley Scott [1982]

This is one of the greatest movies ever made. It is so beautiful. It is mesmerizing. It was pre-CGI, which is unbelievable when you see it; the atmosphere that Ridley Scott creates in that dystopian future is amazing. It looks like a Tokyo of the future.

The underlying concept, about whether robots can have a conscience, is just fascinating; the way Ridley Scott handles that is unbelievably sensitive. There’s a scene at the end where one of the replicants—shortly before he’s about to die—muses on whether he has actually ‘lived’ a life; it’s beautiful.

When it first came out the studio released a different version. The Final Cut is the only one Ridley Scott had artistic control over.

Blade Runner 2049 is amazing as well. I wasn’t expecting it to be great. It’s moving, it’s atmospheric, there’s a great soundtrack.


A SIGN OF THE TIMES

To watch a video game now is absolutely a cinematic experience. It’s completely immersive in the way that films are immersive.

Augmented reality is going to be very, very significant very quickly.

It started with Pokémon GO, where a little animated character appears in your phone with your world in the background. The Follow-Me-Dragon app that’s out now is far more interactive. You’re able to play with this little dragon and it responds to you. It’s quite special. AR will be a fascinating challenge to the storyteller: how to make the most of it.

We’ll see augmented reality far quicker than we’ll see virtual reality; VR technology is difficult and we know that a VR world can be unsettling and make you nauseous.

Comedy still works well in the film format but I struggle to be enthralled by movies that are thrillers nowadays. That’s because long-form television is just so good. They’re creating great characters and story arcs that travel across years of watching.

Homeland
dir./exec. producer Lesli Linka Glatter [2012–18] [2011– series]

I am addicted to Homeland.


NICK’S LIST

Great directors

Lesli Linka Glatter

Great movies

A Beautiful Mind
Apollo 13
Blade Runner
Gravity
Interstellar
Iron Man
Matrix
Minority Report
The Social Network
The Theory of Everything


 

First published in RE: issue 13 (2018)
Nick Abrahams is a partner in Sydney and global head of tech and innovation (2018).