Stephen Amis (Director) Interview – Reaching for the Stars


Stephen Amis, Camera operator Con Filippidis & Director of Photography David Richardson.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet Australian true-blue filmmaker Stephen Amis. Promoting his latest cinematic effort at the time, his independent cinema seminar transfixed a room of enthusiastic press folks and cinephiles. In addition, his sci-fi extravaganza, The 25th Reich, took the Revelation Perth Film Festival storm. So, with a couple of years having past between then and now, I made it an all-on-the-line mission to, once again, get in touch with Amis . I chatted to this underrated genre-cinema icon about his love of filmmaking, his multiple production roles, and the Australian Film Industry’s response to big-idea projects.

Where did the idea of the 25th Reich come from?

I made the 25th Reich as a kind of sci-fi homage to the Super-8 movies I made when I was a kid. It was also a celebration of the B pulp films I grew up with – made by directors like George Pal and Sam Fuller…

What are the major challenges with financing a film such as this in the Australian film Industry?

It was very difficult financing the movie – but isn’t that the case with every movie? Australian film agencies generally see genre films as being ‘soft’ as the box office – so it was hard convincing them to come aboard, and ultimately they didn’t. In addition, with Aussie films barely finding any cinema space these days, and DVD sales plummeting, The 25th Reich was a very tricky film to produce and distribute.

How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?

Our budget was tiny compared to what you would ordinarily have to spend on this kind of production, and consequently our crew was limited. I wore many hats – co-writer, director, co-producer, not to mention post-production supervisor – so I was the only one who really had the entire film ‘in my head’. I also have a solid background in cinematography, so I was able to very clearly write on the page what I knew could be achieve in production for the specific budget.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

For me, the highest point in the making of The 25th Reich was getting the music composed and synchronised – that’s when the magic happens and all the hard work comes together – particularly as this film was very music driven. Up until then, you’re always asking yourself will it work, is it emotionally engaging…

And the low point? Shooting was very difficulty and treacherous. 50 degree days and 2 degree nights in the wildness. Scorpions, snakes, spiders – it was quite arduous!

How did you create the visual effects and set designs on location?

I set-up 8 small VFX teams worldwide to produce the visual effects. We worked mostly by cloud computing and developed a lot of short cuts and new tools to bring the film in on budget. Oddly enough, we barely used any green-screen as this was too time consuming on set and I decided quite early in the production to rotoscope everything in post – when ended up achieving a better look than traditional green screen keying.

 How did everything come together in the post-production stage?

Post-production was like pushups – particularly in regard to the VFX. Every VFX shot you do, is one less you have to do… It took 18 months to finish all of the special effects, along with many edits of the film and replacing and refining each VFX shot from previz, to crude animation, to final animation to fully rendered animation.

How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?

I think genre films in general are important worldwide. Genre films, as opposed to other kinds of films, have the unique ability to contain sociological subtext about the times they were made in: Think about the subtext in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, made during the cold war, or the original ‘Planet of the Apes’, made during the Vietnam war. The 25th Reich is no different, and was made in an era of out-of-control right-wing, neo conservative ideology. In terms of subtext, The 25th Reich has more to do with contemporary fascism rather than specifically Nazi Germany.

How did you distribute the film?

The film went through the conventional distribution route – with international and domestic sales. But that old model is dying, and I’ve just setup a new distribution company called ‘Label’, to distribute my next film. Label will be using an unconventional mix of old and new distribution techniques to get films into the market and to attract and engage audiences.

How do you see social media outlets aiding the distribution and advertising of independent films such as yours?

We had a social media campaign running via Twitter and Facebook. The film had quite a good showing on the festival circuit, and I found our social media campaign helped drive and consolidate that. Aside from being able to speak directly to our fan base, which is hugely important to me, there are also other businesses based issues of specifically directing your target audience ‘somewhere’ to achieve an identifiable goal – whether that may be buying a cinema ticket, purchasing a DVD or the soundtrack…

How important to you is the fan base that it now has?

Our fan base (and genre film fan bases in general), are very loyal. It’s an important base which we plan to take with us on the next instalment of the movie which we are now writing. So in that context, we are trying to harness and grow our fan base across the franchise.

How important are national film festivals to independent film-makers such as yourselves?

With Australian films struggling to find cinema space (it’s now almost impossible to book a movie) , and the DVD market plummeting – the festival circuit is one of the last avenues for filmmakers to showcase their work on the big screen. It’s important that Australian film festivals showcase more Australian content. At the moment, the large festivals pay lip service to Aussie films, but not much more. There are many Aussie films seen each year that don’t see the light of day and they really should.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?

The disadvantage is that we have no protection for Australian cinema. It’s not like in France where film is considered a cultural art form and protected by a fairly rigid quota system. North Korea set up a quota system too, and like France, their industry is now thriving. We desperately need a quota system here in Australia to protect Aussie cinema.

What is your next project?

I’m developing a small number of projects. Two science fiction films and one big broad Aussie comedy – all to be shot in 3D…

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

There’s been many many changes – many of the big obvious changes on the distribution landscape and the way content is seen and disseminated. Film is not the cultural pop icon it was 20 years ago. It’s competing with many other consumer products now. And that is really what’s at the core of the revolution we are now having. I wouldn’t say film is dead – but it’s certainly going through some kind of metamorphosis…

Official website: The 25th Reich

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