The name Keith Arem might not spring straight to people’s minds as a household name, but chances are if you are a music or video game lover than you have come across Arem’s work at some stage. Arem started out as a musician with heavy outfit Contagion before his work as a video game music composer resulted in him becoming a voice director that has worked on famous games including most of the Call Of Duty franchise, Bioshock and some of the Tony Hawke games just to name a few. Yes Arem is a man of many talents and now he has just branched out his career even further as he sits in the directing seat of a brand new feature film called The Phoenix Incident – a film that looks at one of America’s most baffling UFO incidents.
If you’ve played any of Arem’s games over the years you would know that he has already worked with some of Hollywood’s elite. Of the 600-700 actors he has worked with over the years names such as Gary Oldman, Ed Harris, Idris Elba and Sam Worthington are instantly standouts for film fans, but where did Keith first get his love for cinema and was it working with people like this that sparked his interest in making a feature film?
‘I have always had a love for cinema and motion pictures,’ explains Arem. ‘I was largely inspired by early Ridley Scott films like Alien and Blade Runner and early Stanley Kubrick films like The Shining and I have always loved the suspension of disbelief as you go into a theatre and immersing myself in that world and think that was what drew me to work in video games because you are immersed in this enormous world so after working in video games for the past 20 years I have developed these spectacular relationships with the production teams, the cinematographers, the people that work in both high end games and now in cinema. So we took a lot of the technology and production techniques that we use with games and brought into my feature which was good because as first time director I knew we wouldn’t be able to compete with something like The Avengers which has a much larger budget. So what I wanted to do was take a very creative approach to this first feature and bring very strong performances and base it in real events so I could marry the reality of what happened during this UFO/military encounter with all the history and documentation that we were collecting.’
Do a quick search on Youtube and you will find that a lot of people have had theories over the years about the UFO incident that Arem has based The Phoenix Incident on, so what made him want to write a script about this events in the first place? ‘I actually grew up in Arizona and this was a fascinating part of my history because I was so inspired by so many of the sightings that happened in Arizona, some being the largest in the country and I had always wanted to go back and I had always wanted to go back and look at the possibility of contact during this event and the mysteries surrounding that. We ended up discovering amazing footage and stories on what really happened that night.’
One of the first questions that springs to mind while talking to Keith is just how different was it to turn up on a film set for the first day of directing compared to the many times he has gone the same thing for a video game. ‘The amount of content generated for a game is much higher than what we generate for film, but the focus of what we are trying to create for a film is so specific that you can stand in awe of that high level of crafting one moment and I was absolutely in heaven on my first day on set. I got to work with very talented actors, an amazing crew and had incredible content to work with so for me it was the most natural transition into another part of the entertainment industry and I felt like I was at home. I had just an excited energy going in, I was surrounded by such amazing people and I loved the content and loved the script and I think we were excited to do it. Even when we wrapped up shooting everyone wanted to stay and keep going. So for me this was an inspiring first step in what I hope is a very long career in creating films, television shows, my own games and graphic novels.’
It seems that Hollywood has certainly sat up and taken notice of Keith’s work on The Phoenix Incident because while he couldn’t talk to me too much about it he said he is currently in talks for some projects that will further see him help the ‘cross-pollination’ of the video games and film worlds.
As my discussion with Keith goes on it becomes very obvious that Keith is fascinated by the subject matter of UFO contact so I asked him just how personal The Phoenix Incident is to him. ‘I personally have seen lights in the sky that were very interesting to see, now whether they were atmospheric phenomena or military craft or unidentified flying objects has yet to be determined, but I was very inspired by the things that I had seen and stories I had heard from people growing up so I think that area in the country (United States) have a very common belief that we are not alone on the universe and that the inspiration of actually seeing something is very motivating especially for a storyteller who wants to explore what really happened.’
The Phoenix Incident is out now through Bounty.