Inside the dark, twisted imagination of director Mischa Rozema

The director behind PlayStation's new ad talks about how he explores alternate realities in his films.

Inside the dark, twisted imagination of director Mischa Rozema

Director Mischa Rozema finds reality boring. Known for his mixed-media approach to storytelling, he draws from his epic imagination to create dark and futuristic worlds on screen. Last year, he directed the award-winning "A report of connected events" for Liberty Global, which blurred reality with iconic moments from film and television history. More recently, he was behind Sony PlayStation’s "The fall", created by Adam & Eve/DDB and produced by Nexus Studios. The ad is a visual feast for gamers, showing PlayStation characters defying gravity and tumbling through the sky. 

Fresh off the PlayStation release, Rozema talked to Campaign about taking risks, mixing art forms and bringing his childhood fantasies to life. 

I never set out to be a film director. I was much more a designer by nature. I got into graphic design, architecture and music, which are still major parts of what I’m doing now. I was just looking for the ultimate medium or art form where I could express myself the best. Directing is like being the ultimate designer. I love to create these alternate realities. 

I thought everybody was like me and it turned out nobody was. I always had this vivid imagination and I still think reality is quite boring 90% of the time. I like adding to reality and exploring what’s possible, and I’m very interested in science fiction and exploration – that’s where the child fantasies come in. I never stopped being a kid.

I cycle to work in Amsterdam and that is one of the most inspirational times of my day. I get really inspired when I’m on my bike or on a plane. When you’re on a plane, you cannot go anywhere, so the only way you can go is inward, where there’s all this richness. 

Working with mixed media means I can deal with stories that don’t exist visually yet. I’m a big fan of visionary directors like Stanley Kubrick. That’s why I spend so much time in the post-production process, because it’s only in the past two decades that we’ve been able to tell stories that we weren’t previously able to tell. 

Sundays was a project that I worked on for seven to nine years – a short that ended up in a bidding war between Warner, Fox and Sony for the feature film. I had this story in my head that dealt with an alternate reality. It got shelved, but we’re now trying to make it into a smaller, more cerebral film. That was basically my calling card, my statement of where I’m aiming. 

Liberty Global’s "A report of connected events" was me as a director trying to create these different realities than people are used to. That was the best thing ever because the client gave me complete trust. It had to be about storytelling, which is a subject I love. The first thing I wrote was completely different. We were going to shoot it in the Mojave Desert in the US with well-known actors, but at the last moment that got cancelled. Then I got a bit frustrated and said I’m going to turn this whole thing around. I made the environment the protagonist and the actors were the witnesses to the story. 

There was no monster budget and we shot it in just two days. It has all these film references that are so hidden I even forgot some of them. That was half the fun– making something people can watch over and over again. 

PlayStation’s ad is exactly what I want to do when I make commercial content – stuff that hasn’t been seen or done before. I love problem-solving and creating something new. Reading the brief was an instant "Yes, I want to see that myself". Gaming is really filmic but on a whole different level and way more immersive. It’s an art form that is developing at an interesting speed.

[The production house I co-founded] PostPanic just rebranded as The Panics. It encompasses five sub-brands, including Panics Film, where we’re developing long-form films and episodic projects. We have a documentary going into production soon, Teenagers from Mars, which is about growing up as a teenager in Trump’s America and what that does to your dreams. 

I never used to watch any television or Netflix whatsoever until two to three years ago, when the quality got so good. At the same time, Hollywood’s feature market imploded. They’re just looking for the next franchise and there’s no risk being taken. I love to operate on the fringe of things, but in Hollywood there’s no big investment in new material. But Netflix and HBO started making stuff like The Leftovers. I was completely inspired by the development of the characters and the darkness. I want a piece of that pie.