The Limelight Index: Mark Tapio Kines – Writer/Director

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Mark Tapio Kines (above) has made 2 feature films and a number of shorts. He has also worked as a web designer for Paramount Pictures and is currently hosting a screenwriting course on lynda.com. I got the chance to chat to Mark about his filmmaking career and what we can expect in the near future:

When did you first get interested in filmmaking?

I was probably about 16 or 17. At first, I was interested in animation; one of my friends had asked me to join him on an animation course, which was a lot of fun. However, he also had a super 8 camera, so we played around with that too.

The following year, I got hold of a video camera in my German class. My classmates and I wrote a script – a kind of spoof on these old ‘60s German training films. This was the first bit of live-action shooting I ever did. It was the point when I really realized I want to do this for the rest of my life – but more importantly, that I can do this.

You’ve now made 2 features and a number of shorts. Regarding your first feature, Foreign Correspondents, how did the idea originate?

It’s a two-story film. The first story I’d had in mind for several years, which was all about what happens if you find a letter in your mailbox meant for the previous tenant. I was obsessed with the concept that you can’t open a letter, but you can look at a postcard, so what happens if you find a postcard that happens to have something very passionate written on it? So, the story came from this relationship between two strangers who live on opposite sides of the world. This came out as a 40 to 50-page script, which I knew wouldn’t be commercially viable.

I therefore decided to pair this script with another story that had similar themes of pen pals and such, which was actually based on a personal experience. I had a friend who lived in London; she was an au pair from Yugoslavia and working for this wealthy London family. They flew me out to discuss marrying her so that she would not have to go back to her homeland. The real story was just so beyond belief that I actually had to fictionalize it a bit to make it believable. For the film, I changed it to a British character coming over to California. It was cheaper to shoot it this way!

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You are the first person to ever raise funds for a film online. Did you have high hopes or was this a last resort for the film? 

It was sort of a last resort. At the time I thought to myself, if it’s going to take ten years to raise the money via my day job, then I’ll do it just to get it finished. I hate having unfinished films, especially if you’ve already spent 100,000 dollars on it. I made the website hoping that the word would get out there – at this time there was no crowdfunding, no established sites like Kickstarter, etc. It was pure marketing and self-promotion. A lot of the money I received was actually investments – not like today, where money is literally given away. This would’ve been unheard of back then!

The crowdfunding got me some press at the time, but since no one did it right after me, it sort of vanished from the radar. No one was talking about it. I’d even forgotten about my connection to it myself, until recently, with all this buzz around crowdfunding platforms. I realized: ‘Oh wait, was I really the first person to do this?’ So I looked at the Wikipedia article for crowdfunding, and it said that the first film ever crowdfunded was a 2004 picture. Not true! I beat this by six years! I now ‘claim my crown’.

What’s your opinion about platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter?

They are useful for filmmakers. I help out a few friends raising funds, which is my way of giving back. I have this third feature film ready to shoot now, which I wrote the script for several years ago. So, I’m thinking about going back to this financing method for the film.

Can you give away any more details about this new project?

It’s called Dial 9 to Get Out. It’s another thriller in the same vein as my second feature, Claustrophobia. So many years have passed. I feel I’m a better filmmaker, and technology has progressed, so I’m really excited about this. There have been a couple of close calls getting funded through the traditional roots of production companies. They fell apart, like it often does in Hollywood. But after my most recent run in, I thought, why not just try it independently? So in February, I’m thinking about independently starting this project up. I’ve been doing a lot of networking, plotting out strategies, but who knows what might happen.

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Are your stories personal to you?

All my stories are personal to me in one way or another. One of the stories in Foreign Correspondents was very personal and Claustrophobia was based around the essence of a dream I had as a teenager. Ideas will often just pop up here or there, but it can take years for the actual idea to gel into a good storyline. In the meantime, if I get an idea, I’ll write it down and then later I may come across it and have the answer.

Are there any filmmakers in particular who have influenced you?

Influence is always a hard word. When you ask this, it always makes it sound like: ‘Whom did you copy?’ Filmmakers that I like – ones I’m rarely disappointed by – include Zhang Yimou, best known for films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero. These are slick martial arts films, but I like him more for his dramas like Shanghai Triad, which are very well plotted and executed. There are many others, but Alfred Hitchcock is probably my all time favourite.

It’s hard though, to find filmmakers in today’s cinema with a really pronounced style. Chan-wook Park is one I can think of. Stoker is a rare example of a mediocre script being elevated by great direction. Usually a director can’t save a mediocre script, but Park is so idiosyncratic and odd that what he brought to the camera was far more interesting than the pedestrian script. I always get excited about his stuff.

What’s your favourite thing about filmmaking?

Editing. I love editing. You get such immediate results. You can instantly see whether a cut works or not, and when it does, it’s beautiful. With writing, you’re always thinking, ‘This is just the beginning’, which is always far more stressful and time constricting. Seeing a film come together in the editing room is the best and most satisfying part. Production is, of course, great fun, but also very stressful. I’ve been doing a lot of short films recently to get stuff produced with little stress and, ultimately, get more stories told.

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Any advice for young filmmakers today?

Learn how to tell a good story. This sounds like a no-brainer. But everybody today seems to be avoiding story and focusing on technology. I would love it if people could really take the time to craft suspenseful stories. By this I mean, anything where the goal should be having your audience ask what’s happening next – a ‘page turner’, as they say in literature. There’s no similar term for this in cinema. Maybe ‘bladder stretcher’?

Thanks Mark.

It was a pleasure to interview such a friendly guy with a warm heart for cinema. There is a lot of useful content here for writers and directors; I like how Mark takes us back to basics suggesting that we shouldn’t get sidetracked by technology and focus primarily on our stories. Do that extra draft of your screenplay or look up the new iPhone app for filmmakers?

Visit Mark’s website here.

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