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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The Limelight Index: Kevin Slack – Writer/Director

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Above is Kevin Slack, a filmmaker whose latest short film was selected by Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender to screen at Venice Film Festival. I caught up with Kevin who tells me how he got started out in film, where the future lies and that you should always “keep shooting.”

Hi Kevin, when did you first get into filmmaking?

I first started making movies in high school with my best friend.  These were mainly “Jackass” inspired sketches that nobody laughed at but us.  Then in my high school video class I had to recreate a scene from Scarface and I completely fell in love with filmmaking.  After that, my best friend and I wrote and shot a feature film one summer and the rest is history. That feature film will never be seen by another soul though, it’s horrible.

Did you always want to be a director?

As soon as I realized that “being a director” was actually something people did then yes.  I didn’t know that was really a job until I was at the end of my high school career.  Up until then, I just thought movies were kind of magically made without knowing how.  I also love editing and operating camera, but I have always wanted to be the director on a project, the main creative source.

Who are your influences?

Unfortunately I have a horrible memory, so I don’t have the backlog of knowledge that a guy like Scorsese has.  I tend to be influenced by more modern filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Steve McQueen, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, Nicolas Winding Refn, David O Russell etc.  However I find myself referencing the greats like Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Kubrick, Spielberg a lot to.  I’m really influenced by the painter Edward Hopper.  I’m always going back to his work at the beginning of my projects. I’d also like to mention that these guys are more inspiration than an influence.  I do my best not to imitate, no matter how inevitable it is to do something others have already done.  I try to be inspired by those filmmakers and use their work as motivation to create something beautiful.

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Your short film, The Drought, has been widely successful, how did this project start?

That project was born really organically in my apartment.  I saw a news reporter interviewing an umbrella salesman in Manhattan and that night I had a rough draft done.  It all just happened so quick and so easy.  That film was really a blessing because it brought me on such an amazing journey all the way to Venice, Italy where it screened for Michael Fassbender and Ridley Scott.  It aired on PBS, played at numerous film festivals and has around 100,000 views online.  That film is still my favorite project I’ve done and the most fun I’ve had making a film to date.

What’s your take on online distribution platforms?

Part of me is a total traditionalist where I believe every movie should be seen on a big screen in a dark room with strangers projected on film.  I don’t think any setting can replicate how magical that situation is.  I still try to go to the cinema every Sunday, even by myself to see a film.  I was a projectionist for a while in college as well, so I really have a place in my heart for it.  However, the majority of people are seeing content online or on demand in some way now.  It’s great for smaller films that don’t have the funds to do a traditional marketing campaign.  It’s really expensive and risky to do a theatrical run for films.  Take a guy like Ed Burns who makes his movie for a few thousand dollars and then puts it right on iTunes.  He always makes his money back and then some.  It works really well for some filmmakers.  I think it gives a voice to some films and filmmakers that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen.  I like to think when I make a feature that it will be in the theatres, but when it comes down to it, I’m just thrilled to get eyes on something I make.

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Can we expect any big projects in the works?

Right now I am writing a feature, directing a comedic short next month and always writing treatments for music videos and commercials.  Nothing too big that I can talk about right now, but you’ll be hearing from me!

What’s your favourite thing about filmmaking?

My favorite part of filmmaking is the collaborative process between myself and the cast and crew.  It’s a really special environment that is hard to describe to people that haven’t been through it.  Even just being on set with people for four days can create this magical bond that is really sad to let go of when the shoot is over.  In terms of specific parts of the process I love being on set directing and then editing.  If it was up to me, I’d write the script and 2 days later I’d be on set shooting.

Any parting advice on the craft and, or, industry?

Keep shooting.  The best way to learn is to make some seriously bad mistakes.  It’s a good thing to make bad movies at first.  Also just watch as many films as you can.  Try to constantly surround yourself with people more talented and experienced than you on set.  That way when they come up with an amazing idea, you’ll get the credit for it.

Watch The Drought below:

Kevin’s website.

The Limelight Index: Patrick Chapman – Artist/Director

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I recently caught up with Patrick Chapman, an artist turned filmmaker from Los Angeles. Patrick has recently completed his first feature film PHIN and is now working on his second feature ToY. We chatted about his inspirations and how he goes about the filmmaking process. Here is the interview:

Hi Patrick, when did you first get passionate about film?

I was in college doing an art major and found that I wasn’t learning much, so I was spending a lot money paying for something that didn’t seem worthwhile. I started watching a lot of movies with my friends, and the college had a pretty good film department, so things fell into place and I gradually switched over to that. I got really lucky, because I’d be painting houses right now if I got an art major, instead I get to make beautiful films.

Your background is in painting; does this influence your filmmaking?

Definitely. I like to make a lot of films about artists, similar to David Lynch’s stuff. It definitely helps with the cinematography and processes of that nature. You can both be a writer and be a good storyteller, or you can be a cinematographer and have a really interesting vision.

So you’d describe your style as prominently visual?

Yeah, I’m definitely an artist. But, of course, I do depend on other writers to help me build my story.

Am I right in saying, your new project is co-written?

Yeah. My twin brother helped me on my first one and now I’ve got Andrew Hanson helping me on my latest. I also have a bunch of other people who look it over. You always give out your scripts because it’s the best way to have a lot of feedback, especially in film. If your doing art, that’s one thing, but when you’re doing film or television you need a lot of feedback.

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Could you tell us a bit more about your latest project?

Yeah, my latest project is called ToY and it’s about an individual artist who’s just doing regular artwork and its not getting her anywhere. She searches for new models and comes across an online escort service, which interests her and she goes into interviewing escorts. She meets an escort in particular, an ageing 45 year old at the end of her career. The artist wants to make an art installation around this character, but ends up falling in love with the woman. It’s very Leaving Las Vegas; it’s two twisted souls learning about each other’s life, one gets ruined, and the other doesn’t.

Does your storytelling come from a personal background?

Yeah, I definitely twist that into my characters. For this next one, I don’t exactly have the experience of lesbian love in my background. But, thanks to people on the creative team, I have been put in the shoes of two women in love, which has been quite interesting. ToY’s COLLEGE and PRO have a unique mix of softness, tumultuousness and passion to their relationship, a raw vulnerable kind of love. Their love is fascinating and fresh to me.

Which filmmakers do you look up to?

I would say mostly David Lynch, his stuff is always great. The Coen Brothers are also great, but Stanley Kubrick is probably my favourite. He was a photographer at first, so he has a similar path to me, coming from the art angle. I find his work very visually stimulating and interesting, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket are two good examples.

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Do you still have time for your painting?

Filming takes up most of my time, but I’ve been doing personal stuff for the past 3 or 4 years and editing for CBS. Painting comes on in-between each project. Everyone should have a good hobby, whether it be photography, painting, poetry, it’s nice to have something to look forward coming home too.

What’s your favourite thing about being a filmmaker?

I’d say shooting and directing. You work really hard to write the script, raise the money, casting, then actually being on set, when the lightings struck and calling action, this is the best part. It’s seeing the project come alive. Casting is actually fun though, you’ve written the script and now you get to see a load of different actors interpret it their own way. Directors should sit through as many castings as possible. You can write a character and say this is exactly what I want to say, but you’ll always get someone who goes 180.

Have you ever had an actor influence you that you go back and change the script?

Definitely. When we wrote PHIN he was meant to be this very melodramatic character, very serious, but then Eric Frentzel who actually came in and got the part, was all over the place. He had different accents for each character, so we ended up going with his idea. You should change stuff after you see actors do it; you want them to naturally be able to change the lines how they see fit.

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Any advice to filmmakers starting out?

I would say, technically, know as much stuff as you can. When it comes down to doing filmmaking on your own, being an editor, or a cinematographer, always helps. Your going to have to do a bit of everything at some point, it will also save you money. Home your skills into one area to start with. It’s always hard to come straight out of college being a director, but if you’re a really good editor or writer, and really focused in, you can actually make money coming out of college. No ones going to be like “Hey, I’m Speilberg”, no one can be like this right after college.

Do you find if you know more about different areas then you can pass on your vision more clearly?

Definitely, but you don’t have to read up on the latest technology, for example the new chip that’s in the red camera. But, knowing your lenses, and your lighting kits is great. So, when I talk to my DP we know what we’re talking about, he is also an editor so he can make good judgments on where to cut etc. You should always have a general feel for everything, but do find one thing to focus on through college and try and get paid at doing it.

Thanks Patrick, it’s been great talking to you.

There’s some really interesting stuff said by Patrick in this interview. I particularly like how he approaches filmmaking from a very visual aesthetic and therefore uses his background to an advantage. Finding a hobby that ties into what you do as a profession is surely an ideal phenomena for all of us. I specifically find photography a great hobby to practice, and as Patrick mentioned, greats like Kubrick have evolved from this background. Anyway, you can find Patrick’s intriguing new film project on the web at all of the following links:

Like ToY on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ToytheMovie
Check out ToY on Kickstarter: www.kickstarter.com/projects/166612916/toy
Follow ToY on Twitter: https://twitter.com/toythemovie
Visit the website: www.toythemovie.com

Thanks for taking part.