The Limelight Index: Mark Tapio Kines – Writer/Director


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 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!


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.


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.


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.


The Limelight Index: Carlo Mirabella-Davis – Writer/Director


I’m really excited to share this interview I did with Carlo Mirabella-Davis – a filmmaker from upstate New York. He’s a great guy with a heap of noteworthy advice to offer on the industry and the wonderful practice of filmmaking. So, here it is:

Hi Carlo, I’d like to begin by asking you what sparked off your first real interest in filmmaking?

I’ve always been interested in filmmaking.  My favorite toy was an old 1970’s portable tape recorder.  I’d spend endless hours constructing radio plays and casting my friends and family as voice actors.  I would also spend a lot of time drawing.  I initially wanted to be an underground cartoonist.  I was that weird kid off in the corner constructing vast, fictional worlds.

As a family we also had a movie night every Sunday.  We’d order Chinese food and then watch some old film from the golden age of cinema.

So your whole family has a passion for film?

Yeah, my sister Francesca Mirabella is also a filmmaker.  She’s just started her first year at NYU grad film school.  She’s making beautiful films over there.  It’s in the blood I guess.

Which movies and filmmakers influence you most?

That’s so hard to answer.  There are so many movies I cherish and obsess over.  I used to watch 4 films a day, which was insane.  Now I’ve cut it back to 2.  I love horror films, genre films.  I also love art films and experimental cinema.  David Lynch is obviously a huge influence.  Also Flannery O’Connor.  I love her. Terrence Malick.  Badlands is a massive influence.  I love classic horror films from the 70s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s The Thing or Possession by Zulawski.  Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite films of all time.


Psycho is another film I’m completely obsessed with.  The Night Porter is a brilliant film.  So is The Servant  by Joseph Losey and Night of the HunterKiller of Sheep is fantasticI love all sorts of flicks though.  I can go back to the classical era and watch silent films like Metropolis or The Passion of Joan of Arc . Of course there’s animated films that I love, Akira, and also science fiction.  To be honest, I pretty much just digest anything I can get my hands on.  But, I also love just a good solid drama, like The Verdict, City of God, or Oldboy.  I adore Chan-wook Park.  I got him to sign my hammer!

Do you find Asian movies a significant influence on your work?

Yeah, I love Asian film.  Takeshi Miike’s film Audition is incredible.  I also love Akira Kurosawa.  Seven Samurai is one of my favourite films.  I think Korean and Japanese films in particular have a tone to them and a pacing that I really admire.  There’s an economy and ruthlessness of vision that I think is really masterful.

What inclined you to set up your own production company, Elkcreek Cinema?

When I turned 13, Chris Dapkins, my life long cinematic collaborator, found an old super-8 camera at a yard sale in upstate New York.  That was, like, the moment of “ahah!”  We set out to make this black and white film about necrophilia in my parent’s basement, which was the start of many movies to come.  This led to us setting up Elkcreek Cinema as a collective to represent our brand of grass roots, by-the-skin-of-your-teeth filmmaking.  It also made sense, as the road that runs through our hometown is also called Elkcreek.  It was a natural fit.  My sister joined the collective as well.  It wasn’t until we met the brilliant Nick August-Perna, who co-directed The Swell Season, that we really decided to make Elkcreek Cinema into a viable production company.


Your short film Knife Point comes from a very strong psychological standpoint and could be seen as quite controversial, what was your message here?

I wanted to make a film about how people who commit sinister acts of brutality often believe they are doing the right thing, the moral thing.  The most hideous deeds are often committed in the name of freedom and justice.  It’s very rare you find someone who consciously knows they are doing something wrong and does it anyway.  In reality, most extremists believe they are protecting something sacred and important.  I wanted to explore that psychological mentality.

I was also examining the “culture war” in the United States.  Today, literally, our government has been shut down by a group of tea party right-wingers who are threatening to destabilize the entire world economy unless they get their way.  I thought, what would it look like if the cultural war in America had reached an extreme, nightmare-world scenario?

I was also interested in religious extremism, which is really at the heart of the film.  I deeply respect all religions and feel strongly that everyone is entitled to believe what they want as long as they don’t try to impose their beliefs on other people.  Knife Point examines how extremists often take a peaceful religion, in this case Christianity, and twist it to justify their violent or hateful actions.  Like that preacher who stated after Hurricane Sandy that God was punishing the east coast because we support gay marriage.  It’s not religion that’s the problem, it’s those who misuse the religion for their own sinister agendas.

I love thought-provoking horror films.  One of the reasons Rosemary’s Baby is so evocative and brilliant is because it’s not a film about Satanism.  It’s a film about sexism, the pressures of conformity, and how women are often oppressed in traditional marriage.  I see the horror film as an interesting excuse to get into politics, sociology, and philosophy.


How do you take to the online revolution, using social media as a form of distribution, rather than perhaps just taking a film to a festival?

I’m very intrigued by these new technological developments.  I think it’s very interesting and opens up a lot of new possibilities.  I did this music video, Cry For Judas by the Mountain Goats, and after the video had been put out, people who liked it took clips and reassembled collages and gifs and put them on Tumblr.  They made new art from my video, which I totally love.  What a great way to interact with cinema.  I think when you love a work of art, that’s what you do, you incorporate it into your identity, you cherish it.  It’s like saying, “This piece of art represents my inner essence”.

In terms of online distribution, Vimeo is amazing.  I was just looking at the geographical spectrum of who in the world is watching my films.  It’s amazing.  People in Russia, India, Iraq and Poland are watching my films.  On Vimeo I can see what they’re doing and watch their movies too.  The only issue with the rise of the internet is that piracy is a huge problem for independent feature films.  When Chris, Nick and I made The Swell Season, our feature music documentary, we lost so much money from pirating.  We’d finally gotten a genuine distribution deal, it’s on iTunes and Netflix, but every day I’d get Google alerts about people ripping a Swell Season DVD and disseminating torrents.  This is bad for the entire industry, but big budget films can take the hit more because their returns are still so massive.  For independent movies, it’s a killer.  I think people should always pay for feature films.  I buy everything, because it supports the filmmakers who made it.  I’m that guy who spends loads of money on iTunes.


This is a good attitude!  In terms of crowdfunding platforms, have you ever engaged with Kickstarter or Indiegogo at all?

I think websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are a wonderful miracle for filmmakers and other artists.  When I was younger we had no way to raise money except to go into credit card debt or have a bake sale.  These new platforms are definitely the wave of the future.  Kickstarter is an incredible resource for artists around the world.  Thumbs up.

What’s your attitude to these celebrity campaigns – do you think they will take away the independent audience or create more buzz around independent film?   

My feeling is, the more the merrier.  There are a number of profoundly talented filmmakers with an established name who just can’t get funding from the studios anymore.  I don’t think these people should be denied from raising money on Kickstarter.  I wish Kickstarter had been around when Orson Wells was banished from the studio system.  Look, I understand how people could feel these big names are hogging all the backers, I understand that.  I still feel it’s unfair to say people like Spike Lee can’t use these programs.  He’s a brilliant filmmaker and I love his work.  If Kickstarter is going to help him make another movie, then what’s the problem?  That’s my feeling.  It’s an interesting question though.

I’ve heard Elkcreek Cinema has potentially a couple of features in development.  How are you handling this?

My big advice to young filmmakers would be, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Have three scripts you’re working on, have three feature projects in development.  This industry is so unpredictable and you never know which project will take off.  If you spend ten years just working on one project and it doesn’t have what it takes then you have to start over from scratch.  In that spirit I have two projects that I’m working on.


One is feature horror film called Bulldog, which I really can’t talk too much about right now.  It has a similar aesthetic to Knife Point and it’s a real horror film.  It’s a genre film.  It’s inspired by real events I witnessed as a kid in the 80’s in upstate New York.  I’m really excited to make it.  My agents are just about to send the script out to producers.

The other feature is called On Evil.  This is a project I went through the Sundance Labs with.  I got into the screenwriting and directing labs up at Sundance, which was a truly amazing experience.  You literally get to go out there and shoot scenes from your film for practice.  Robert Redford and other amazing industry professionals watch your scenes and give you incredible guidance, which was just mind-blowing.  On Evil is a drama with thriller overtones about a family of academics in upstate New York.  I also have a science fiction film I’ve just started writing.

People say screenwriters write about what they know, to what extent do you agree with this?

Personally, I need to write about what I know.  Within your unconscious mind lurks all these dark, beautiful creatures you must harvest and display in all their bizarre glory.  A film’s authenticity often comes from the screenwriter drawing upon real childhood experiences and emotions.


Any noteworthy advice you’d like to give to young filmmakers?

There are a couple of main things I’d like to say.  You have to have thick skin as a filmmaker.  This is not an industry that is going to be kind to you.  You have to be able to protect the fire of your passion for cinema.  It’s like a little candle you have to build strong, thick metal around and keep alight.  People will attack you as soon as you start making your first film.  They’ll say, “What are you doing?   Making a film?  That’s insane!  You should be a doctor or a lawyer.”  You gotta have courage.  Have the faith of your convictions and say “You know what?  I wanna be a filmmaker and I’m going to stick with it no matter what.”

You have to be prepared to make mistakes, especially early on.  You can’t give up when you hit a wall.  Many people pack it in if they don’t acquire instant creative success.  Stick with it no matter what.  Remember, you’re not making films to make money or win awards, you’re in it because you love cinema!  You love telling stories.  You love to enter the world of your imagination.  Holding onto that fire is a hard thing to do, but you have to hold onto it forever.  That fire is the light of your soul, flickering in the vast, impenetrable darkness.


The other thing I would say, in terms of actually making movies, is that finding the right people is important. Find people who like the kind of films you like and want to make films too.  Make sure they share your passion and then, like Shakespeare wrote, “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to you with hoops of steel”.  A good director surrounds themselves with talented, interesting people.  If you meet somebody who is like you and has an unquenchable passion for creativity, become close with them.  It’s you and them versus the world.  It’s those collaborative bonds that ultimately lead to great movies.

Also, don’t be afraid to admit that you’re still learning.  Continue to teach yourself.  Once you say, “I’m done. I’ve figured it out.” you die.  Good filmmakers are always evolving.  Try new styles.  Try new technology.  Try everything.

Do you feel the same way about genre? Do you think that directors who stick to only a certain genre are limiting themselves and therefore can’t be a great director?

I’m a big Kubrick fan and I love the way he went from an amazing science fiction film to an amazing horror film to an amazing drama.  He did everything.  I do like the idea of mixing it up.  But at the same time, I’m also a big Hitchcock fan and he really understood genre and was into the idea of picking one and honing your skills in that arena.  He embraced being The Master of Suspense.  I think both are totally valid ways to do things.  Either way, filmmakers must do everything in their power to avoid stagnation and predictability.

Thanks Carlo, there’s some remarkable insight here. Good luck with your projects!

Thanks Charlie!  Good luck with your projects as well.

Watch Knife Point below:

Find Carlo on Facebook and for more information visit his website:

The Limelight Index: David Anthony Thomas – Writer/Director/Actor


David Anthony Thomas is a filmmaker from Newcastle. He is currently in the process of embarking on a feature length project. I was lucky enough to catch up with him and ask a few questions about what got him where he is now, what to expect and his interests as a filmmaker.

David, as a writer, director and actor, what first sparked off your real interest in filmmaking?

I don’t come from an arty family, and it’s really bizarre that for as long as I remember I always wanted to work in the arts. I decided I would be an actor from a young age when others at school still all wanted to be firemen or ballerinas. I’ve been acting since I was 8 years old and doing it professionally since I was 10. I started off by working in theatre and I learnt so much working with and in such close proximity to some of the all-time great directors like Greg Doran. I started doing film and TV a few years later and began fall in love with filmmaking. I eventually made the move behind the camera and it seems to have turned out well.

Who are your influences?

I’ve loved Joe Wright’s work since Pride and Prejudice and I also love the old Ealing films. I’m a huge fan of British cinema and British characters, British stories and British history are always at the forefront of my mind when I write, because I think it’s important that our culture reflects our identity. However I’ve always thought I’ve been more inspired by authors and playwrights than by filmmakers, and perhaps this is why we do things a bit differently.

Your main body of work is in period dramas, what attracted you to this particular genre?

It has to be working for so long in theatre. Working with the RSC early on opened the door to the possibility of setting something in different eras, as it’s somewhat easier to pull off in the theatre. I grew up thinking “Why should cinema be different? Why should everything we make be set here and now?” Most people make the transition to that way of thinking later on, but the assumption that everything should be in a contemporary setting because it’s easier to make is just laziness to me when there are so many great untold stories still out there. Solitary Trees, for example, is set in 1940, but it’s still a very modern film about the role the press plays in British politics. The historical aspect just gives it a new angle.


The Brontes, will be your debut feature film, how did this project all start?

I did a location scout up on the moors outside of Haworth when a film I shot called Love Thy Neighbour was screening at the Bradford International Film Festival. That film eventually became The Business of the Day that was screened at Cannes and Cyprus, but it was actually during the shoot that suddenly everything just hit me: I saw everything and realised that this needed to be done. I swear that the Brontes drew me there and wanted me to tell their story because of the suddenness and intensity of it, I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I kept going back up to the moors throughout the development and pre-production of Solitary Trees and getting a bit more every time, and I’d always have my notebook so I could just sit and write it all down by hand – I never do that but the words just kept flowing.

Do you find it a big risk taking on a biographical project of this nature? How much of your own creative input will there be in the story?

Not really, no. Challenging, but certainly not risky. I know the Brontes and all of their works through and through. We’re collaborating with anyone we can find with specialist knowledge on the subject and we’ve got a fantastic, world-beating team together. It would be dangerous to be arrogant about it and project anything I want to put across in a film using the Brontes as my characters, not to mention completely inappropriate. It’s about letting them tell their own story through the medium of film. It’s about the empowerment of women, about social issues and identity, so to an extent I understand my role is as much of an editor as a writer, using their own words and works where I can to piece together a strong narrative about their lives. When I look at it as a director, I then feel the freedom to tell the story knowing that the script is there and will keep me in check.


Can we expect any prominent names, cast or crew, from the independent circuit to be cast?

Definitely, and likely from the studio circuit too.

Can we look forward to any important dates for the movies future?

The only date that we’ve revealed so far is Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday in April 2016. We’re planning something really big for it and that will be the film’s official unveiling.

Finally, can you give any parting advice for young filmmakers on the industry?

I can tell you that working in theatre, film and television is a lifestyle, not a job. I can tell you it’s one of the most rewarding lives to lead but it can also be incredibly tough, and most people don’t think of that going into it. Make sure you’re in it for the right reasons and treat your contemporaries like collaborators, not competition. You’re all in it together and you’re in it for the long hall so you can definitely benefit from helping each other out.

Never use the excuse that you’re “just” a student or “just starting out” to allow for mistakes or corners to be cut. If you’re calling yourself a director you should act and behave like one and you should maintain high standards and ask the same of your crew. Raising a budget to at least feed them, pay expenses and getting some quality equipment may not seem like much but it certainly makes a statement of intent and often your cast will give you that little bit more. Look after your cast and crew and they’ll look after you.

Also most young filmmakers, it seems like, make the same film over and over again. If you’ve seen a film about drugs, Facebook or dating in your film school or on your course for the past three years running, you should probably think about making something else. No festival selection committee will care that you insist yours is the better project because they’ve been told it all before. An understanding of your audience and your platform for exhibition is vital.

Thank you David.

There’s a lot to learn here. I particularly like what David said about culture reflecting our identity and treating your contemporaries as collaberators and not competition. Everyone should support each others work positively, after all how will the industry ever thrive if we’re not all in it together? David has definitely made a strong statement by delving away from common contemporary themes like drugs and the internet (as he mentions), and it has definitely worked for him and made a strong impact. Try and be different, it appears one of the few ways (or dare I say only) to make a stand in this industry.

Find David on IMDB here.

You can support his current projects on Facebook: Solitary Trees and The Brontes