Over the festive period while you were all drinking and swapping presents, I was hard at work schmoozing with Hollywood types all for the benefit of your reading pleasure. Here's what went down when I had a chat with up and coming 'jack of all trades' Mark Baranowski.
What was it about the arts that appealed to you? You seem to have worked in just about every creative form possible.
As a child, most of my time was spent in front of the TV. Because I had very few friends outside of school and was the product of divorced parents, I was most comfortable in my "relationship" with the fictional characters on the screen. At the same time, I wanted to create just as much as I enjoyed being entertained. Everything I ever watched, listened to or read inspired me to act, make my own music, draw and write. It wasn't until I made my first film, "Despair", in late 2001 that I became content working in only one creative field, burning myself out with all the others by that point.
Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?
I've loved the horror genre ever since I was too young to stay up and watch the late-night classics with my mother. She's always been a fan of the genre as well, but my stepfather wouldn't allow me to watch any of it. Being a typically rebellious kid, I began collecting Fangoria magazines and hiding them under my dresser… If I couldn't watch it, I'd read about it! Once I reached high school age and began saving some hard-earned money, my film collection began. No matter how bad the movie, I still manage to find at least one redeeming quality about a horror film (atmosphere, music, etc.), and intend to one day acquire every title ever made.
Did you ever think you could seriously do what you loved as a career and be successful at it?
Part of me did, yes, due to mere positive thinking and determination. The other part of me didn't care if I became successful, since my work has always been a necessary form of release, or therapy if you will, and the satisfaction of completing a new project was usually enough. Only within the past five years has public appreciation, not to mention financial reward, become motivational factors.
Who are you main inspirations (family, friends, others) in life and how have they encouraged you to progress with your career in the entertainment industry?
Honestly, I've had very little inspiration from anyone in my family. Out of all my talents, drawing has been the only art form that my parents (or grandparents, with whom I've always had a closer relationship) ever encouraged. However, I can't call myself an "art lover", so there haven't been any artists whose work has given me the desire to pursue that medium beyond the extent of a hobbyist. In regards to my writing, I'd say Stephen King is my main influence, having grown up reading whichever of his books were on my mother's bookshelf. Musically, Depeche Mode has been my favorite band and main source of inspiration for the past ten years. I'm a collector of horror film soundtracks, also, which I listen to whenever I'm working. Italian titles are my favorite, and have inspired much of the mood and composition of my own material. In film, the style of Michael Mann (as displayed in "Miami Vice" and the film HEAT, especially) is my greatest influence, even while working in the horror genre. Dario Argento and John Carpenter are my favorite horror directors, and I try to exhibit some of their influence in my films, as well. Ultimately, though, my main inspiration has been actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, with whose story of self-improvement and success I can best relate. One of my goals yet to be achieved is to meet him personally and shake his hand.
Mark & Ryli with Reggie Bannister.
You have your own Record Label and Production Company. Do you think this was the best way to go about putting your work out?
Absolutely. After my first CD, "Point Blank", was rejected by major record labels for being "too controversial", I realized that all my efforts in making the album would have been in vain unless I released it myself. Thus, I set up Nickel City (a tribute to my hometown--Buffalo, New York) Records with a close friend.
After pitching my scripts around Hollywood for three years, even with the help of a manager, I was yet to make a sale. Most producers considered my work "too dark", and suggested script changes which I wouldn't have been comfortable making. I finally decided to take the advice of actor Bruce Campbell, and make my own films. This way, my vision would remain intact, and I would be involved with every aspect of their release. On Mark Productions was thereby created, which is now the main banner under which I release all my work.
Most recently you have turned to making films. Can you tell us why and then tell us a little about your debut, 'Despair'?
Filmmaking was something I decided to tackle when money became too tight writing scripts for local producers on a deferred payment basis. At the same time, I'd received one rejection letter too many from some Hollywood contact, and finally decided to rely on no one but myself in order to realize my dreams. "Despair" was born out of that frustration/determination, and was also inspired by the tragedy of 9-11, which had occurred only a couple weeks before. It was my own story, basically, but taken to drastic extremes. I play a sketch artist whose unpaid bills outweigh his income, and he finally decides to take his own life by drinking a bottle of some undetermined pills. My wife comes home from work to find me dead in our bathtub, and slowly goes insane. She tortures herself with memories of better times, not to mention a razor blade strategically inserted into her mouth, and then finishes herself off by slitting her wrist with the same blade. Pretty grim material, obviously, but as I mentioned, it was just the therapy I needed to get certain negative thoughts and feelings out of my system.
You also starred in the film, did the soundtrack and directed your wife as well. How hard was this?
Not hard at all, really. Ryli, my wife, shot my scenes, and I edited the entire film using the camera itself, as we completed each consecutive shot. I then created the soundtrack, which I fed through a simple 4-track recorder and into my recording VCR's audio inputs. It was a crude process, not yet having acquired my current editing software, but sufficient.
You seem to use your wife in most of your films, and she normally appears nude. Is it hard for you to make your wife do things like this when you know other people will see her, or do you switch off and only think about her character dying and being naked, etc?
Ryli had been modeling for some time before ever acting in my films, so she'd already been doing nude work. I've never had a problem with other people seeing her naked. Yes, I'm her husband, but that doesn't entitle me to dictate what she can and can't do. For that matter, I've been nude in my films as well, so it's not like I'm asking her to do anything I wouldn't do myself. Up until our last film, EXPENDABLE, I'd even begun to take her for granted, writing nude scenes for her under the assumption that she'd have no problem with the material. She's open to all my ideas, but I think she'd prefer to keep her clothes on a bit longer in our upcoming projects. (Laughs)
What can you tell us about The Zombie Room? From what I gather it has run into some problems?
THE ZOMBIE ROOM was to be our first all-out horror film. We began shooting it this past March, using a cast of friends. It was to be a twist on the standard zombie story, with the "zombie" being an amnesiac who transforms into something other than the typical shambling gut-muncher upon nightfall. We had a great location in New London, North Carolina, but only got in about two days worth of shooting when the weather took a drastic turn for the worse, and we realized that our "friends" were suddenly less enthused about working on the project than they'd previously let on. After nearly a month of bad weather here in NC, which kept us from shooting any further, we realized that it'd be impossible to rely on these people for the remainder of the production. Thus, we set the project aside and began work on EXPENDABLE, our most recent release. I'd still like to return to THE ZOMBIE ROOM, using a new cast, but I plan to use the existing footage for a movie-within-the-movie in another film.
Mark: "I've done more than I'd ever imagined".
Your film Runaway Terror seems like a lot of fun and it has had a lot of praise. Can you tell us about the film from your first idea to release?
This one was based on one of my earliest scripts, which I'd written two years earlier for a company specializing in erotic thrillers/comedies. After completing the first draft, that company apparently went out of business, since I suddenly lost contact with the producer and their Website disappeared. I held onto the script for a while, until passing it around to various screenwriter friends, who suggested some changes that they thought would benefit the story. I altered the script accordingly, and then decided to shoot it myself in mid-2002. Living in the "Bible belt", I knew it'd be difficult finding local actresses to play the required nude/love scenes, so I toned down the sexuality and enhanced the script's "slasher" elements. Again, I cast a few friends, along with some other local talent, but again found that certain individuals were less reliable than others. Eager to get the shoot over with, I threw out much of the script, finished the remainder of scenes with the actors I'd already begun to shoot with, and made up the last 20 minutes of the film as we went along, creating scenes involving only Ryli and myself. I was still using a VHS-C camera, and had only two VCR's to edit with, which proved to be a problem in creating clean cuts. I was forced to release the film in black-and-white, and it wasn't until earlier this year that I was able to re-edit the film and release it not only in color, but with a new soundtrack, as well. I'm much happier with the current version, and hate that anyone saw it the way it was initially released.
Do you have any stories from the set that you care to share with us?
Let's see… The "alien beanie baby" scene in "Despair" sticks out in my mind as being one of the more hilarious experiences I've had in working on a film. We were already used to shooting one downbeat scene after another, until we reached the part where Ryli cuts my head out of a photograph and tapes it onto the face of a little green alien doll. When you first see it in the film you can't help but laugh (a much-needed light moment), and that's exactly what happened while I was shooting it. As Ryli looks up at it lovingly, I pan over to it for a close-up on my face, and I just couldn't stop laughing-it looked so bizarre and ridiculous, I couldn't get over the fact that I even came up with the idea! I think it took at least five takes to get the scene finished. In RUNAWAY TERROR, we were faced with many distractions, usually in the form of inconsiderate neighbors. Many of the scenes took place outdoors, and each one proved to be a true test of my patience. Wood chippers, power washers, lawnmowers, barking dogs, screaming kids, passing trains/airplanes, and screeching squirrels were all hindering factors in finishing a scene. I vowed to never shoot another outdoor scene after wrapping up production on that film. Unfortunately, I went through much of the same for EXPENDABLE, even though I kept these scenes to a minimum when writing the script. For this project, locations themselves became more of a problem than anything else. We found ourselves kicked out of a private park by the Homeowners Association, then confronted by the police when a "concerned" parishioner noticed us shooting in her church parking lot and dialed 911 to report it. All this because we needed to find a suitable substitute for a normally unlocked cemetery that just happened to be locked when we went to shoot there. Ah, the joys of independent filmmaking…
What will 2004 bring for Mark Baranowski?
God only knows, but I feel it'll be a great year. Sterling Entertainment has just picked up RUNAWAY TERROR and EXPENDABLE for US distribution, and asked if I could shoot 5-10 films for them throughout the year. I'm working on the first now, an erotic thriller called BLACKMAIL, which I hope to have finished by the end of January. With that many titles to complete, I expect to be shooting a new film every other month! As for my own films, "Despair" has been released on DVD through EI/Seduction Cinema, though I'm not sure if their distribution reaches the UK…? Sterling Entertainment is still working on acquiring foreign distribution for RUNAWAY TERROR and EXPENDABLE, and I expect there'll be a worldwide release for the films I make for them… Again, the first one's BLACKMAIL, so keep an eye out for it!
Do you have anything else left to achieve or have you done it all?
As an artist, I believe there is always something new to achieve, and another project that needs to be started. However, in looking back at what I've already accomplished, I've done more than I'd ever imagined, and would be content if all my creative juices suddenly dried up. With no more selfish distractions, maybe then I could start a family…?
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Mark,
and we wish you the best of luck in the future."
Visit Mark's website here: markbaranowski.faithweb.com