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Mark Tapio Kines

Mark: "Filmmaking brings all those interests
together so I guess it was a natural progression".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
June 14th, 2004

For my next victim, I selected Writer / Director Mark Tapio Kines whose latest film 'Claustrophobia' has an excellent cast and has just been picked up by the excellent Lions Gate for distribution stateside. Will we get to see it soon? I really hope so as it looks to be a very tense time.

When did you first begin to get interested in film?
Probably when I was 7 years old and Star Wars and Close Encounters came out. There was a lot of "behind the scenes" material available for both films - "The Making of" books, you know. I was still too young to understand what a director was, but I liked to draw, write stories, act, and create little sets for my action figures. Filmmaking brings all those interests together so I guess it was a natural progression. I started doing animation when I was 16 and when I was 17 I shot my first live action short, a crude spoof of language training films in my German class.

You studied at CalArts and graduated in 1992 with a BFA in Film & Experimental Animation. How valuable has your education been since graduating and are you glad you took the time to do it?
Of course I'm glad I did it; I grew up a lot during those 3 years. And the degree did help get me work as a graphic artist. CalArts is a big name in the design field; employers are always impressed. I doubt it would have helped get me any film jobs though.

You mainly worked as a graphic designer/art director and in the internet biz after graduation. Why did you decide to quit the day job?
Because I want to make films! I enjoy graphic design but I felt I was pissing away all my time and creative energy making little web graphics instead of writing or promoting my film work.

You had gained some recognition with your feature film debut, and then quickly set about working on 'Claustrophobia'. Is it true that the story is based on a nightmare you had?
Yeah, when I was in my teens I had a nightmare where I was in my brother's room with my family. It was a sunny weekend afternoon and I looked outside and saw a man's shadow on the ground. I realized he was on our roof and was going to kill us. The shock woke me up. I tried to channel that feeling into the film.

Can you tell us a little about the plot?
It's about three girls in a house with a guy outside who's trying to kill them.

How long did it take to write?
Once I figured out the story in my head, it took just a month to write the script, with maybe a week or two of mild rewrites.

How was the project financed?
Out of my wallet! Though one other guy did offer a small investment after reading about the film on my web site.

What equipment did you use to shoot?
We shot with a Sony PD 100 MiniDV camera. The guys who owned the camera came from New Zealand so it was PAL, which has a better look than the American video standard (NTSC).

The 'Claustrophobia' crew get down to it.

You edited on Final Cut Pro, How easy did it make the process for you? I normally find it to be a quick one, but then again the majority of my films are 10 minutes long!!
It was great. In fact, I feel rather cheated that I hired a sound editor who used Pro Tools, because Pro Tools gave us a lot more problems. My editor and I probably could have used Final Cut Pro to do all the sound ourselves. And next time we will!

Were you overwhelmed by the response you got during casting, I hear even Holly Marie Combs sent in her resume and headshot?
Well, her agent did. When you send out a casting call, it goes out to agents and managers, and each of them sends you their standard list of clients. Few actors themselves know about the call at first. Holly is one of those people who are represented by a smaller agency that handles mostly unknowns, and then gets lucky when one of their clients makes it big (like Holly). So her agent sent one big envelope with about 30 different headshots in it, all of them nobodies. When I saw Holly among them, I freaked out. Imagine, a big TV star like her in my little movie! But of course her agent never set up her audition when we contacted him, since he's making far more money off her work in "Charmed" than he ever would from "Claustrophobia." This is typical agent behavior. Anyway, I wasn't that overwhelmed by the number of responses. Yeah, I mean, I received over a thousand resumes and headshots, but LA is full of hungry actors, so that level of response is common.

Ultimately you ended up with an excellent cast even getting Judith O'Dea to come out of retirement, how did that come about?
Judy was a friend of a friend. I'd known her off and on since 1998, when she first contacted me for advice on a movie she was thinking of making. When I wanted to shoot an opening sequence to my film where an older woman gets killed, I immediately thought of her. She happily accepted and we had a great day filming. She was very professional and also lots of fun.

The shoot was relatively short, how did you cope?
I didn't! I hate production in general, as you are trying to accomplish so much in so little time. It was worse in this case, because not only did we have just nine days to shoot a feature, but as the whole story takes place during the two hours before sundown, we could only shoot during daylight hours. The upside was that we never had any 18-hour days. Everybody showed up and went home within 12 hours, which is amazing for low budget. But there were a couple of days where we had over 40 camera setups! (Keeping in mind that those 12 hours also encompass make-up and costuming, equipment setup and wrap, and an hour for lunch, so it's really more like just 8 hours of actual filming.) It was stressful. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't wait for the shoot to end! But I never lost my temper, everybody handled themselves very professionally, we got all the shots and it turned out well.

Over the course of the shoot you faced many problems, what or who inspired you to keep going?
Well, you have to finish the film, don't you? That's inspiration enough! You don't want to spend all that money and time only to have an unfinished film. However, I should single out my First AD Michael Holm, who kept me going even when I wanted to just run out to my car and drive home.

Can you explain why the house used for the shoot made everyone feel down?
Well we were all crowded into this one house, and there were some very hot days which made everybody feel worn out. Plus, there was so much to do, I think even though there were 12 hour days; everybody was working constantly so it was exhausting. On top of that, the people who owned the house were rather... well, let's just say that they should not have let their house be used for filming. They just added bucket loads of stress. The house looks great but has a creepy vibe. The previous owners were making counterfeit Gucci products or something there, and a few years ago a neighbour was murdered in her own home.

Despite all of the problems are you pleased with the finished film?
Very much so. I think it's as perfect as it can be.

What would you say is the overall tone of the film?
I'd say "realistic," but what does that mean. Mostly I hope people find it scary. But watching it several times with audiences, I heard a lot of laughter. So that's great too. If people watch it as a horror film and are surprised by how funny it is, I think that's great.

It was thought that the film didn't get to festivals because it isn't really a horror movie would you agree?
Well, when I was working on the film I met this woman who runs a horror film festival in Edinburgh. She encouraged me to send her a screener of the rough cut, without music or anything. Then I never heard from her again. I think the problem you're hinting at is that, yes, it IS a scary film, and it IS technically in the horror genre, but because it's not particularly bloody, and doesn't involve anything supernatural or use any make-up effects, it doesn't fit so easily with the rest of the genre. And yet it's still too much of a horror film for the "art" festivals. But that's OK, as I never really made it for festivals in the first place. They're fun, but I haven't been active in entering them. I just got invited to my first horror festival (Estepona, in Spain), so we'll see how the movie does there.

There's only one way out in 'Claustrophobia'.

Are you a fan of the horror genre?
I love a good creepy movie, but a lot of horror films are so poorly written and acted that the gory effects are all they're good for. I don't have the patience to sit through 90 minutes of crappy filmmaking just for the odd bloodbath. I think the stuff that's coming out of Asia right now - especially Japan - is the best horror out there, since they focus so much more on mood than on shock value.

What are some of your favourite films?
Oh God... There are so many I can't possibly go through them all. For now I'll just say Strangers on a Train, Blow Up, Blue Velvet, Vertigo, and High and Low. I can see them a hundred times and they never get stale.

And directors?
50's era Hitchcock, first and foremost. But also Zhang Yimou, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Alexander Payne and Lukas Moodysson. I actually get excited when any of those directors has a new film. Michel Gondry, the music video director, is also awesome. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was just OK, but his videos are incredible.

When can we expect to see 'Claustrophobia' here in the UK?
'Claustrophobia' doesn't have a distributor for the UK yet, unfortunately. It comes out on video in the US and Canada on December 7, on Lions Gate, which is a big label. Hopefully if it does well, UK distribution won't be far behind. Perhaps this interview might raise enough interest, who knows?

What next?
Two weeks in Italy! Then I'm coming back to write another scary movie, this one will take place in an office building after hours. We'll see what happens with 'Claustrophobia' in December. If it does well, it will be easier to get the money for the new thriller. If not, I'll just have to raise the money myself, which I'm used to doing at this point!

"Thanks ever so much for taking part in this interview Mark.
And we wish you the best of luck in the future."

You can visit the official web 'Claustrophobia' website right here: www.cassavafilms.com/films.html

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