Interview with Mark Tapio Kines, Director

Recently I conducted an email interview with Mark Tapio Kines, director of Claustrophobia (2003) and Foriegn Correspondents (1999) (to our female readership over at the Wheaton-club on Theology Girl and The Result of a Sleepless Night, Foreign Correspondents stars Wil).

While the interview touched on a number of topics ranging from Kine’s experiences as a director to his current work, it also cleared the water on Claustrophobia (2003), a film that I feel has not received the critical attention it deserves due to its marketing by Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

Claustrophobia tells the story of three women who are held hostage in a house by a killer with a crossbow. A suspense film with a nod to Hitchcock, unfortunately it was released by its distributor, Lions Gate Home Entertainment, as a slasher flick. This meant changing the name of the film to Serial Slayer (a truly awful name) and coming up with misleading cover art. In my mind, the result of these decisions has been the prevention of the film from reaching its intended audience.

This isn’t to say that Lions Gate is all bad. Recently, Lions Gate has put out a series of double feature DVD re-releases of Samuel Z. Arkoff-produced movies, one of these movies being Roger Corman’s Teenage Caveman (1958). Though the mention Claustrophobia alongside Teenage Caveman might seem like a stretch unless you are looking at my Netflix queue, it is, in fact, very pertinent. Both directors fell prey to a similar marketing/ distribution problem .

I never shot a picture called Teenage Caveman for AIP. I made one called Prehistoric World, but for one brief, insane moment, AIP had major hits with I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. So they released my film as Teenage Caveman.

– How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by by Roger Corman and Jim Jerome. Da Capo Press. 1998.

Bless the yuksters at MST3K and their 30-yr-old-caveman jokes, but Teenage Caveman has too long been fodder for bad-film nights, when its proper title Prehistoric World frames the movie very differently. Hair pomade, “yes”, choppy, fate-of-man dialogue, “yes”, but with a plot twist straight out of the pages of EC Comic’s publications Weird Fantasy and Weird Science, Teenage Caveman is a beacon for science fiction filmmakers in the current dark night of retardo-bullet-time nonsense.

Equally, Claustrophobia proposes a direction in which filmmakers should be pushing. Claustrophobia is the type of film that recognizes genre but is not scared to make it smart. How? Go watch it and find out.

For more information on Kines, be sure to also check out his website, Cassava Films, which offers news on his current projects as well as Kine’s own insightful film reviews.

Email interview follows.

You are both a writer and director. Do you find wearing both of these hats difficult? If so, what are some problems you’ve encountered and how do you deal with them?

Kines: Actually, being a writer/director is great, because it removes one more ego from the filmmaking process. It’s so easy to be able to change a line of dialogue without having to get into a big debate with the writer, since I’m the writer. That said, I don’t much change the script around. I see screenwriting as just one step in the process of telling a story cinematically, and it helps me as a director because I can work out all the story kinks when I’m alone and off the clock.

Do you think there is a “key” line or scene in “Serial Slayer”/”Claustrophobia”? If so, what and why?

Kines: I don’t really think in terms of key lines or scenes. Every bit of a movie should represent what that movie is about. Anyway, since I imagine most of your readers haven’t seen my film, it wouldn’t be of much use to them.

On your website and in the DVD commentary to “Serial Slayer”/”Claustrophobia”, you talk about how Lions Gate Home Entertainment changed the name of “Claustrophobia” to “Serial Slayer” and came up with non-representative cover art. Claustrophobia” is a much better name, and the cover art – I don’t even know where to start, especially as it suggests the film takes place at night. In my opinion both the name change and cover art are grossly misleading, and it seems others have been misled too. Glancing down the comments on IMDB for example, there are a couple disgruntled viewers out there who are upset they did not get “Freddy VS Jason”. Are you frustrated by this? Or do you consider what distribution companies do as a necessary evil and take it with a grain of salt?

Kines: I’m very frustrated. It was a totally lame and insulting decision on the part of my distributors. “Serial Slayer” is almost like a joke title, and I seriously doubt I sold more “units” with that title and that misleading art than I would have with the title “Claustrophobia” and more appropriate cover art. It was an idiotic decision made by some especially stupid person in marketing. By the way, I did the DVD commentary over a year before they changed the title on me, so I obviously didn’t discuss it there. But I don’t fault you for one fried memory cell. 🙂

“Serial Slayer”/”Claustrophobia” is boiling over with acting talent. Melanie Lynskey has the name, Sheeri Rappaport’s performance steals the show, and Mary Lynn Rajskub’s comedic sensibilities give the film true underground edge. As a director, it seems you let very little of this talent go to waste. How do you approach working with actors? Do you consider yourself an actor’s director?

Kines: Well, I’ve definitely come to agree with the philosophy that 90% of directing is casting. In other words, hire the right talent and you don’t really need to direct them much, as they are already so close to their characters. I think I’m good at that. But I wouldn’t call myself an actor’s director. Actors are all so different from one another. There are those who are so in tune with what I’m trying to do that they practically read my mind. Then there are others who just never get on my wavelength. I think a lot of first-time filmmakers believe that you’re supposed to direct every actor the same way. Truth is, they’re just like any other coworker: some need to be told what to do constantly, some want to do their own thing, some crave constant praise, some are all business. What’s difficult is when you hire a performer who seems right for the role but their approach to working is totally different from yours. For instance, I like to rehearse, and I’ve worked with some actors who clearly hate the rehearsal process (even when they pretend they don’t), and the awkward results always show up in the final product.

What are your top 5 horror films?

Kines: I’m not terribly into horror films, I’m afraid! Those I like are so bloodless that they barely even register as horror. I like The Innocents, Pulse (the Japanese original), Village of the Damned (also the original), Shaun of the Dead, and actually I thought the American remake of The Ring was quite good.

Hitchcock seems to be a big influence in your work. Am I wrong in suggesting this? Are there any other directors whose bodies of work you feel have influenced you?

Kines: I love Hitchcock and I think a lot of people, especially critics, misuse the word “Hitchcockian” – I think Claustrophobia is a much more Hitchcockian film than a lot of thrillers that get that label. I admire his balance of humor and horror, suspense as opposed to surprise, and overall a careful mix of fun, dread and subversion. Aside from him, I don’t know… in terms of “bodies of work” I’d only say Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, and maybe David Lynch. There are a lot of directors I like who made a few incredible films but whose overall output is inconsistent. Like Michelangelo Antonioni, Atom Egoyan and Roman Polanski.

What books and/or resources do you think are indispensable to the aspiring filmmaker or scriptwriter?

Kines: I just tell everybody to go make films in their backyards with friends and that way they can figure out what works and what doesn’t. So really the editing room is the best teacher. But I did find Syd Field’s “Screenwriters Workbook” very useful back in college when I was just starting to learn the screenwriting process.

I recently watched your short film “Time Travel”. Would “Time Travel” be something you would develop into a longer or feature -length film? Are you interested in doing science fiction films?

Kines: For the record, it’s called “The Closest Thing to Time Travel.” And you know, I had the basic idea for a long time, but could never come up with a good feature-length story to wrap around it. Then I entered this Getty Images competition where you had to use their stock footage and keep your film under a minute, and it turned out to be the perfect way to tell the story. Now I feel like I’ve told it; there’s no reason to tell it again in a longer format. Would I do sci fi films? Sure, though I’m not keen on making a special effects-laden picture. But you can still do science fiction without all the bells and whistles, so I wouldn’t shy away from the genre if I had the right story.

DV or Film? Why?

Kines: DV is great during production because it’s less stressful: it’s cheaper, you can instantly see how a shot turned out, and you don’t run out of stock very quickly so you can shoot as many takes as you want. It’s also easier to dump onto a computer when it’s time to edit. But in the long run, film just looks so much better. If I had the time and budget, I’d only shoot on film.

A lot of aspiring filmmakers are wowed by technology, whether it is fancy cameras or expensive scriptwriting software programs. Do have any thoughts on these prevailing attitudes?

Kines: I hate seeing all these witless technocrats becoming filmmakers. Many mistakenly believe that the right software can make a great movie, which is ridiculous. The design world is like that too. (I’ve been making a living as a designer since college.) People get Photoshop and because it makes it fairly easy to throw some graphics around, they think this makes them artists even with no formal art training or experience. It drives me crazy. Same thing with many filmmakers: they just want to play with their toys and don’t know a thing about story. I’d like to see more directors who don’t give a shit what camera or piece of software or whatever was being used to make their movie.

If you could do an adaptation of any book, short story or play, what would it be and why?

Kines: I was paid to write a screenplay adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” and that turned out pretty good. I’d like to film that. Other than that, I think if a book or play is particularly great, it shouldn’t be made into a movie. The movie will never be as good as the original. However, if I had tons of money, it would be fun to bring Caleb Carr’s “The Alienist” to the screen. I love its time and place, Manhattan in the late 1800’s. Somebody should have filmed it on the “Gangs of New York” sets whenever Scorsese went home for the night!

On your website, you write reviews. I like to read these reviews because they are written from both the standpoint of a cinema fan and a filmmaker. If other filmmakers wrote movie reviews, too, are there any particular people whose reviews you would like to see?

Kines: Any filmmaker. In fact, in a perfect world you’d have ONLY filmmakers writing movie reviews. Kind of like Bob Dylan’s XM radio show. Can you imagine Woody Allen blasting some tired romantic comedy, or Lars von Trier deconstructing a worthless teen flick? It would be awesome.

You have just received the green light on your next film, but you have to do some product placement. If you could choose what product you’d advertise, what would it be?

Kines: Probably Apple computer. I grew up in Cupertino so I’ve got hometown pride, and besides that, I love their products. Not that it would ever happen, but if somebody decided to ditch their soulless PC for a nice little Mac after seeing a movie star using it in their favorite film, then great.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

Kines: I wrote a script for a scary movie called “Dial 9 to Get Out” and am looking for investors. You’d think it would be easy, as the film will most likely make a modest profit. But I know it’s hard to hand over your hard-earned savings to some schmucky filmmaker. So I’ve decided if I can’t get that off the ground then I’ll write something I can shoot for super, super, SUPER cheap, like just with friends in my living room. Just to keep working.

Do you have a closing movie quote for us?

Kines: “Are we going to Addis Ababa, Mr. Luthor?”

6 thoughts on “Interview with Mark Tapio Kines, Director

  1. I love how the internet has made things like this possible. Are you networking here, Loki, or just getting info on the industry?

  2. I could just call up the Minibosses or ask them something on the message boards if I had anything to say. Either that or talk to them at the next east coast concert.

    Champs are a little more ellusive. Old fashioned “fan mail” hasn’t yielded any response, but sending TABs has, even though they haven’t put them on their site as was promised.

  3. No email, just an address:

    Bryan Singer c/o David Wirtschafter William Morris Agency (WMA-LA) One William Morris Pl Beverly Hills, CA 90212

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