MARCH 7 QUESTIONS INTERVIEW: FILM DIRECTOR MARCUS MARKOU

March 1, 2012 Film/TV , Interviews

 

 

 

 

This month’s interview is with independent film maker Marcus Markou, fresh from completing his debut feature‘Papadopoulos and Sons’, to be seen later this year.

 

Marcus is also an actor and playwright, having had two such projects in London previously. His short film ‘The Last Temptation of Chris’ is Tuck’s feature video this month, so immerse yourself within and feel the film maker’s word, leaving feedback for Marcus and us too.

 

A new Ealing in heart, everyday’s magic shining through the mundane. An artist with something to say and one very much to keep an eye on.

 

TM:  From the mid nineties, more and more people were inspired to get out there and make films themselves, no longer restrained by the studio idea that they ‘couldn’t’, technology and other independent mavericks opening this door.  From Tarantino’s early wave, Robert Rodriguez’s inspiring book ‘Rebel without a crew’ from his own ‘El Mariachi’, and the Blair Witch boom, how do you see film making by the People progressing in this respect?

 

MM: It’s been said that there is a novel inside everyone, you can now argue there is a film inside us all. Audiences are sophisticated now. We consume so much visual information – factual and fiction – via the TV/ laptop/ internet and now phone. We are not just in a golden age of information – we are at the beginning of a golden story telling age, because so much of that information is being produced by us. Technology has made it more accessible to make stories, and the ability to share those stories is now easier, so we are all becoming ‘experts’ in what works and why. I grew up in the 70s and the best thing on the TV was the adverts. You had to go to the cinema to see a film and wait years for it to appear on TV. The consumer of stories is now the story teller. I think it’s wonderful.

 

 

TM: I note Marcus that you are a fan of the late director Sidney Lumet. From a personal point of view, my standout film of his was ‘The Hill’
from 1965. Which elements of his have inspired you in your film making and which others, past and present excite and move you in this respect?

 

MM: Sidney Lumet always placed the script first and the spirit of the script. In that sense he was almost the anti-auteur. The real auteur in his films was the writer – the author! I believe this came from his background in the theatre where the playwright – not the director – is considered the reason for going to the theatre. I think it is remarkable that in 1974 he can make a lavish, star studded and opulent Murder on the Orient Express and then a year later make a docu-style gritty and realist film like Dog Day Afternoon. For Lumet, it was about the story and his job as the director was to find the spirit of that story and then serve it. The modern day cult of the director comes at the expense of the writer. Most directors, who are not writers, bend the story to their style. They bring the story to themselves. Lumet walked towards the story. It’s inspiring because he wasn’t a writer. But he respected the writer and put the writer at the centre of the creative process. Most of the film makers I admire – from Guy Ritchie, Woody Allen, Tarrantino, Oliver Stone, Billy Wider are, for me, writers first. It is their story we connect to. But what made Lumet so great was that he served the writer. Few directors, who are not writers, do that.

 

 

TM: In terms of funding your own ventures, from plays to the Short and now Feature, you perhaps are unique in that the finances for these have been met by yourself. You are co-founder and chairman of a successful online business which allows you the financial and creative freedom in your art. Having full control over is an ideal for any film maker, a true interpretation of that vision then being seen. With this in mind, how in future would you feel if you didn’t for what ever reason have full creative control? I think back to certain other film makers, Chris Nolan, Darren Aronofsky and again Tarantino when they first started out and how  they would have felt at that stage. Is a difficult one, so would be
grateful for your thoughts!

 

MM: When you make a film, even if you have financed it yourself, you are always giving up creative control. In fact, the main part of the job of ‘film maker’ is to give up control to the right people. I trusted the people that worked with me and I enjoyed giving them the freedom to express themselves. This was true for the art department as it was for the actors. The luxury of being in control is being in a position to let go of it to the right people. I love being in control because I love to delegate to the right people. Feel free to contact all the heads of departments and ask them directly what it was like to work with me – Jullian Fullalove (Production Design), Martin Christopher (Art Director), Stephen Warbeck (Music), Jack Murphy (Choreography), Simone Koelmyer (Sound Recordist) – I could go on. Include the actors too. But email them and ask them what it was like to work with me. I’ve run a business for 12 years – successfully – because my job has always been to put the right people in the right seats and then give them the freedom to do their work. I think having run a successful business gives you the confidence to do that. The right people just make you feel good. They have a ‘can do’ energy. But I also love to be challenged and told I’m wrong. I love a creative conflict. It shows people care. That is so much more valuable than someone who just agrees because they want a promotion. And I wasn’t afraid to have that on the set with actors or art department. We all wanted the same thing. A good film. But if you are asking if there was someone above me that would not let me work like this – then I wouldn’t do it. I look at how some Chairmen of football clubs start picking the team on a Saturday afternoon and start telling the manager who to buy. In that case, I would do what Martin O’Neill would do or Mourinho would do – I would walk!

 

 

 

 

TM: It is clear from your short film ‘The Last Temptation of Chris’ you have a voice that needs to be heard. Following your two plays, what
prepared the move to moving pictures, and have you in your mind found the most powerful and effective medium for expression of your art now
through it ?

 

MM: After my last play at the Trafalgar Studios I got very frustrated. And two things happened. Well, a few things happened. The theatre critics slated me – generally. But Charlie Brooker – the TV critic – came and liked it. He is the man that dislikes so much. But he liked my play and wanted to meet me to discuss TV drama ideas. The Spectator gave me a good review but said it was a movie script on stage. And often people had said that the things I wrote should’ve been films. I completely resisted this idea because for me it’s about the story, not the medium. But I mainly resisted the idea because I simply could not believe that I could make a film. This was all happening in the background when I had a chance meeting with the legendary film producer Elliott Kastner. And it seems that all these ideas of making films – which seemed so unachievable, suddenly became achievable. Because Elliott Kastner had this ability to inspire you into action. His daughter is a friend of mine. She had seen my play at the Trafalgar Studios and had suggested I meet Elliott to get his advice. Elliott was one of the first people to independently produce films – leaving the Studio system in the 60s to do so. We hit it off from the first meeting because Elliott wanted to build a website that allowed people to invest in film productions. So people could buy shares in movies before they were made. So I worked closely with Elliott for a year on this and we met regularly – for coffee, lunch, or just to say hello. I don’t mind saying this in black and white but I fell in love with Elliott. He was very ill but his passion for life was something I had never encountered before. When he died I was devastated. We got so close to fulfilling his internet idea. And a day doesn’t go past when I don’t remember Elliott and his wonderful Hollywood stories and his inspiration. I heard them all! Some of which I don’t think I’d be allowed to repeat for legal reasons! My friendship with Elliott came at the same time as enrolling into film school. Elliott took a real interest in this and we would often talk about the film business. But the combination of frustration with the theatre, meeting Elliott and going to film school was the combination that led to my first short film. And what I really learned that having been an actor, having written plays for the stage and having run a business but also having a passion for film meant that making films was not so technically difficult as I had imagined. And I loved it. I loved every minute of it. But Elliott is the real reason. I’ve dedicated this film to him. He nicknamed me ‘Double M’ and that is the name of the company I started to produce this film.

 

 

TM: Referring back to your two plays and training as an actor at LAMDA, how have these aided not only your working with actors, but in the screen writing process for your two films as well ? I am aware the great British director Mike Leigh is famous for assembling a close group of actors, giving them a basic plot outline and allowing them through improvisation to find each character, dialogue emerging naturally from this. With your experience in this field, is this something you are keen to explore, or is it to some degree already a part of the scripting process?

 

MM: For years, even when running the business, I have been a member of Fluxx – a theatre impro company. We practise long form theatre improvisation. That means we get up on stage without a script and tell a story (around 45 mins to an hour). All improvised. This has given me a wonderful grounding in working with actors but also in shaping stories. I am passionate about actors and acting. I would love to have had a career as an actor but it was not meant to be. I understand actors. I am one. And I believe there is no such thing as a difficult actor but an actor with difficulties. Not my words. But they are true. So I was always keen to lay myself open to the actors while making this film. I enjoyed it when they challenged the text and we were able to change things on the set. If I disagreed then I would just let it settle through the takes and then we’d find that sometimes I was wrong and sometimes I was right. But often, by allowing for an open creative and democratic process, we would get there in the end because we would often land on what felt right. We stuck firmly to the script, most of the time, but it was about the interpretation and understanding of the subtext. It’s easier if the writer is also the director because you’ve got the source of the story there. Sometimes actors and directors clash over what the writer is trying to say. This wasn’t the case for us but sometimes the actors would say… “There is a better way of saying what you want to say” And for that, I was truly grateful. If there was a better way of saying it we would all jump on it. And the actors I had for this film are all potential directors themselves – Ed Stoppard, Stephen Dillane, Georges Corraface, Georgia Groome, Frank Dillane, Celina Cadell (who is a director). It would not surprise me if all these actors started making their own films. They were so intelligent to work with. So open to ideas. They were up for it. And it shows on screen.

 

 

TM: A question now concerning ‘Papadopoulos and Sons’ (which at the time of writing I have not yet seen). This is perhaps in a situation different from most others in that it is, as mentioned earlier, self funded and seeking a buyer and distributor. Given the current cinematic market, funding reducing, risks less and less being taken, what is your ideal for the film; how and who will distribute it ? Will it be showcased on the festival circuit or would you even be prepared to go as far as distributing yourself, making its independence unparallelled?

 

MM: At this stage we are still considering all the options. But I wrote, directed, produced and financed this film. It’s 2012. My passion is also distribute this myself. I’m learning so much and I’m also seeing where the possibilities lie – especially on the internet. I am also aware that this film – about a family who lose everything in a financial crash and start small – may not sit comfortably on the landing of Cineworld between a Jen Anniston Rom Com and Transformers. I think the film has to start small too. The very themes of the film are about going back to something small but beautiful. As you will see, they are about asking what is truly important now. What matters in 2012? The film for me is already a success. I made it. I’m delighted with it. Everything else now is a bonus. That is very liberating. I know it sounds absurd but I am asking the film what it wants me to do. How does it want to be distributed. Every film has its own energy, its own life force. My job is to serve it. Does that sound weird? Yes. But I’ve met industry people who’ve told me that this should be about me and getting an agent and ‘getting into the business’. But that’s not what I set out to do. I set out to tell a story that was crying out to be told. I need to get this film out to the widest possible audience now. Often, people say you make your first film to get into the film industry. But that is not my aim. And inside what? The film industry has so many problems. I suspect that the old way of doing things is going to die. Like everything else – old political regimes, systems, brands. One sales agent told me that going the conventional route would give me “a Martini and a view of the sunset through the windows of Cassa Del Mar”. Isn’t that what I wanted? No. Is that what most young film makers want? I can’t believe that.

 

 

TM: If ‘Papadopoulos and Sons’  is an enormous success or  plays in select cinemas and becomes a much loved film through word of good mouth on DVD, what do you feel at this time is your next move or project, and how do  you envisage your future at this stage ?  In terms of directors, how about an amalgam of Shane Meadow’s grit, GuyRicthie’s cheek, Basil Dearden’s wonder and Mike Leigh’s truth – all with a shot of Wellesian Lindsay Anderson thrown in for good measure. Sounds a good mix to me. what do you think?!

 

MM: I have to be led by the story. That is what comes first. I have another story that I want to tell and I’m just starting to bounce it around. I like to pitch it to friends, strangers and then refine it. Of course, if the film is a financial success it makes it much easier for me to independently tell this new story. I try and walk about 10 miles a day and some days, while I’m walking, I try and speak to this story that I want to tell and I get moved by it (it also freaks people out walking past – I suddenly catch a look of horror on their faces). And so at this stage, I’m just so happy to have this story brewing. Unless I have a story brewing like that, I get very low. I feel redundant. And of course, when I start writing it, I bounce from high to low depending on whether I am able to correctly articulate the emotions I was feeling when I was doing my walks. And this is a nightmare for my family. My wife Victoria will tell you that making the film was stressful but fun. When I am writing, apparently, I’m a nightmare to live with. For me, the battle is lost and won here. And sometimes as you are writing, you can feel the battle being lost and there is no one you can turn to for help. When making the film, there was an army of people to turn to. And you could turn a bad day into a good one with enough initiative.

 

 

 

 

Marcus can also be found on Twitter @PapaSonsFilm

and via the feature’s website :

http://www.papadopoulosandsons.com/

http://www.doublemfilms.co.uk

 

 

 

Michael Organ

A writer in my heart, a love of art flowing through me: All visual living, to inspire and excite. Through Tuck we will show that passion, a global world view through each open eye. Myself, I scratch and sniff, more often than not pouring scorn on pretense and that which is not true. I have one philosophy that I know and trust well: If it doesn’t move, then it will always be left behind.”

1 Comment

  1. Selma March 29, at 01:53

    Excellent interview, Michael. I was very interested in Marcus' point about creative control and trusting those he works with. That is so hard to do yet is very necessary, particularly in film-making. What an inspiring person.

    Reply

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