An Interview with Mark Prebble
The crew of Futile Attraction
A while ago, I (H.R. Crystal - Roach) was perusing the
Whoosh! Site as I needed to fill that void left when Xena went off air, and my eye caught onto a letter to the editor from Mark Prebble. He was trying to raise funds to finish his movie Futile Attraction. which has some ties into the Xenaverse through its cast, which includes Michelle Ang (Akemi), Christopher Brougham (Hercules, Alistair Browning Xena and Hercules). I immediately followed the link to his site, and was amazed at the efforts he has gone to in order to get his film off the ground and funded. Being an independent filmmaker myself, a part of me felt an instant and overwhelming need to help. So I did, monetarily and otherwise. Mark and I have become good friends now, and swap quite a few e-mails back and forth, as well as movies and such through the mail….he works in a video store, in New Zealand no less, he has access to all those great Kiwi flicks I'd been trying to track down for years.
Is Mark the next Peter Jackson? The question has been asked, but has yet to be answered. Below are some of the questions I have posed to mark during an e-mail interview -- which he was so speedy in getting back to me -- as well as some additions from various correspondence and his website. I'll honestly admit, that even with the length of this interview, I've only scratched the surface. There is quite a large amount of information on his website including details on all of the cast, crew, characters and the struggle behind the making of Futile Attraction.
Prebble directing on the set of Futile Attraction
Who are you?
I was born in England but have lived in New Zealand since I was 8. I have wanted to make films since I was 5 and saw Star Wars for the first time, although there were periods in my teens when I contemplated more responsible careers such as optometry.
I started getting heavily into filmmaking and drama while studying at Waikato University (Hamilton New Zealand). This was where I first started working with frequent collaborators Nev (Art Director on Futile Attraction), Dani (who plays Germaine), Seamus (who helped out behind the scenes) and of course my co-writer Ben, who we were competing against at the University Comedy Competitions.
I decided to learn filmmaking from the inside so spent 7 years working on film crews before I made Futile Attraction. I worked on heaps of different TV shows, films, ads, short films and music videos. I've done nearly every job on a film crew, but mostly as a camera assistant. Like ½ the NZ population I even worked briefly on Lord of the Rings, spending 1 long night in Minas Tirith as a camera assistant.
As far as physical description goes, there are photos of me on the site. They're reasonably accurate, though a couple of years old so I have a bit less hair and a few more wrinkles now.
Where do you live Currently?
I live in Herne Bay, Auckland, New Zealand. I live in a beautiful old dilapidated mansion called The Lodge. There used to be Wedding receptions here but the whole complex is slowly being bulldozed bit by bit and turned into ugly apartment blocks. This house literally has secret passageways, which lead to hidden attics, with poetry scratched into the ceiling. My 3 flatmates and I get to live here really cheaply because we're surrounded on 3 sides by construction and it is for a limited time.
Where in the world would you like to live and why?
Definitely New Zealand, probably Auckland, ideally The Lodge. My Mother is American (Galveston, Texan) and I was born in England so I have strong ties to USA, UK and parts of Europe. I'd like to spend more time, and even work in each of these places, but New Zealand is my home.
It's hard to describe without experiencing it, but there is something about New Zealand that allows you to be more yourself then anywhere else I've been. Partly it's how young a country we are which means that while the same hierarchies and systems exist as everywhere else, they aren't as culturally entrenched.
Take my experiences as an example. There weren't any organizations showing me how to make a film or how to market my one overseas. On the other hand, when I came up with my own way of doing it, there wasn't anyone saying "that's not how you do it".
In many ways it's a highly co-operative society (particularly in the arts and the film industry). If you have a good idea, you can usually find people to help you realize it.
It also permeates through our society generally meaning occasionally we do something quite radical like being the first country in the world to give women the vote, going nuclear free in 1984 and completely changing our political system in the late 90s to a proportional representation system.
Where did you go to school?
Nottingham and Bournmouth, England (4-7yrs old), Epsom, Central Auckland, NZ (8 yrs old, briefly), Manurewa, South Auckland, NZ (8-17yrs old). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ.
How old are you.
27 last time I checked. My birthday is 1st July. I came to the terrifying realization the other day that I've been working on Futile Attraction on and off for 1/4 of my life!
What would you consider to be your lifetime achievement?
Probably the wrap party for Futile Attraction, which was also my 26th Birthday. We shot it in 13 days, wrapped early every day but one (where we went over by 5 minutes) came in under budget and everyone was still talking to me at the end. No dull feat.
Another good one was when I managed to screen one of my crappy student films at the Civic Theater (Auckland equivalent Chinese Mann Theater). It was an audience of about 10, but 2 of them were my Grandparents. While this Grandfather watches lots of films and used to act professionally (my first experience of professional theatre was him and Michael Hurst doing Shakespeare together), it was the first time in about 25 years that my Grandmother had been in a cinema.
Action shot from the set of Futile Attraction
If there is such a thing, describe what a typical day for you would be like.
Wake up around 8am.
Between 8.30 and 9am, after showering and caffinating, start checking e-mails and work on www.makemarksmovie.com or publicizing it.
Lunch between 1 and 2. After lunch I try to work on other projects, currently rewriting my script The Cabin. Another frequent afternoon activity is trying to figure out how to earn a living doing what I do during the day so that I don't need to work at a video shop.
5-11pm work at a video shop. Crap job and frustrating because I'm a film-geek surrounded by cool movies and rarely have the time to watch them. On the other hand it is a great place to get inspiration for characters for future films or plays. It's a really quiet shop so I spend a lot of time talking to customers or the homeless people who come in to keep warm. I often end up feeling more like a barman. p>11pm-1am try to relax by either reading or watching late night TV. Late night TV in NZ is atrocious and we have lousy reception so it is a mixture of Music TV, infomercials or world news feeds. International news isn't particularly relaxing, but I'm a bit of a news and politics junkie.
Repeat the next day.
Every few days I need to cook for the next few days and then freeze it as the video shop is sole charge without breaks so you need to bring food with you.
What, is the most outrageous thing you've ever done? That you've looked back on and say, 'I can't believe I did that?"
Hmmm, let's see…stories I can tell publicly…let's go with getting Futile Attraction off the ground. I remember walking to set on the first day of shoot. I'd managed to pull together and hype up an amazing fully professional cast and crew who were all working for free (and I mean free, not scale). I turned to my producer, smiled and said "Is now an appropriate time to mention I've never directed professional actors before?" She nearly had a heart attack.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
Tough question and it kinda depends on my mood and which of the many movies I love I've seen the most recently. So how's this in no particular order:
Star Wars and the original Holy Trilogy
The Princess Bride (the only film I've seen more often then Star Wars)
Twin Peaks (it may not be a movie but it has to be on the list)
Together (the Swedish film directed by Lucas Moodyson)
Lord of the Rings
Forgotten Silver (also not a movie but one of the best things ever committed to celluloid)
Army of Darkness
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Harold and Maude
Dr. Strangelove of How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
City of Lost Children
The Sweet Hereafter
Some films I've seen in the last couple of years that have blown me away but I haven't seen enough times yet to go on the list are
Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)
Y Tu Mama Tambien
The Devils Backbone
Zand State of Siege (Costa Gavras)
Least favorite and why?
Dangerous question as they tend to be made by very powerful people in Hollywood that are "good" films that really make me angry because of their rewriting of history or depiction of genuine human suffering and complicated historical conflict as patronizing good vs evil action. My favorite scene in Futile Attraction takes the piss out of these, but it's kinda subtle and I think most people wouldn't notice it.
We (or at least I) see you all over the internet. Are you finding that achieving the goal of funding your film is working as you had hoped?
Yes and no. There is a steady trickle of financial contributions so I have no doubt that eventually this will bring the funds I need. But what I didn't expect was the creative ways people who don't have any money have found to help out, and how into it they're getting.
There's this guy in England called Enric who doesn't even have a computer but he spends up to 2hrs a day in his local library trying e-mailing websites and media organizations around the world. He's getting some cool results as well, e.g. an article will hopefully appear soon in a Malaysian daily newspaper…
Also a teenager in England designed me some wicked posters, which are on the downloads page of the site, and a woman in France has offered me the use of her estate just outside Bordeaux as a shooting location for my next film.
Where are you finding your most Success?
Fan sites, particularly of Xena and The Tribe. The Tribe ones didn't surprise me as the actors who appeared in that had major core cast roles.
The Xena interest blew me away. I wrote to a couple of Xena sites figuring I had nothing to lose and that the guest roles that Michelle [Ang], Chris [Brougham], and Alistair [Browning] had in Herc and Xena meant there might me some interest. However, I immediately got support, money, encouragement, links, suggestions of other sites to go to, offers of underground distribution and new friends.
In fact the one thing that has brought the most new people to my site was the listing on the Academy of Bards Fan Fiction site. There was a bigger spike in visits from that then when I was on a nationwide TV News program or any of the radio interviews I've done. The only problem was that I wrote to her on 26 Feb, which meant that after 2 days the listing was archived into Feb news and all the March stuff became latest news. Who knows where I'd be now I've I'd written to her on March 1st…
Any memorable experiences from over the years that stand out?
Um…that question covers quite a lot. I'll assume you mean from the film. One really cool moment was near the end of the 1st day of shooting. I was sitting by the monitor watching the camera set up. Ben [Reid] (my co-writer), Nev [Garven] (art director) and Seamus (who helped out a lot in pre-production) spontaneously congregated behind me, and Dani [Mason] (lead actress) was in shot. We'd all been doing short films, theatre and comedy together for years. It was a quiet patch after a really long day and a moment where we all realized that after so long of slogging it out there was a full professional crew lighting up a street for a feature film we'd pulled together.
To top it off Caleb Ross, who was doing unit, came and offered us coffee. This was ironic because Nev and I used to make him coffee when he was acting on The Tribe. He was also in Herc and Xena playing "Temecula" in Xena A GOOD DAY (episode # 4.5) and "Nico" in Hercules A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE (episode # 3.21). It was really touching that Caleb would want to come work for free making coffee on my film.
Actors rehearsing on the set of Futile Attraction
And what from your search for funding for Futile Attraction will forever be burned into your mind?
Getting an e-mail of support and advice from Terry Mross who played Coach Conrad in Dazed and Confused was pretty cool. Also when I realized that if you type "How to become a producer" into google, it lists 2.5 million sites and mine is number 5.
What have you done in search for funding for Futile Attraction? Radio interviews, newspapers, give us a lowdown on where we can find information on Futile Attraction and the powers behind it?
On the downloads page there are radio interviews I've done and the links page connects to a bunch of online articles. There was a great item on New Zealand's Nightline TV News show. I've done some print interviews that haven't been published yet and a few other interviews are in the pipeline. My site is pretty comprehensive in terms of info on the cast, crew and project.
What are you working on now?
I'm rewriting a screenplay currently called The Cabin. It's based on a play I did in Wellington a few years ago called Cabin Fever, but I can't call it that any more because of Eli Roth's film. It's a psychological thriller about 4 guys trapped in an isolated snowbound cabin without power, heat or the ability to communicate with the outside world. When one of them dies in mysterious circumstances, they are faced with the possibility that there is a murderer amongst them. But who, and will he kill again?
I'm also preparing for the 48hr film competition. I'm part of a wicked team including Eden Phillips (King Kong Don't Mess With The Monkey) and Barry Duffield (The Meeting, Hold The Anchovies).
Do you have any plans for another film once this one is completed?
I have plans for many films after this one is completed. I want The Cabin to be my 2nd feature, and I'm also developing a short film version of it. The short film will be easier to make and a chance to both experiment and prove that I can make this sort of film. The script is on the Zoetrope site if anyone wants to read it.
I have numerous other treatments, script concepts or ideas for novels I'd love to film.
What would you like to do?
All of them, except maybe porn. Some historical dramas about important events in New Zealand history which more people should know about. Sci-fi (I couldn't really call myself a geek if I didn't make at least one Sci-fi film), more comedy and I really love horror movies when they're done well (which is rare) and many of my ideas lean in that direction.
Who would you absolutely love to work with?
Well there are the obvious ones like Bruce Campbell, Steve Buscemi, Ian McKellen, Johnny Depp, and Christopher Lee. Also off the top of my head Vanessa Redgrave, John Cusack, Susan Sarandon, Cliff Curtis, Jodie Foster Tim Robbins, Sigourney Weaver, Gore Vidal, Gael Garcia Bernal, Franke Potente, Kyle MacLachlin, Audrey Tautou, Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett, Billy Boyd, Salma Hayek, Graeme Greene, Kate Winslet, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Guest and John Cleese.
I'd love to work again with any and all of the actors I worked with on Futile Attraction, and I think I owe each of them at least one good role in a fully funded feature.
I'd really have liked to work with Kevin Smith. He's one of the few people in the NZ film industry that no one had a bad word to say about. I never met him, but think we would have got on pretty well. The sound recordist who loaned us his gear for Futile Attraction worked on Warriors of Virtue 2 (the film where Kevin died) and his death was a real blow to a lot of people here.
I'd really love to direct music videos for bands or musicians I really admire like Blur, Radiohead, The Pixies, Dar Williams, Ani Difranco, Chumbawamba, The Flaming Lips, or The Chemical Brothers.
However, the people I'd most like to work with are actually other directors. Some of my scripts I want other directors to do. I have a surreal horror script called Nevermore. My dream break would be if some cool director with a really warped imagination like George A. Romero, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, the Coen Brothers, Eli Roth or Sam Raimi picked it up and just nailed it.
What were the inspirations behind the movie?
We took Robert Rodriguez advice and pretty much reverse engineered the script around our resources. Documentary style is the cheapest way to shoot a film, we wanted to make a comedy, we hadn't seen a mockumentary about a relationship and I wanted Dani [Mason] in the lead role. It evolved from there. Christopher Guest's films were quite influential.
Tell us a bit about each character.
There's quite a few of them…
Randal [Peter Rutherford] and Germaine [Danielle Mason] are the couple at the center. Randal is a telemarketer with two key things in his life - his Mother and his collection of telephones. He has a 5-step plan to get his life on track that he formulated with his mother. Germaine is a political activist trying to save the world, one river at a time. She used to work as a model to pay her way through university but quit as she felt she was selling out her causes and morals.
The film crew following (and manipulating) their relationship consists of:
Anne Rata [Glenda Tuiane] , the director, a documentary filmmaker trying her hardest to sell out.
Dudley Earnsworth [Alistair Browning], the presenter, a sleazy former economics reporter and 2nd rate rent-a-celebrity.
Randal and Dudley have a moment in Futile Attraction
Violet McKenzie [Michelle Ang], the sound recordist/boom operator. She is terrible at her job and is only there because her dad is Howard McKenzie, the unseen Producer.
Mark [Lee Donoghue], the runner, is a super-keen film crew rookie, willing to do just about anything to prove his dedication to any job he's given. This tends to be making coffee.
Pete [Paul McLaughlin] and Erina [Desiree Rose Cheer] are the camera operators. They are experienced and professional, but are less than enthused by what they're shooting.
There is always something happening in the background of the shot in Futile Attraction. This is usually quite absurd physical comedy or slapstick that complements the straight comedy of the foreground action and constitutes whole subplots.
One background subplot is the relationship between The Scruffy Guy [Richard Chapman] and The Elegant Lady [Lauren Jackson]. These are characters that appear in the background of nearly every scene. They conduct an exciting and dynamic relationship that Anne and her crew capture, but never notice.
A second background plot is the tumultuous friendship of Randal's computer geek flatmates, Ian [Jeremy Randerson] and Oscar [Bevin Linkhorn]. Ian's a passive-aggressive bully. Oscar is timid and shy and would rather be watching chick-flicks. They spend all their time playing a real-time, online computer game of The Great Depression.
Prebble gives direction to Jeremy Randerson and Bevin Linkhorn on the set of Futile Attraction
Are you enjoying the production of it?
I loved the writing and the shooting. Editing was like pulling teeth - staring at the same jokes for 2 years does weird things to your head.
What are the ups and downs for making Mark's movie?
The high point was the wrap party. The low point was putting the last shot on the first cut about 9 months ago (this was before the website idea and at that point we had no idea how we'd finish the film or get it released).
Other ups were the first responses to the site, hearing people laugh at the test screenings, meeting really cool people around the world online and seeing the international audience grow week by week. Other downs were the whole film being deleted from our faulty editing equipment 3 times, being dicked around by the media, having to teach myself HTML code so I could create a website, and generally the amount of constant solitary work it takes to make this happen.
What is your footwear of choice?
It's winter here so I'm currently wearing fur lined moccasin slippers (don't worry it's not real fur).
What opportunity are you most happy you seized?
My former flatmate Jason Carr's idea to set up a website to finish my film, and being a camera operator on an East Timor documentary which meant I got to meet freedom-fighter, political dissident and now East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao.
What do you think of Shakespeare's work?
He's the man. Michael Hurst's production of MacBeth opens this week, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm pretty sure that first time I saw MacBeth it was also with Michael Hurst and my grandfather, but I was about 10 so I could be wrong. Mostly I remember the severed head at the end.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
Full, except on a bad day.
What is your pet peeve?
Bad, lazy scripts.
What is your beverage of choice?
Depending on the time of day either strong coffee or Monteiths beer (an exquisite range of NZ Beer)
What advice can you give to future Independent Film Makers?
Read Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez and watch Tim Burton's Ed Wood and Good Taste Meets Bad Taste - The Making of Bad Taste for inspiration. Work as much as you can on other people's films, TV shows, etc. You'll learn more in 10 minutes on a film crew then you will in 3 years at University, and it's better to watch another director make a mistake which you can learn from then it is to make the mistake yourself. Surround yourself with people more experienced than you.
Have you worked on something that made you ask, 'Why Am I Doing This'?
Absolutely, but usually I learned the most from the worst productions I worked on.
What, if anything, could stop you from achieving your goals?
Death, but some would say that just slows you down temporarily.
Do you want to produce or direct?
Direct and write. I'm quite good at producing but enjoy it far less then writing and directing. Ironically more people will probably notice and remember the producing involved in completing Futile Attraction and getting it to an audience, then will ever watch the film and form an opinion about the writing and directing.
Do you have a muse?
Not really but when I'm depressed I watch really bad Hollywood blockbusters to make myself feel talented.
What is your favorite spot where you live now? I spend most time in my office, but the coolest place in The Lodge is our attic because it's so weird and unusual. The place in Auckland I like going most is Mt Eden - my favorite volcano.
What questions should I have asked?
I really shouldn't, this is 10 pages long already…However as a final plug for http://www.makemarksmovie.com, remember that you get in the credits no matter how small the contribution. So far the smallest contribution has been 50 cents and the largest was $400. There are plenty of easy non-financial ways you can help including e-mailing friends and posting on other sites, e-mailing me to prove there's a market for Futile Attractio, downloading, printing and displaying posters and taking photos of where you've put the posters which will then go on the site.
Soon there will also be banners to exchange and, we hope, the trailer for you to watch…
A flyer from the Flying Kiwi Dating Agency
Director - filmography
Futile Attraction (2004) (post-production)
Writer - filmography
Futile Attraction (2004) (post-production)
Producer - filmography
Futile Attraction (2004) (post-production)
Editor - filmography
Futile Attraction (2004) (post-production)
H. R. Crystal
A woman of mystery.