Last week I sat down with up and coming writer/director Tobias Tobbell to talk about his new feature Confine a home invasion thriller starring Daisy Lowe in her first major acting role. We covered everything from how he got started in filmmaking to what his favourite carb is (be sure to read to the end, the quick-fire round gets interesting). We talked for a good long time and it has been incredibly painful for me to cut down our chat into something shorter than a dissertation. Tobias was incredibly friendly, humoured my most bizarre questions, and when speaking to him you could tell this was a man with filmmaking in his blood whose career I will be watching with interest.
Before we get stuck in I should say that Confine is released in UK cinemas and on DVD and Video on Demand on 1st July and will be reviewed by Stephen shortly. On with the interview:
On his beginnings as a filmmaker:
“I got stuck into writing long stories when I was really young, as in pre-teen, and then started making some short films with friends when I was sort of thirteen/fourteen. But I loved film and started writing films when I was sixteen and they were pretty shoddy, pretty rough around the edges but then I got involved in the drama group at University. As a drama society they did a lot of new writing and so I just started writing for all the plays I could possibly think of.”
“I have always written and directed when I can and that is what I call myself. But it’s hard to make money if that is all you are doing given that there are hundreds and thousands of other writers and even directors out there all trying to get ahead. I wouldn’t say in terms of what I do producing isn’t something I enjoy doing it’s just something I am pleased I know how to do because to get a project off the ground you need to understand how a film is packaged, how you present it to financiers, sales agents, and distributors.”
On his first feature Every Picture:
“We wrote the story together, the actors, the producer and myself just wrote two pages of a story together and I went away and broke that down into actual scenes. Then when we got there, got into our shooting days and got the scenes, the actors would improvise the dialogue so it was unscripted. It was an interesting experience because we had our three cameras so if anything went really well we had it covered but if you don’t write a feature-length script it’s going to be bagging, it’s going to meander. People like Mike Leigh can do it, I can’t. And so the film had a great atmosphere, a great style, and given it was so low budget, a nice look. But it didn’t hold together on a story degree. We showed it at a few festivals and then I let that one drift as a lot of first time feature filmmakers do. Then kind of say, ‘it wasn’t quite what I was hoping, let’s stick that on a shelf and not mention that again.’ Actually it’s not terrible.”
On second feature Aimless:
“Aimless was another devised story. I should have learnt my lesson the first time round. That was a comedy though because I was in the middle of shooting a lot of comedy and sketches. So same kind of premise; bunch of actors got together with me, we workshopped it every Sunday for about four months. And so we pieced it all together, three stories that run alongside each other and actually there are some really good scenes that came out of that. But there’s also a lot of stuff that didn’t hold up, again the story. Although there were a lot of good scenes the story didn’t hold together.”
“Confine, for all intents and purposes, I think a lot of people are considering this my first feature film. There are a lot of things you look back on it and, I’m pleased with it, but there are certainly a lot of things I look at and go “hmm”. I hope other people just enjoy it but if they pick it apart too I can only go “fair enough, I can see that flaw as well.” I think the biggest thing is the realism of certain elements of it. The concept is great and the characters are pretty good but sometimes I get too caught up in my little writing world. The ones I’m working on now I hope by the time they get onto screen they are that much more really, really solid”
On shooting Confine chronologically:
“We couldn’t shoot it in sequence but we shot it more or less chronologically. It was a five-week shoot and within the set we had five locations and three lightings; daytime lighting, sunset lighting, and evening lighting. So we’d shoot chronologically in terms of lighting but we might in the daytime section shoot all the sitting room stuff together. It was more or less chronological because I thought for the actors they would get more into the story if we were playing it through more or less chronologically rather than jumping around. There’s also continuity… with the scenes we did shoot in the wrong order it got really complicated really fast because you can’t get away with it. We probably have made mistakes. I hope people just don’t notice them. But shooting it all out of sequence would have been a complete nightmare. But we had a continuity girl who had a painful experience.”
On piracy and a simultaneous DVD and cinema release:
“I think piracy is going to go on whatever so we have to just accept it. If people are willing to pay for it they will and it’s not like a blockbuster where people are desperate to see this film. A lot of people want to download it because… if they don’t have the money they don’t have the money and they will pirate it, if they do have the money the other reason to pirate is you just want to see it right now and you don’t want to have to wait another couple of weeks for the DVD so we’re eliminating that issue.”
On Alfie Allen as Henry in Confine:
“Alfie was great, very easy-going. He only had a few shooting days. We obviously placed his scenes together and we discussed everything in advance but he couldn’t make any rehearsals so we always rehearsed his scenes on the day and that was it other than talking through character stuff. He was just always very laid back. We’d have a chat, he’d know his lines, never made any mistakes. He quite liked the character because of the relationship he has with Kayleigh. And he really liked the way she manipulated him and bullied him and he was like, ‘yeah, sign me up.'”
On Eliza Bennett as Kayleigh in Confine:
“I really wanted to make sure Kayleigh didn’t seem imposing, didn’t seem threatening physically. She is a pretty, probably blonde… things like that it makes her seem quite elven, quite mousey, and so we looked at actresses along those lines that were also decent and might be interested in doing something a little bit different from what they’ve done before. And so she seemed appropriate and when we met her she seemed quite savvy, quite on the ball, quite smart, so she was interested in Kayleigh because she was an intelligent character.”
On Daisy Lowe as Pippa in Confine:
“We had someone else who had signed up a few weeks earlier and she had to pull out for personal reasons. We were panicking over how we would solve this problem and then we met Daisy two days later. She read the script the night before. More than anything I think she quite liked the nature of the role itself. I think she’d spoken to a few people about pretty, damsel in distress kind of roles, and she quite liked the idea of playing someone who had a few scars on the face and the body and is actually quite shy, quite quiet, and not like her in her normal life. Actually Daisy is quite quiet in real life but in her professional life as a model she’s out there doing her thing. I think if anyone was asked they would expect Daisy to be an extrovert, and outgoing person. But she isn’t. So I think that’s also what got her interested in the role.”
On Daisy Lowe’s prosthetic scarring:
“The day after we cast her which is the day after she auditioned we started making the prosthetics for her face. The original design was a lot of facial disfiguration, it was really horrendous scarring but between time constraints, costs, and the speed that we had to turn it all round we had to simplify it which is probably one of my regrets really. Because the character… Daisy is still quite pretty. I think if you met someone in real life with those scars they would actually have an impact but on film the audience has a higher threshold for how nasty something has to look.”
On the Bechdel test:
“I didn’t think about it when I wrote this. In fact I don’t think I knew about it when I wrote this. And I’ve been writing female protagonists in most of my stories for years and I’ve never been aware of this test. But I did become aware of it when we started talking about the film and started casting it and I thought, well, great. I think I put it down to having grown up with quite strong female people in my family and my friendship group; they’re all quite motivated people. It feels weird to not write females who don’t just talk about boys to each other. It should be the default but for whatever reason it just has gone down a different route and I feel it’s quite important to do.”
“3D is a difficult one. 90% of the films using 3D seem to be using it as a little bit of an extra. Because of everything that’s going on at the moment, piracy and all the other formats, I think studios are trying very hard to make sure people go to cinemas to watch their films and 3D is a great way of doing that but I don’t think it necessarily serves the story. In terms of shooting 3D myself… never say never. I don’t see myself suggesting it myself but if whoever I’m working with says ‘would you consider it?’ I’d certainly say ‘of course I would’.”
“I don’t know much about it. To me it seemed like one of those fads that was going to die really quickly and it’s not dying. But it might still go away and with people like Zach Braff and others exploiting the system when they have options of going down real financing routes the whole idea of Kickstarter was for people, kind of like me actually, who want to make a film for a couple hundred thousand and can’t. They don’t have the reputations; don’t have the star power and connections. We just hit loads and loads of walls so it’s a bit sad that people who are giving their money are giving it to people who have other routes.”
On upcoming projects:
On The Last Planet:
“It is a few hundred years in the future in a little research base on another planet so another quite contained environment, much bigger than Confine, some of it on the transport vessel and the rest of it on this little research base. But it’s really telling the heist story from the point of view of the people trying to stop this heist going on. Quite tense, quite small, much more action than Confine but it’s not an action story. It’s definitely high tension thriller. I’m just writing that at the moment so we’ll see. That’s the one I want to do next.”
“Alexandria was something I worked on for about four months from just before Christmas to just after. I wrote three or four drafts of that and it’s another one, it was my first attempt at writing a drama and it eventually developed into a thriller because I can’t handle my drama.”
On New Pangaea:
“New Pangaea is the one I’m really excited about. I think it’s in the same world as The Last Planet because they do kind of link but it is more of an adventure story. Teenagers are the protagonists and they are brought up from Day 1 underground. It is very well structured, purpose build underground world and they don’t quite know why they’re here, what’s going on around them in the real world and it’s just these four kids and their four sets of parents. They end up wanting to essentially break out as you would as a teenager and so they just hatch an escape plan, that’s the adventure side of it, in order to get out and figure out what the hell is going on. So it’s more of an adventure story, more high-concept and I’m quite excited about that.”
The quick-fire round:
To finish I asked Tobias a series of three quick-fire questionnaires. The first two were taken from popular culture and the third… it’s best not to ask.
The Inside the Actors Studio Questionnaire:
What is your favourite word?
What is your least favourite word?
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
What sound or noise do you love?
We have kittens at the moment and I’m finding their little meows quite cute
What sound or noise do you hate?
Nails against the chalkboard
What is your favourite curse word?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
There are so many. Anything in an office. An open plan office where everyone can see you having a nap
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
I’ve been looking forward to meeting you
The Adam and Joe Questionnaire:
Who are you? Tobias
What do you do? Make films
Who do you do? My fiancée
Worsties? Waking up
The Lee Questionnaire:
What is your favourite carb?
My fiancée is a bit of a baker. Her chocolate brownies are definitely amongst the nicest. Top carb.
What did you eat this morning?
Granola with muesli and fruit and milk
What is the first thing you said this morning?
Meow as the cats came into the room in a girly voice
If you could be any stationery product what would you be and why?
A pen. Because you get to write a lot of interesting things
If you were to die tomorrow who would you like to punch in the face before you go?
That’s quite a long list, many of which I shouldn’t say so let’s just go for David Cameron. Nice safe answer.