Tobias Tobbell interview held in London in October 2012 during the Raindance Film Festival.
Filmaster: Hello Tobias, Many thanks for agreeing to do this interview. We've met for the first time two years ago in Poland during the Warsaw Film Festival in 2010, where “The Drummond Will” was submitted to the Free Spirit competition. That was the film you produced, not directed. Two years later we meet again in London, where your feature “Confine” premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in the Main UK feature competition in October 2012.
Q: How does it feel to be part of Raindance, was it a great success for you to not only be accepted for Raindance but also for the UK feature competition? And did you attend Raindance before?
TT: I have been to Raindance in previous years a few times - mostly for the events, not films but I've been to some films in the past years too. And I know that Raindance screens some pretty interesting films.
So we were also aware that obviously Raindance is a pretty big European festival specifically for independent films which of course this is, so getting accepted was a fairly big deal and it being the world premiere of the film obviously makes that important that we start somewhere interesting and local of course for us. Because Daisy's [from] London, Alfie's [from] London, and rest of the cast, most of the crew are from London, I'm from London. So if we played in some other festival abroad and that was the world premiere, cool, but it being local, that makes it a bit more special.
And being nominated – yeah, that was definitely cool because that was quite a surprise too. We just came along to the press launch at this venue – Appartment 58 (in Poland Street in Soho) and we got invited along. Just because we thought they would give some information about how this all works etc. but instead they said: yeah these are the nominations for the thing. Cool!
Filmaster: well done! How does it feel – are you excited?
TT: Yeah, definitely! I have sort of internalised excitements a little bit. The producer – Emily was immediately very excited – but I was just mildly reacting. Mine was rather a British way to react. So I appreciated in a British way. She's Kiwi so way more active.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about “Confine” - about the concept, about how it got into your head, how long did it take you to write it, how long did the whole process take you.
TT: The whole shebang? That's a big question. Get a glass of water! Starting from the beginning – the script - went through quite a lot of stages of development. I started writing it in 2003 and wrote a second draft in 2004 when I tried to make it on 80k budget – something like that. A very different sort of film – we needed a remote house for a few weeks, we were going to use unnamed actors and I was working with someone and we didn't really see eye to eye - and things sort of fell apart - but – in starting the crew up and looking at actresses for it I ended up making a little sort of experimental film at the time supernatural horror. Sort of on the back of getting this off the ground. Two years later I picked it up again, tried to contain it and eventually, you know seven years after writing the first draft, it became a new and different entity; it was set over one night rather than three months. It was much more a suspense-thriller rather than previously a bit more of a drama. Similar characters – sociopath and a recluse, and that's when it suddenly seemed to make sense to people. That's also when it got more interesting for various actresses.
So when it started to get together it started to get together very quickly.
From getting the funding to completing the film was 6 months I think. Maybe a little bit less than that – very fast.
Filmaster: in your writing process – did you bounce your ideas against any friends and relatives or was it a very solitary experience?
TT: no, I don't really write anything in a solitary way. I write obviously by myself when I write the scripts but I usually give them to readers rather than friends and family. Family don't really know how to interpret a script and my friends – they're a mixed bag but it's a lot of effort – reading and giving a good film feedback. So I usually end up paying a bit of money. Although with the first draft I just posted it online and asked 'could anyone help, please' and I got loads of people give me feedback and that was generally very positive. Everyone had a different thing to say about it but on the whole everyone loved the fact there was a female protagonist and a female antagonist, that it was quite tense and you know – all of that.
So yes, it has developed with a bit of assistance of readers which is the way I do everything. I don't assume I am good enough to write it and you know, that's that.
Filmaster: did you take any scriptwriting courses/workshops? Maybe at Raindance?
TT: Not actually. I am doing a course at Raindance now, which is more a seminar with Bill Martel during the weeks here right now. Because I am always on the lookout for new ways of looking at scriptwriting – I never did anything specifically for “Confine” but I have read so many books about this – from Robert McKee to Syd Fields to more weird alternative screenwriting but at the very basis I prefer the classic three-act structure; the mainstream – the more simple method of telling the story for thrillers – because that is what I love.
Filmaster: so did you commit to one genre and then take it from there?
TT: yes, sort of. “Confine” is definitely a suspense thriller but I tried to avoid cliches directly. But you can't spike something like that without it because then it's simply too weird and becomes like a weird art house drama.
Filmaster: how did you seek the funding for the film – from the moment when you were happy with the final version of the script?
TT: Well – for the record – there was never a final version of the script – even when we were talking to people, even when we were talking to actresses quite late in the day. When people said something they were confused about in act 1 or towards the end, I would go and make some little sneaky tweaks. I would probably save it up until I have made a few sets of tweaks before sending it out, because otherwise you would end up with 30 copies.
Trying to find the finance was a bit of a miserable experience as it is for probably everyone in independent film. There were great days when Emily would call up and say, all right, we've got this meeting with this studio who are willing to put up up to 40% of finance, you know. And then we'd meet them and it seemed great and then it would start, and then you would start realising there is just so much blagging going on from every single person that you meet in this industry, and it's very hard to tell the difference between – the serious people from the people you think are good and the people who are just flat out lying and are not. So we had a lot of meetings, ups and downs, you know from the excitement and then because you get so excited about it and sort of getting your feet of the ground and then you get extra disappointed.
We had some slightly dubious meetings with people who'd say: you've got there a female protagonist and a female antagonist and they're both quite young, both quite pretty – why not do some sort of a lesbian scene? Why don't they get in the shower and take their clothes off or something? Or for God's sake! So event hough we were trying to raise up to a million and they were offering something like 250-300k if we made these sort of changes, we walked away from those people. Because we thought – if that's the thing they're asking for in the meeting now? Once we signed the contract God knows what they would come up with and how hard they're going to push, so we walked away, managed to slash the budget to nearly a third of that and we raised the money and it was all cash in the end. And we just got great deals with studios who should have been charging 60k and we made that 15k. Kit hire, light hire. We were really pushing quite hard but it was but it was all cash and that made a huge difference.
Filmaster: Right, so there was no sort of upfront, future percentage kind of deal, only cash.
TT: exactly. Because people weren't interested. And the fact that we had cash just made this whole difference. We said: look it is 15k, which is a lot less than what you usually take, but it's real money and we can give it to you right now. And that worked.
Also, we shot in February which is a very low time of the year to shoot. So kit, studio, even people to a certain extent we'd got for a lot less than we really should have. Some of these people working on this film were quite high candidates that usually work for lots more than we were paying them but they liked this sort of concept. And we went with concept art, story boards and film references. We did a little mood reel from these other films like Road to Perdidtion and Panic Room and all this other stuff and they were kind of ran over by all the look and the style of the film – that it's not some wobbly cam, low key British gangster film or whatever. But it's something that looks slick.
Filmaster: How did you manage to get such a great cast? You have 3 fantastic people and they are quite big names. [Daisy Lowe, Alfie Allen, Eliza Bennett]
TT: when we were on a hire budget – closer to 1million, we were talking to various studios and we were also sending it out to quite a lot of higher calibre actresses – nearer the A-list and offering them whatever it was – 200k dollars – something like that. And a lot of them read the script but some of them said these characters were pretty heavy going and between that and the fact that it was a new director they were not that confident. It was hard to get meetings with them because the money wasn't actually on the table. We were just talking theoretically. So we sort of scaled it down a little bit - like to people we ended up with. And we did talk to quite a lot of people. And we actually cast someone else in the role of Pippa. Also a model, more actress than model in that case. And she had to pull out for personal reasons. Something suddenly – like a tragedy in the family type of thing. It was 10 days before we were starting rehearsals. And bearing in mind the prosthetics for the scars and things, you have to mould her face and you have to make them and we were panicking at that point. And then David Hall – the casting director – mentioned Daisy and not having a realy acting background - we were, not sceptical but we definitely wanted to see her and audition her and see how it went. We met her the next day and we had a great chat, because the other thing is she was only a model and she hadn't had experience and I was worried that it's quite a different world. But she's very down to earth and very nice and David went to audition her and she was great so it all kind of fell into place. Previous to that, I think we had Eliza and Alfie – I had seen them in their various films and shows and I saw him in the Game of Thrones and I really liked him and the way he turned. From this very sweet and naïve character into this slightly more cynical and I just thought – well Henry is that guy. He is manipulated by other people and we had a great chat and we clicked straight away. We actually spent so much time talking about snowboarding and skiing and stuff. But that's fine. That's all it takes. We didn't know rehearsal until Alfie just turned up and nailed it. With Eliza – it was quite similar – I had seen her in Inkheart. Although it was a few years ago but she did have that sort of sweet looking, blonde hair, blue eyes, which is was all that Kayleigh was supposed to be. But on meeting her and knowing a bit more about her, she is smart, she could completely pull off this slightly more intelligent, devious, kind of character. So she fell into place too. Alfie and Eliza are the only people I actually spoke to about those two characters. Whereas Daisy obviously came later.
Filmaster: so it wasn't too hard? You sent them the script and they liked it and then it worked?
TT: yeah, like I mentioned before, we did talk to plenty of people before but the thing was in many cases it was not really the actrors who got the script but their agents. And they were sort of wasting our time sitting on the scripts for two weeks and nothing was happening with that, so like I said – Alfie and Eliza were the people I actually spoke to.
Filmaster: So how long the shoot take? You mentioned February – was it just a couple of weeks? How long did it take?
TT: No, the shoot was 5 weeks. It was five six day weeks with one week rehearsal period before that. And during the rehearsal period we also were building the set, which was not enough time to build that. It's like building an entire flat with floors, decorations, paintings, furnishing, the whole lot. So we started shooting in the sitting room part of the set whilst the bedroom and study were still being finished and between the takes – it was tough.
The reason we aimed for a 5 week shoot, well I storyboarded 750 setups, because it's set in one location, we had to find a way to just keep the pace up. In the end I had to slash it down to nearer 450-500 setups. Which is still quite a lot given most of them are steadicam shots, or swinging on the top of the set. We had to do quite a lot of takes if the axes are moving or if you're doing a long lens, you have to do it over and over again because you always lose a little bit of focus. And there was no place to cut. We weren't covering it. And so a lot of scenes – we were not covering them. It was only that shot. And that was it. And if it didn't work out, we didn't have anything else. We were only shooting with one camera. We couldn't afford two cameras. It would have been covered with two cameras, but no. It was an Alexa. The Alexas are pretty much the sought after cameras right now. So we didn't have that luxury. But we did have the luxury for 5 weeks. I would have loved 6 weeks!
Filmaster: you have some experience in producing. You were the producer of the before mentioned “The Drummond Will” directed by Alan Butterworth. You wrote and directed “Confine”. How did it feel to step back and allow someone else to produce? Was it hard or were you so busy with all the other stuff that you didn't worry?
TT: It's funny actually, because when I produced “The Drummond Will”, I was more used to writing and directing. So when I started that, I had to take a step back from that. Knowing the director was making choices, I would just have to say – this is his thing, you know. So this was easier because I was going back to writing and directing again. But yes, I was quite controlling for the first couple of months. And then the more I could see that Emily clearly had everything in hand, I didn't have to interfere with it. And then we got the line producer on board – Kristyna and she managed. Because I budgeted the entire film myself, and also scheduled it myself and these sort of things. So it was great to have this producing experience. But when these people came on board, they started tweaking it and I would interfere a lot until I really got that they'd understood it because I'd been 5 months with this budget tweaking it and working things out and at first I couldn't believe it they could have it – 26 pages, but in the end 5 weeks in preproduction and everything was memorised and all worked. They just had it in hans. I found it quite easy to let go once I trusted them. I think it's the same with everything though. I would interfere in lighting and photography and everything really until I trusted that these people were managing it on their own. In every case people were more than capable so it was all fine. But yeah, it got pretty intense towards the shoot anyway. So I didn't have time to get involved in that anyway.
Filmaster: So you weren't this orchestra man, who would do everything by himself, you did allow to collaborate...
TT: oh, yeah, I would collaborate anyway as in – even on the directing side of things. I would always ask for second opinion – not with the nitty gritty things but with the big picture. The location, the setting, how it was built, how it was structured, we'd talk a lot with the production designer, about the details because I did the sketches and things in the first place – I had the concept artwork. And then of course this guy – Luke came in and he had his own ideas. And yeah, you collaborate and he then takes it away from me and you know, he does his job. I don't know if it's normal for a director to sort of have his hand in every pipe until people take it away and handle it themselves – it probably is quite normal. So that's fine.
Filmaster: are you happy with the experience?
TT: yes, it was a great experience and being in a studio as well was really cool. We just had to turn up to the same location every day for 5 weeks, and know how the food worked. We always had an hour for lunch. We got kicked out of the studio after 13 hours so we couldn't overrun on any day. We had to shoot for 13 hours, which was good because I was exhausted towards the end of the second week anyway – let alone if we'd been working 15 or 16 hour days. So from now on, I want to shoot every film from a studio!
Filmaster: which studio was it?
TT: it was Greenford Studios – it's in Middlesex. It's quite a small studio, obviously the set is big-ish but it's not like the giant set for Bond movies. They were quite good, they didn't interfere, they just let us get on with it and that was that. But the same goes for any studio. I'd be happy in any studio because as soon as we're there, everyone's got their own space, even runners. Everyone's got their little corner somewhere in that studio. Whereas when you're on location and sometimes everyone's stuffed into one sitting room when you're shooting in the kitchen or whatever it is, it's a nightmare. Or, you're outside, and it's cold! As in “The Drummond Will”.
Filmaster: Ok, let's get back to “Confine” again. How did it happen that you ended up creating two main female characters?
TT: honestly, I can't remember. The story originated, just an idea, when I was at a night club in Turkey, watching Fashion TV. I thought this was really interesting. I was already working on a new idea but nothing specific at that point. And I just thought it might be interesting to sort of get into more of a model set but more into the specifics of a model who does not want to be doing it. Because most people are really desperate to be a model. Or why would you do it. To be honest I just right female characters better. I don't really know why, but this is one of my things. I'm sitting down ready to write something – coming up with a new story and without really forcing it, without thinking about it, the protagonist just is a woman or a girl. It's because they're mysterious to me, so I can create more mystery around them, more intrigue – the unknown. In this case, it felt natural, because of the chemistry and it felt right to make the antagonist also a female. I'm sure I can also write male characters, but in this particular case this felt better.
Filmaster: who is responsible for the esthetic, the visual side, the costumes, interior design – all of that reflecting the frame of mind of the main character living in a vacuum in a way and creating this ideal perfect world in seclusion.
TT: We had different department heads for each one of those areas. But because I had so much time to digest over this film, I'd given every single thing an awful lot of thought already. Like I said – I did sketches for the set down to nitty gritty details and obviously the things like the hoarding were built into the script anyway. Luke Hull was the production designer and this was his first production. We spent a lot of hours talking about the set, from where the windows should be, to what kind of furniture would be in there, the magazines and we got a lot of sponsors to donate to us. It was Cosmo and Bliss magazine and they were given to us. Then we had to give them back in the end. All the books – there were about 40 thousand books or something, 8 thousand magazines. They were crazy numbers of stuff. Because she's a hoarder, we had to fill this place with these things. Because of who she was, she had an interest in art, so we spoke to a lot of art galleries but it was also about finding weird, surreal themes that had women on their own or something like that. We were looking for weird women themes. In the end we'd got art that had women with sheep's heads – I didn't get that specific, but Luke hunted around and he'd found these half-woman, half-animal types of stuff. It was all quite cool and interesting – you know, having this stuff, why would Pippa have this stuff? It obviously tells you a lot about the character if you're paying attention. Likewise costume, we were looking at things. We didn't really get into too much detail apart from the fact that Pippa would be in heels and look pretty smart. I had this idea that she would be getting designer clothes from the people she still knows in the industry. So it should all be very well put together. And the heels thing is about maintaining this old fashioned British thing - “I am fine, as long as I keep to pretend that I am fine”. Whereas Kayleigh was always supposed to stand out so we put this electric colours – colours that didn't really fit in with the rest of the flat. The girl responsible for this, Lisa, she had found a lot of clothes. Again, we'd got some sponsors to donate us clothes just for the shoot. I don't remember who we ended up with – I think Ghost was one of them. But we spoke to a lot different people and I don't know anything about designers anyway.
Filmaster: what were the cinematic inspirations? David Fincher's “Panic Room' sounds like an obvious connotation. What were your inspirations for “Confine” and to what extent did you try to separate yourself from “Panic Room”?
TT: because it's a hostage thriller, it's going to be definitely crossed over with “Panic Room”. Before Evan came on board I looked at certain films. Definitely “Road to Perdition” for lighting. I always liked the idea of doing practical lighting. It's not realistic obviously but it's all naturally motivated. So from the very beginning it was important to start thinking about how the lights would be built into the set and how action was going to work around having lots and lots of lights. So “Road to Perdition” was a great one to watch. It's obviously a beautiful film and he was paying attention into how to use natural light, how the lights were built in, how they move around. Obviously it being a single location limits the amount of things that can be done. We couldn't just move the lights around. We did obviously watch “Panic Room” but I wouldn't really say it was a reference because of the crossover already with the story. There's no point in looking at it in any more detail than that. Apart from the floating – it was great to see how he switched from movement to static shots. I always wanted to get the camera a lot of movement in the film. So from the logistical point of view. Because it is too expensive and time consuming to keep it moving all the time, so when should we keep it roaming and when is it better to just to set down and do reverse shots and things.
Filmaster: so did you want to create a thing of your own? Rather than present/show any influences?
TT: Yes, it wasn't deliberately referencing anything. There are no particular shots in there that were stolen from anything. But we did spend a lot of time watching these films so there is definitely some accidentally stolen shots. Because the shots sink into our minds but the idea was to have them mixed up and moving and dynamic. So we just looked at a lot of films. The over the head thing is something I liked – there is quite a lot of that kind of shots. You get a lot of information out of that I think – depending on what you're looking at at the time. No, it was more lighting than camera work. We didn't do same as “Road to Perdition” is very noir, but this is kind of noir, but teeny noir - it's very bright compared to that. We looked at “Blade Runner” as well but there is nothing like that. There is clutter like that but that was more design than camera work. We watched some other Fincher films like “The Social Network” and “Dragon Tattoo”, we went to see it at the cinema a few weeks before we started shooting this. Because again he is so awesome with the practical lighting – always a great thing to watch.
Filmaster: what are your plans for the next two years? What are your future projects? Do you prefer to write and direct or do you prefer to produce?
What are the big names in the cinema you would like to work with in the future?
TT: in the next couple of years i've got three projects I've been thinking about working on. One of them is a time-travel thriller. It's really a thriller. It's contemporary, it's set very remotely (I like secluded spaces) – probably the Isle of Man. A beautiful small town and a women and the machine crashes into her house. And brings with it a group of reverse engineers who build it. Basically it's about her past and trying to get her to learn from her mistakes but with this time machine she maybe has a chance to go back and sort things out. This is something I am trying to figure out. More of a character thriller, than a flashy thriller. I would direct it, I didn't enjoy the producing experience. It was something I got persuaded into and it was a very useful experience but producing is not my thing. I don't have the stamina or strength or the robust attitude needed to produce. Not my cup of tea. I will stick to writing and directing.
There's an underground sci-fi – that would be for young adults. It's about a group of teenagers trying to escape from this weird underground complex – set a little bit in the future. I'd been building these little models of this complex – that's quite exciting, I'd never done that before.
I've got a comedy planned – a very nutcase comedy set in the 1960's based around the world of unethical human experiments – world psychology in the 1960's in England. It's kind of a comedy romance. Very in your face stupid comedy. I've been there before! I used to do comedy – that was my background.
Filmaster: who would you like to work with the most?
TT: the problem is the people I admire the most are directors so it's very hard. I wouldn't be able to work with them. I'd love to hang around with them on some sets and just see how they do it. Like watching the making of – there and then. Obviously David Fincher would be up there. The Coen brothers and people like that. Just cliched, classic, awesome filmmakers. But they're the ones i'd watched and learned and observed from. In terms of working with someone – i'd never really given it this much thought. That would be actors then. I keep an open mind.
Filmaster: how do you see yourself in 10-20 years time. Do you see yourself as an indie filmmaker or would you be happy to do studio budgets?
TT: I would really like to do studioey types of films. Not the really big stuff – not like graphic novels or anything like that – not uber big budget but the things I really want to make – I try to restrain myself. So with this time travel thriller, I try to set it on the ground or there's a boat lost at sea, - something like that. Contained and lower key thriller. But what I really want to do is bigger stuff. So if I could do it independently – absolutely. But I want to build big sets and spaceships and on the ground, underwater submarines, basis, sci-fi, action films – big stuff is what I want to be doing. I will probably be always working on big ideas and kind of scaling them down – to the indie way to do it.
Thanks for your time!