INTERVIEW: ‘CONFINE’ DIRECTOR TOBIAS TOBBELL
Confine stars Daisy Lowe as Pippa, a former model living a reclusive life following an accident. When a heist in her building goes wrong, her sheltered existence is shattered when her home is invaded by the volatile but charismatic Kayleigh (Eliza Bennett). Writer and director Tobias Tobbell joined us to tell us about his low budget thriller.
For anyone who hasn’t yet heard of confine, how would you entice them in to watch it?
I would say one of its strongest features is that it’s quite claustrophobic, quite tense so we’re obviously trying to appeal to people who like watching something that gets them into a space and doesn’t let them out of it again.
Is that a challenge to you as a writer, to limit yourself to a single space?
There’s a lot of reasons that it ended up in one space. Because I’ve got a theatrical background and this was one of the first feature film scripts I wrote – albeit I actually wrote the first draft nine or ten years ago – I think the theatre side of it had a heavy influence on trying to set something in one space with a small cast. As it evolved over the years obviously the budget and what budgets we could get access to had a massive influence, so it kind of cemented it being in once in space. In fact it was a house with gardens and grounds on the coast, so it was one space but it was quite a big space and it was then the budget side of things that honed it into literally just one flat. Plus of course the challenge; I thought it would be much more interesting, rather than seeing things outside of windows or doors, just to stay in the flat all the way through.
That’s enhanced by the sound design on this film. Tell us how that helped to create the atmosphere.
Right from the script actually, because we were only in this one space it was going to be quite important that we heard what was going on outside, got a sense of what was happening via sound. The sound team were called Sound Node and they’re the same guys who did the production sound as did the sound design itself so they were in it from beginning to end. Right from the very beginning it was about talking to them about working on each room having a different sound and making it feel like a very big space so if you passed an object, adding a little bit of movement to that and all those sorts of things, things you don’t tend to get with micro-budget films like this. I think it gave it more of a cinematic feel to give it a sense of space.
How easy is it now with modern digital technology, to make something feel cinematic?
Everyone’s got a slightly different idea of what cinematic is I suppose and knowing something is going to be set in a flat doesn’t really feel like the sort of film that’s going to be cinematic at all. So trying to treat it like we would treat a big landscape is how we started off approaching it – having the camera moving, like sweeping through from one room to another or being at ground level and raising it up or having over the top shots, really getting the camera into every nook and cranny. We shot on the Arri Alexa so we were shooting on something that loves low light so we could use practical lighting so rather than having everything lit like a studio so we could have lamps in corners and have dark spaces and light spaces and pull of light. I think all those things combined were what we were aiming to achieve in terms of the cinematic feeling.
This film is getting a simultaneous release on download, DVD and limited theatrical release. How important is for you to see a film on the big screen?
I would love it if we had a bigger theatrical. We created a soundscape and we shot in a way that certainly we hoped would suit the cinema. Unfortunately because of just the scale of the film, it’s very hard and the cast, although they are known, they aren’t that well known. With so many films out there you are fighting for a very limited number of theatre spaces so we do have a small theatrical and it will be great seeing it in those cinemas. It is a shame it isn’t playing in more but I don’t really mind in the end as long as the film’s out there and actually being watched by people.
Just tell us a little bit about the cast, they all have quite a lot of heavy lifting to do in this film.
Because it’s a three hander, they all have responsibility. Pippa is a very interesting character because she has so few lines with Daisy as a new actress as well, I think we had a real challenge on our hands to try and portray this character given that she doesn’t say much in the film as the protagonist. Obviously Kayleigh is talking all the time. We didn’t get much rehearsal time either which was a shame because with the theatrical background I think it would have been much more exciting for me to be sitting down for a month and let the actors really get stuck into their lines, pulling their characters apart and seeing if you can come up with new scenes or change the scenes we have and so on. With film it’s so often the way that you only get a couple of days to run through the scripts and then you just pile on in there. We had to just rely on what the characters were in the script then go from there.
How did Daisy Lowe come to be involved? Obviously she is very well known but not necessarily for her acting as yet.
It was an interesting casting process. Alfie and Eliza were definitely a lot more straightforward. We spoke to them and they came on board quite quickly. Pippa was definitely more difficult because we needed someone that could definitely pass for a model so we were looking for actresses that certainly could pull off being a former catwalk model and obviously British as well so we weren’t really looking at very many people to be honest so it came down to a small select number quite quickly.
We actually had someone else cast as Pippa originally and about two weeks before the shoot started, they had to pull out for some quite big family issues essentially and it was quite a shame to lose them but then we found Daisy within a couple of days. Obviously Emily [Corcoran] the producer and I were worried that she hadn’t really done any acting before but we got her into an audition space and she responded very well to direction, she was very personable and she wasn’t “model like” in that I didn’t have much idea of what she might be like as a person. As I’m still fairly new to filmmaking I was a bit worried that I might be bullied by someone who had that kind of temperament but Daisy’s a real sweetie. She was very accommodating and very pleasant to work with. It all fell together very quickly. Instead of going for an actress that looks like a model, we went with a model that was looking to move into acting.
With that lack of experience, how do you feel about her overall performance?
Daisy did a really great job.It’s a really tough role to have a protagonist that’s so passive. It’s actually a lot harder than a lot of people would think. If they’ve got a line where they run or they beat someone up or they’re having a massive argument or whatever it is. If they are driven by action you perform the action and you just perform the action and you have to perform it to a certain quality and that’s that whereas in Daisy’s case she’s not doing very much for an awful lot of the film. It’s quite difficult for someone so new to the acting world to emote with so little to work on. She’s shy, she’s agoraphobic and in that respect I think Daisy did a very good job.
The character of Kayleigh was a complete contract to Pippa. Was it fun to write a psychopath?
Kayleigh was much more fun to write than Pippa, that’s for sure. I think I actually have a knack for writing people who are sociopaths or psychopaths or whatever – quirky characters. So Kayleigh running through it for the first time she was quite serious and as we polished it up introducing the sarcastic or stupid or funny lines. She was a lot of fun to play around with and I think Eliza was looking forward to getting her teeth into someone so different. Being petite, being blonde, being pretty, I think she’s cast in particular roles but for this I think for this she enjoyed something much more fierce, much nastier, much more fun.
This is a female lead crime thriller. Was that a conscious decision to balance out the masculinity you find within this genre?
Definitely a conscious choice although I have to say I think I’m better at writing female characters anyway. There’s this mass misrepresentation of women in film. In terms of the female protagonists out there, there are very few. If you listed your top 50 favourite films, I’d be surprised if 10 of them had female protaginists. So it was definitely a conscious choice to push that. I’ve always grown up with quite strong and motivated women as well: in my family, at school, at university, even my fiancée now – they’re all very headstrong people. So for me it’s quite strange to see so many films that you just don’t see these people. Where are they? It wasn’t just Confine either, it’s something that will probably come out in a few of the scripts I write and a few of the films I make to have strong female protagonists and antagonists sprinkled throughout there.
You mentioned you wrote the script a number of years ago. Just how difficult was the process going from script to screen?
Ten years ago, I wrote the first draft and then a couple of months later I wrote the second. We actually tried to make the film on a much lower budget in 2004 – when I say make it I just mean getting it off the ground. We did some auditions but we were just finding raising the money to go shoot in a nice little cottage on the coast of Cornwall or whatever, it just wasn’t possible or feasible at the time so it got dumped. Then over the years, it came down to this one interior location story so we were finding actually it was more feasible to make it at that point. We did look at locations actually but we decided to build a set instead because it gave us a lot more freedom in terms of lighting, camera movement and just the design of the flat in the first place. So once we got there and it wasn’t looking like such a hefty budget, then the finance started to come together. It was a bit of a slog. It was about seven months of solid money raising, speaking to studios about various deals all over the place, but I think it was a lot easier than had we left the script as it was.
You serve as both writer and director on this film – would you be happy handing over one of your scripts to another director?
Theoretically yes. I definitely always write a script with the intention of making it. I’m very very conscious of budgets, cast, cast numbers, cast styles, making sure the cast and characters are mixed. Then of course, another producer or director can use all those as well.
Actually what I’d really like to look at in life is directing something that someone else has written so do it the other way around. I’ve tried looking at a few scripts in the past, not quite found anything yet that suits but I’d certainly love to find something because it takes me such a bloody long time to write scripts, like up to two years if you take two months here and three months there. I’d love to just find someone else who’s written a script, it’s great and get stuck into it straight away.
So is the direction a more pleasurable experience for you, with writing perhaps being a more painful process?
Writing is definitely a painful process; not all of it. On the whole I do enjoy writing. What I get frustrated about, you might spend – and I have – a long long time developing a script and it doesn’t quite get there, there’s something about it that doesn’t quite work so you end up having to scrap it and move onto a different project. That different project does work but for some reason it’s just not looking like anyone’s going to finance it because for example sci-fi films in the UK have traditionally been quite difficult to make and no one would ever sanction loans for bad credit score too. I think now it might start becoming a little bit easier because there’s so much successful sci-fi out there. So it’s another project I have to scrap. That gets very frustrating because in the end I just want to be making films. So spending so much time writing scripts it’s only frustrating because ideally I want spend six months of the year writing, and six months of the year shooting that film.
Does making something like Confine, help you get the next project made?
Every film that I make is in some way shape or form is a step forwards. The last film I made, I actually produced was about three years ago and that had a fraction of the budget of Confine and Confine obviously has quite a small budget. Hopefully the next one will be a little bit more. That’s why I’m trying to write another quite contained story so it’s realistic with my film background I could actually make that story rather than writing something that’s going to cost £10 or £15 million and I’m not going to be able to make that film. If I can write something that’s going to cost £1 million then I think yes, Confine would definitely help make it more possible to shoot that film next. It all depends on what Confine does when it comes out and how well it does internationally and so on and so forth.
This is obviously a very British film – would you ever be tempted to take your scripts to America with the bigger budgets?
I suppose I’m not too fussed about where I end up geographically. The stories that I write more often than not, Confine was an exception actually, they are mostly sci-fi stories so it doesn’t really matter where we shoot or who finances it or where I’m based because predominantly the things I want to make will be probably shot in studios. I am deeply passionate about production design as well; about building sets and creating worlds so that all lends itself to shooting in studios. Whether that’s in some fancy LA studio with a forty million dollar budget or more or a little British studio with a couple of million pounds, as long as I’m getting to make films with beautiful sets and all the rest of it I’d be very happy.
Do you think your background in theatre gives you an edge as director?
In the end, I think having a theatrical background will give me an added edge. At the moment, actually I think my theatrical background is holding me back in that I don’t do it consciously but Confine ended up more theatrical than I would have liked. I’m very proud and happy with the film but you’ve got to look back at every film you make and see what you would have done better and it’s quite dialogue heavy. Actually I really like the single space, I wouldn’t change that, I’d keep it in the one space. Definitely I hope that for the next project it will help the process of rehearsing, of working with actors, of paying attention to set builds and things. I think all those things will definitely help me once I’ve got a proper handle on the film side of things but I’ve always wanted to make films. Theatre became something that I did because it was possible to do it because I had the opportunity to get stuck into writing and directing theatre. If I’d had the choice I’d have always stuck with film, especially when we are talking like fifteen years ago there weren’t digital cameras, there wasn’t the software, it wasn’t really cheap and easy to make feature films at that point so theatre was better. Here’s hope it pays off.
So have you got another project ready to go next?
The one I’m going to look at doing next is a sci-fi thriller set in a little research place on another planet. It’s another quite contained story, quite isolated. The planet is not dissimilar to Earth but the actual setting of the story is in this base in a very icy part of the world so it’s got a bit of The Thing going for it. It’s essentially a heist movie told from the point of view of people trying to stop the heist from happening. It’s called the last planet. I’d really like to be shooting that by the beginning of next year but we’ll see how things go.