Interview with TOBIAS TOBBELL - Director of CONFINE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Interview with TOBIAS TOBBELL - Director of CONFINE

The British thriller Confine will be released in the US next Tuesday, April 15th. Confine is a psychological thriller staring Daisy Lowe in her first lead role as former model Pippa who hasn’t left her London apartment in four years. Pippa’s refuge is violently invaded when armed thief, Kayleigh (Eliza Bennett -­‐ Nanny McPhee, Inkheart), breaks in and takes Pippa hostage. The film also stars Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy in HBO’s "Game Of Thrones").

Confine is the debut feature by UK writer-director Tobias Tobbell, who began his career making over 300 short films, video sketches and 'how-to' films. He has already made a name for himself as a prolific playwright, and has helped stage over 20 productions, taking several to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Earlier this week I sat down with Tobias to discuss Confine, film-making, Game Of Thrones and house renovations...

Warped Factor - How did you first get into film-making?

Tobias Tobbell - I got stuck into it without giving it much thought. Borrowed a camera, found some local actors, a friend and I were the whole crew. I'd messed with analogue cameras and in-camera or tape-to-tape editing before, I couldn't believe how much freedom digital editing gave me. I learnt how to edit through paying close attention to the editors on my first two shorts. Doing it all yourself was a useful way to learn all the elements of making a film (and helps me empathise with most crew!). And I'm a big believer in trial and error, learning by your mistakes. I should be a pretty great film-maker by now.

W.F. - But wearing so many hats must be demanding, writing, directing and producing. Which do you find the most challenging, and which the most rewarding?

T.T. - Writing's a long, lonely experience. I can lose objectivity very quickly, as well as motivation. I'm finding I can be much more valuable working with other writers, looking in from the outside. A friend persuaded me to help produce his first feature a few years back. I'd put shorts together before, how hard could it be? It was a insightful experience. Needless to say I'll think twice before being persuaded to produce again. Directing, however, is my true passion, and the reason I'll put myself through hell if necessary. I find the entire process hugely rewarding, from storyboarding to sound design. Creating your own little (or sometimes very big) world for around two hours is why I made the move from theatre. Though strangely I've been left with a desire to work on contained or isolated stories and I'm sure it's at least partly something left over from the stage.

W.F. - And obviously Confine is one of those 'contained' stories. Where did the idea for the movie come about?

T.T. - I wanted to write something with two strong female leads. Starting in theatre before moving into film I really started to get a sense that great female roles were lacking, at least in comparison to male roles. I'd always written for a even mix without giving it much thought. If anything, I've found it easier to write more interesting female roles - I've grown up surrounded by strong, motivated women. So this project started forming. 

W.F. - How long did it take you to get from that initial idea to finally producing the movie?

T.T. - It started about 10 years ago and reshaped itself here and there along the way before becoming Confine. The detail came later than the idea of placing two female leads opposite one another. 

W.F. - Talking about that, how did you find your two female leads?

T.T. - Eliza (Bennett) came on board fairly early on. She's a smart young girl who seemed to get Kayleigh, the sociopathic antagonist. Daisy (Lowe) actually came quite late. We did originally have another actress on board who left due to sudden family issues. We had a loose connection to Daisy, a British model looking to move into acting. We met and had a great chat about Pippa - she could empathise with several of the characters traits. She then auditioned for us and responded very well to direction. So Daisy stepped in and saved the day just one week before the shoot started!

W.F. - I was very interested in Daisy's character Pippa, specifically her back-story, the effects it had on her and her anxiety issues.

T.T. - Pippa's was a recluse from the first draft. She was also a former model from the beginning too. She had different reasons to fear the outside world that eventually developed into those in Confine; being forced into the limelight by her family. How long would it take a naturally introverted person to snap in that situation? What would they do when that happened? We don't see much of the back-story really - but her obsessive behaviour is born out of her anxiety, her agoraphobia as an extreme reaction to the high pressure environment of the modelling world that she never really wanted to be part of. Thanks to the internet we now see people snapping in all sorts of ways due to similar stressful situations - celebrity and reality star melt-downs. Who knows what happens behind closed doors? Confine started as an example.

W.F. - As well as Eliza and Daisy there's Mr Greyjoy himself, Alfie Allen. What was he like to work with?

T.T. - Alfie's a lot of fun, very laid back when not on set, snaps into full professional when on set. Our very first chat was over Skype, he was snow-boarding in Canada (I think). We spent as much time chatting about skiing as the character. The next Game of Thrones season was about to premiere so of course I was asking a ton of questions about it, sadly he gave very little away. Of course at the time of shooting we had no idea Theon Greyjoy was going to end up in a similar predicament to our Henry character!

W.F. - I guess it must be quite a demand for the three actors to carry an entire movie, was it a daunting prospect for them?

T.T. - It was certainly daunting, particularly for Daisy who'd only played smaller roles before. She was on set every day, bar one. Shooting 6 day weeks for 5 weeks straight, including the 2 hours of prosthetic make-up every morning - they're long old days. However, Daisy and Eliza ended up bonding very well, and still keep in touch. We had a pretty young crew too, so the whole shoot was relaxed, a lot of new friendships and even some relationships were born out of that shoot. I think that atmosphere helped the cast relax and enjoy the shoot.

W.F. - With the movie set in just one space, the confined element really does show. Did you actually shoot in an apartment or was that all studio?

T.T. - We did look at a few locations, but struggled to find something that wouldn't have cost a small fortune (when factoring in trailers for costume, props, make-up, plus catering etc). So in the end we did build a set in a studio (complete with all those dressing rooms and so on). They offered a great deal to us new film-makers during a slower time of the year. A studio was always my first choice anyway, so I was pleased it also worked from a budgetary point of view. Production Designer Luke Hull came on board. For a young designer it's a great opportunity to build an entire set from scratch. So we got to work on all the details and Luke created a perfect set for the story, complete with genuine art-work up on the walls, many worth $20k each! Plus a set gives us the chance to control lighting, design and camera movement. We could move walls if necessary, and there was no ceiling at all, allowing us to get right up over the action if we wanted to.

W.F. - So now, looking at the finished product, do you think Confine ended up close to the vision you had hoped for it?

T.T. - Yes and no. The vision for the film developed as elements fell into place. Logistics alter certain aspects. At one point all the characters were older, but when we started considering audience we brought the average age down quite a bit. Pippa was mid-to-late thirties, for example, and had had an entire career in modelling before the accident. I never really intended so much of the dialogue to stay the way it was written. It takes time to rehearse and workshop scenes in order to rework dialogue and time isn't a luxury most indie films are afforded. The film was carefully storyboarded and then talked out in length with cinematographer Eben Bolter. We looked at reference films and lighting ideas over a couple of weeks. Even on a micro-budget I do believe that prep paid off, the film looks fantastic and very much in line with the original vision for it.

W.F. - Often lots of micro-budget movies turn to Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms like that. Have you, or would you, ever use this approach for a project? Because I guess it must be very difficult to get ideas funded?

T.T. - Independent films will always be difficult to get financed. It seems like it's only getting more difficult. I'm pleased there are now other avenues that involve potential audience from the get-go, though it's not something I've tried yet. Thinking very carefully about who the film will be aimed at, it's references, who you might cast and how little you could shoot it for all seem to make or break a project early on. Film-makers are having to get more and more business savvy in order to get their films made. I like understanding the business, the target audience, but it does sometimes cloud my vision and you risk falling into cliches when under pressure. I guess if the audience are involved from the start, you know you're onto something.

W.F. - I know your first two films, 'Every Picture' and 'Aimless', were improvised from loose stories. How was that experience? Is it something you'd revisit again?

T.T. - Haha, absolutely not. They were great experiences but totally flawed films. Features have to have carefully planned stories complete with well designed character arcs, subtle dialogue and subtext... none of which really comes out of a devised, improvised story shot over a few days. If you're Mike Leigh (one of UK's great directors who devises his stories with the cast), sure. I can still barely manage thinking through the other 100 things an hour on set, let alone considering story implications of every new line spoken. I'd love to have time to workshop before the shoot, modify and perfect dialogue and characters. And some rejigging of dialogue on set is always welcome, within boundaries. I won't touch true improv on set again, not for a long while.

W.F. - Fair enough. So Confine has won a lot of accolade, it's been well received at festivals, has this opened a few more doors for you?

T.T. - I'm honestly not sure. It certainly can't have done any harm! The indie market is over-saturated with award-winning films and film-makers at similar budget levels. A nice quote is always better than a nasty one, and winning something boosts confidence where ego's are fragile, but I'm not sure how much they effect the next job. Financiers, sales agents, distributors and even producers will usually look at how well your last film sold before getting into creative conversations. That's what really counts. Can this person complete on budget, on schedule, tell a story people will pay to see? Confine's doing okay out there, so we'll see!

W.F. - What's next for you? Any future projects lined up already?

T.T. - I've been developing a handful of projects with other writers. One of those is now at a stage where it can go out to cast/financiers and the other is already picking up a lot of interest. The first is a thriller, probably my favourite genre as director (as a viewer sci-fi is probably my favourite). The other is a post-apocalyptic survival story with a very ordinary everyman at the heart of it. Both are fantastic projects, so watch this space.

W.F. - Finally, if you weren't making movies now what do you think you'd be doing?

T.T. - Honestly? Finding run-down properties, working them into awesome regen projects and selling them on! I think that must be where I get my passion for production design (or visa versa). 

Confine will be available on DVD and iTunes in the US and Canada on Tuesday April 15th.

Check out our review of Confine.

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