Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Interview With Filmmakers No. 2: Mark Redfield

Below is an interview with actor, writer, and director Mark Redfield. The impetus for my asking him for an interview was his nomination for a 2006 Rondo Award for Best Independent Film. (The Rondo Awards are organized by the Classic Horror Film Board.) His excellent drama, THE DEATH OF POE, was in competition with Ted Newsom's THE NAKED MONSTER, Paul Davids' THE SCI-FI BOYS (the eventual winner), Conor Timmis' KREATING KARLOFF, Don Glut's I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER , Cortlandt Hull's THE WITCH'S DUNGEON: 40 YEARS OF CHILLS, and Gary and Sue Svelha's TERROR IN THE TROPICS.

I spoke with Mr. Redfield by phone in February 2007, and sent off questions by e-mail late on March 3, 2007. The last day to vote for the Rondos was March 10-- which didn't allow much time for full, thoughtful answers before the announcement of the winners! As the deadline came and went, I decided to send more questions. Mr. Redfield, busy with multiple projects, was kind enough to give me long, interesting answers on May 2. Both by phone and by e-mail correspondence Mr. Redfield was gracious, funny and completely charming.

Max the DSH: Have you seen the other films that were nominated for a "Best Independent" Rondo, and what comments do you have about them?

Mark Redfield: I haven't seen a Don Glut picture since DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS, and Ted Newsom had given me a copy of THE NAKED MONSTER before the horse race, which I
enjoyed immensely. Conor Timmis sent me a copy of KREATING KARLOFF after the contest was over, and we'll also be working together in the future-- such is the magic of the Rondos and the Classic Horror Film Board! As you now know, none of us won this year. Maybe the plan to vote for each other wasn't such a good idea. The 2006 winner was THE SCI-FI BOYS. And yes, I've seen it.

Max The DSH: Did you have an acceptance speech ready if you had won the Rondo?

Mark Redfield
: I had one. It was a "fill-in-the-blanks" speech. Maybe I can use it next year!

Max the DSH: Your latest film is about Edgar Allan Poe, who explored themes of loss, hysteria, and fear of death and decay, like no other writer of the 19th century. What made him so different, and just where do Poe's fears intersect with your own experiences and anxieties? (I assume you explored such internal connections when preparing for the role, correct?)

Mark Redfield: For me, and my answer is painted in a very broad brush strokes, THE DEATH OF POE is about the struggle of the artist. The struggle to make one's voice heard. The impermanence of all things we build or create. That is death, and the fear of not being connected. Love lost. Poe was only alive when he was connecting, when he was heard. At least, that's something that I found in him, find in me, and those ideas compelled themselves on the narrative of his last week on earth. I wanted the film to feel like a claustrophobic dream of being boxed in, walled off, and no-one can hear you or understand you. His poem, ALONE, which he wrote, interestingly when he was very young and hadn't had much life experience, says a lot. As a matter of fact, most of his poetry, with the exception of THE RAVEN, was written before he was 21. I'm not sure what that means.

Max The DSH: I'm curious as to your favorite Poe poem and/or story, and if Poe's poem Alone speaks to your experiences growing up. Were you a kid with many friends and shared interests, or someone more like the voice of Poe in that poem?

Mark Redfield: It depends on my mood. Frankly, I don't think about Poe all that much outside of work and maybe it's because I've spent so much time concentrating on him and his work. I can tell you that my least favorite is THE BELLS. Impossible. I've read it, performed it by (arm-twisting) request, and recorded it. Nobody will ever hear it. Basil Rathbone is a far, far better man than I (in more ways than one) for letting his recording loose on the public.

Max the DSH: Before starting THE DEATH OF POE, did the fairly recent theory proposed by a doctor that Poe died of rabies ever play a part of how you thought you would script Poe's demise?

Mark Redfield: Not at all. That theory just didn't fit our thinking, and still doesn't. I'm more willing to believe that Elmira's brothers beat the hell out of him outside of Philadelphia.

Max the DSH: I enjoyed your acting in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, where you played three characters. Would you like to do multiple roles in more projects, or was it too demanding? May we someday see a Mark Redfield project akin to KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS or DR. STRANGELOVE?

Mark Redfield: The Chinese character in JEKYLL was a fluke and a challenge that Ellie made while we were filming. But it was fun to do. For me, acting is about transformation, and finding the things that are not you. Paradoxically, it's also about finding parts of one's self that fit the character, changing very little, and using selective parts of yourself. It's about selection, really. Selection and imagination.

I'm not a Lee Strasberg-method man. Strasberg and his disciples have done more harm than good. Brando is proof of that. Olivier is proof of that. At first glance, you'd think that they were polar opposites. The internal approach to the external approach thing. Horseshit. They were remarkably similar in approach, in that they used whatever worked, developed their own mysterious "methods" and relied on both the internal and external tools that actors use. No actor can ever completely be someone else. You must use the parts of yourself that work for the character, and discard or minimize the rest. Even John Wayne, who most people don't really give credit for the work that he did as an actor, understood that. A great cinema actor. I enjoy the process of "creating" a character immensely. Later this year I'm acting in a western called ONE-EYED HORSE, and am playing a man called Gatewood who is considerably older. He's full of anger, was locked in prison for years, is plotting revenge, and runs a thriving freight business. In flashbacks, we get to see him during the Civil War, as a man about my age. Now, I have nearly nothing in common with this man, but with a little imagination, and making (hopefully, god willing) some interesting choices, I can bring him to life. I'm still "learning" how to act-- I have a compulsion to explore and go through the process.

Max the DSH: Spencer Tracy and John Malkovich both played Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in film. Your approach to preparing for a role is more like which actor's?

Mark Redfield: Great Scott! I have no idea. I'm guessing less like Tracy's, if one believes the stories about the amount of drinking he did, on and off the set. In the upcoming SORCERER OF STONEHENGE SCHOOL I play two characters, good and evil, in the shapes of Merlin and the wicked teacher Judas Holdfast. Merlin was another great make-up by Robert Yoho, who did the make-up in JEKYLL. SORCERER will come out in 2008.

Max the DSH: One thing I notice about your work is the mythic themes attached. ALEX AND ALEX, an upcoming project you wrote and star in, involves classic Greek deities, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE invokes Jungian archetypes, and DESPISER involves a supernatural underworld. Is this just coincidence (because you are drawn to work in the horror/fantasy genre), or are you a kindred spirit to Joseph Campbell?

Mark Redfield: I think it's both a tremendous coincidence, and the fact that I'm a student of Joseph Campbell's work. It's interesting that you should have discovered anything about ALEX AND ALEX. I suppose that it's listed in some cyberspace archives. But ALEX AND ALEX is the one that got away; the one that broke my heart. I worked very hard on the script and designs, and we actually shot most of the Mount Olympus scenes, but the financing evaporated while we were about eight days in. And, apropos to your question, ALEX was, perhaps, the most "mythologically self-conscious".

I was looking for something for Ellie Torrez, who starred in JEKYLL with me. So I created this love story, set in Baltimore's Greek community in the waterfront in 1954. I would've played a Greek artist named Alexander,she a Greek immigrant named Alexandra (hence the title, ALEX AND ALEX). Boy meets girl--BAM--boy falls in love with girl, Greek gods screw with boy and girl, slapstick hilarity ensues. The idea was that Hera and Zeus are having an argument about monogamy (because of Zeus's fooling around), and Zeus (and the other male gods) bet Hera (and the other female gods)that there is no such thing. So the gods spend all their time manipulating Alex and Alex. The gag with the gods was that they, their clothes, and Mount Olympus were all designed for 1954. I like eras where major transitions are taking place, and 1954 is perfect. Much like 1900 for JEKYLL. We have stills and the eight days of blue screen footage of their scenes. If I can get over the pain, and the money comes together, I'd love to make this picture. It makes me smile just remembering it.

In JEKYLL, the themes are inherent, and I couldn't avoid them as I delved into the project. As for DESPISER, pure coincidence, as that was written, directed and produced by Phil Cook, and I was just a hired hand. What attracted me to DESPISER, however, was the chance to run around and fire a machine gun.

Max the DSH: In THE DEATH OF POE, Poe attempts to raise funds for a literary magazine, and grows ever more desperate with each failed attempt. I've read that this somewhat matches your own experiences in fund-raising for film projects; you've had to sometimes doggedly hustle to find the backing for your work. Does it drain you? Any stories of unusual demands for funds? (Ed Wood had to have his cast baptized!) Ever had to do impromptu acting in a meeting with a potential backer?

Mark Redfield: When (and IF) I ever get to write my autobiography, I will have some amazing stories to tell about financing these projects! That's also assuming that I out-live some of the players I'm still doing business with! There's the one who went to jail, and who naturally had to stop putting money in the project as his lawyers needed it more. There's the one who bought himself a role. There's the one who says "yes" every year,then changes his mind six months later. Suffice to say, I spend most of my time on the business of film, and little of it on the creative side.

When filling out various applications, I usually fill in the field that asks for occupation with the word "actor". But you make me think about it, and I suppose I am more of a producer. The tale is wagging the dog. And most producers are continually broke. When I was a free-lance actor, with no overhead, I actually, usually, had a couple of bucks in my pocket. You want to know what it's like to raise money for movies from private individuals? Watch Mamet's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS sometime. Then we can share the secret code word "Patel!?", and it'll be our own private joke.

There is a wonderful moment with Orson Welles, captured on film in a late interview, when asked a similar question. And mind you, this is the great Welles, not a struggling, unknown Redfield. You can see the light extinguish from the elder Welles' usually shining, twinkling eyes. He looked lost for a moment, and reflecting on a lifetime of chasing money, said simply, -"It's a miserable way to spend one's life."

Max the DSH: I remember that you said on the phone that the budgets for your films can be compared to those of classic horror movie productions. What was that exactly?

Mark Redfield: Well, if I remember correctly, I made some kind of crack about our budgets being on par with Hammer's, but NOT adjusted for inflation. But our budgets are growing a bit. They have to, to be able to compete. I think I first used the budget line on Caroline Munro. She got it and understood and laughed. What she didn't realize was that I wasn't talking 1974 KRONOS money, but 1958 DRACULA money!

Max the DSH: What is your favorite film that few people remember anymore?

Mark Redfield: Roger Corman's ROCK ALL NIGHT. Douglas Fairbanks movies, especially THE BLACK PIRATE. And I guess that would include my heroes Chaplin and Keaton and their films, as they are out of vogue and off the radar these days with the public.

Max The DSH: When no one is looking, Mark Redfield enjoys...?

Mark Redfield: ...watching 80's music videos.

Max The DSH: You seem to be at ease with comedy as well as drama. As a viewer--or reader--what makes you laugh?

Mark Redfield: Laurel and Hardy. Groucho Marx. W.C. Fields. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (but in different ways). And jokes I've never told myself before, but catch me off guard when nobody's looking.

Max The DSH: I co-moderate an internet group called UNIVERSAL MONSTER ARMY, for people who love the classic horror and sci-fi films of the '30s through the '50s, and items spun off from them (such as models, toys, magazines, books, collectibles, etc.). I understand you love these films too; which have most affected you, and what kinds of "monster stuff" did you have as a kid? And what do you buy today?

Mark Redfield: Wow. I had the same stuff that you and everyone else had of our generation(s)! Monster mags, Aurora model kits, comic books, super 8mm films, Remco Lost In Space Robots--our boats are in the same cultural river.

What do I collect now? Fewer things, as space comes at a premium and money flows in spurts. Knowing now that "you can't take it with you", I'm collecting a little less. Although I did get a Lugosi autograph a couple of years ago. My house is choked and looks like a museum, and my office is like a wing of Pee-Wee's playhouse.

Max The DSH: Kevin Shinnick, a UMA member, has been in films with you, and can be seen in THE DEATH OF POE as "Dr. Moran". Anything unusual I should know about Kevin, any anecdotes? As a moderator I have to keep an eye on dangerous characters in the membership. ;^)

Mark Redfield: Nothing unusual. Sorry to disappoint. Kevin is a true actor, a good actor. We'll be working together again in the near future. Although I am reminded that there is an out-take of him as Dr. Moran falling off of Poe's bed?

Max The DSH: Thank you for sharing your time.

Mark Redfield: My pleasure, Max. You asked some great questions. I hope I had something interesting to say.


Mark Redfield's website: Redfield Arts

A very special thanks to John Cozzolli, Terry Ingram and Richard Olson for their continual support!

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