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TORONTO ’07 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Mark Heller: “I hope people are entertained and I want to find the

TORONTO '07 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW: Mark Heller: "I hope people are entertained and I want to find the

Throughout the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema.

Fourteen filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions. Director Mark Heller is at Toronto with his feature film, “The Passage,” which TIFF describes as a “provocative first feature not for the faint of heart” that channels Alfred Hitchcock’s Morocco-set “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Chesire, England and attended the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, studying acting. I started out as a stage actor, appearing on stages across England in plays and musicals. I also directed, first on regional UL stages and then in Los Angeles for production company East of Doheny at the Century City Playhouse. My film work includes directing the shorts “Flatmates” and “Tomorrow” and the feature “Stephanie Daley,” where I worked as a behind-the-scenes director.

What are your goals for the Toronto International Film Festival?

It wasn’t easy to make this movie in a foreign country – our cast and crew from all over the world worked extremely hard and were incredibly dedicated, so it’s first a celebration of an accomplishment shared by those cast and crew together that will be there and those that are unable to make it. Secondly, I am looking forward to (and nervous about) sharing the film with an audience. I hope people are entertained and I want to find the movie a great home.

How/where did the initial idea for your film come from and/or evolve?

The writer Neil Jackson told me the true story of when he was in Morocco he had a rather disturbing experience there when he tried to date a local girl and found the locals to be strongly opposed to it, forcing them into a rather frightening situation. We wrote a very rough treatment and pitched the idea to Lynette Howell along with a short film we had made. Lynette loved the pitch and urged us to write the full movie. Neil went away and wrote the screenplay as a project for me to direct for Silverwood to produce.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?

The biggest challenge we had in the movie was the language barrier whilst filming. 70% of the cast spoke no English so I had to direct them through a translator. And we where filming in such remote areas of Morocco with drastically unpredictable weather that it was hard to control our environment from one minute to the next. Most of the time we had to just start filming and hope the shot wouldn’t be ruined by a man walking his sheep. We were doing prep during Ramadan and so we had to adjust to different working hours and be incredibly respectful of our Moroccan crew who could not eat or drink during the day. Often we were scouting in the hot sun all day and some of non-moroccan crew decided to fast alongside our Moroccan crew out of respect.

What are your creative influences?

For myself and director of photography Jim Denault , “The Constant Gardener” was a great influence because of the real feeling of the film – it feels very present. That is why we chose to shoot the movie almost entirely hand held so that audience always feels in the middle of the action, It creates the feeling that it can almost happen to the audience.

What are some of your all-time favorite films? What are some of your recent favorite films?

Jaws,” “American Beauty,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Lost in Translation,” “Open Your Eyes,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Goodfellas,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Cinema Paradiso

What are your interests outside of film?

I walk a lot – during post in LA I didn’t have a car as I never got my license (living in London you don’t need one) and so I would walk everywhere. Sometimes I would walk from Santa Monica to Hollywood – it took about 5 hrs! I did this a few times a week. I enjoy most sports, love reading and am a big animal lover.

How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

To make movies that dare to be controversial and risky, I don’t want to make movie that people say “that was ok” I want to make films you love or hate – films that create conversation.

What are your future projects?

I am currently prepping an untitled film which will be shot in Portugal – we start principal photography in a month. It is a modernization of “Romeo and Juliet.” Following that I am working with Silverwood Films again to direct “Normal Life” the dramatic-fantasy story of an Agoraphobic man from Kansas who finds himself rather unexpectedly having to deal with his neighbors.

[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Toronto ’07 section.]

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