Confine: Interview with Director Tobias Tobbell

Tobias Tobbell

The Squeerelist - Your heroine and her nemesis compile quite a few textbook disorders from agoraphobia to psychopathy or hoarding… What inspired you to display such conditions?
Tobias Tobbell -  The disorders explored in the film evolved for different reasons. The agoraphobia developed out of the nature of the story itself. As I worked on the character’s history – being a naturally introverted person forced to go on show around the world as a model – it seemed Pippa would be almost keen to say goodbye to the world the moment she had the chance (driven further by her scarring after a career based on looks). I’ve been curious about obsessive-complusive behavior since studying pyschology, and it felt like a natural progression to have a person as anxious as Pippa to focus this into something specific, her need for order in her tiny world. The sociopathic element, Kayleigh, I suppose is a little more typical of screwed up ‘bad guys’ in film – though I was also finding ways to connect the two characters so that fell into place fairly easily. 

How much of yourself can we find in your characters and/or stories?
That depends on the story, but I certainly and consciously try to move away from anything to do with me or my life. I write escapism stories for the most part. However, I’d probably describe myself as fairly shy (particularly when I started the Confine script nearly 10 years ago), though this is a long way from agoraphobia I can empathise pretty easily.

Movies shamefully lack women in the lead even though the trend tends to evolve. Your movie, Confine,  features 2 female main characters. You wrote the screenplay over 8 years. Did you have women in mind from the start or was it a later revelation?
The two main characters were both female from the very beginning, although I wasn’t as conscious of how unusual it was to write with 2 female leads at the time. The plays I wrote before tended to feature an equal balance of sexes. I think I’m a little better at writing female characters so that’s how it started off with the film scripts. It’s certainly not an exclusive thing, but there’s such a wealth of incredible actresses out there and they’re just not being given as many meaty leading roles as actors are. Added to that the strange misrepresentation of female vs male leads and I’m now making more of a point of it (if it seems appropriate for the story).

Your next project will also focus on strong female protagonists. Can you tell us more about it?
The next project, a sci-fi thriller called The Last Planet, has just six characters. Three girls and three guys. It’s another very isolated world but for very different reasons. It’s set mostly on a small research station on another planet. It essentially revolves around a heist but told from the point of view of the characters trying to prevent it. The setting is an icey environment, similar to The Thing, though we’re mostly inside the small, rig-like interior. I love submarine films like Crimson Tide, Das Boot, Red October, so I’ll be looking to create that close, tense atmosphere they’re great for.

Why do you care so much about strong leading women?
I come from a family with some very strong, motivated women. Plus, through school, university and my professional life I regularly encounter as many exciting, damaged, fascinating, inspiring and/or headstrong girls as I do guys. It seems crazy to me that films just don’t seem to represent woman in the world the same way I’ve experienced through-out my life. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of really interesting female characters in film, but take anyone’s top 50 films and I’d be surprised if even 10 of those feature female leads. Maybe I feel a bit embarrassed that my favourite medium still isn’t as open-minded as I’d like it to be and I’ve chosen this issue to focus on?

What kind of director are you: do you give your actors free rein to improvisation? Or are you more anal when it comes to what’s on the screenplay?
I’d like to say the former. The pragmatic side of my brain tells me there probably isn’t really the time for improvisation on set. Until I’m more confident in myself I’d worry that if we didn’t at least shoot everything in the script (before improvisations) we may run into problems in the edit. On the other hand dialogue is the weakest area of my writing, and given my background in theatre, I should try to allow more time for improvisation on set. I feel the same about the cinematography. I’m the kind of director to go in fully storyboarded. But as I grow in experience and confidence I’d like to experiment more on set.

Eben Bolter (Director of Photography) and you did an impressive job with Confine’s cinematography. You said beauty was a must in the making of your movie.  From your perspective, what’s the share of content (a good plot) and form (good cinematography) that makes a good movie?
Bottom line it has to be the story that comes first. I’m very driven by production design and cinematography, but if I find that I’m having to chose to focus on performances/story or the visuals, in the end it’ll have to be the story that take precedent. I just hope we’re working on a script so strong it kind of takes care of itself. Theoretically the script is complete long before I start working on production so they shouldn’t have to clash too much.

Would you like to share any valuable tips or advice with aspiring filmmakers?
I’m learning so much everyday (in the lead up to the release of Confine) I kind of have loads of tips I’d love to share. Here’re a few : experiment on zero budget shorts (find a camera, edit yourself) – learn your craft before taking other people’s money to make your films. When you’re ready, make sure the script is really bloody good, find as many industry professionals to feedback and take it on, try not to be defensive about it too (I still get defensive, but usually wake up the next morning taking the feedback more seriously). Finally, and this is a really big one if you’re making a feature film, think about your audience and think about how you’re going to reach them – both on a story level, and on a marketing level. There are hundreds of films made every year and there’s no guarantee yours will be picked up. If you pitch your film to a distributor along with behind the scenes videos, smart virals shot on set, pre-recorded cast interviews or ‘shout-outs’ for all sorts of TV channels etc, clever marketing ploys that don’t cost anything extra, and you show that you understand your target audience, you’ll really stand a much better chance of getting your film out there.

Find out more about Confine at http://www.confinemovie.com/

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