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by dr andrew cousins

In Conversation with Mark "Maverick" Marcus

Mark Marcus is a rising star in British cinema. A self-styled "maverick" filmmaker he has remained fiercely independent despite many advances by Hollywood over the past year. His short films have won a plethora of awards: The Golden Lenscap, The Silver Daffodil of Vienna and the Mike Figgis Award for Best Use of his Girlfriend in a Leading Role. His films are bold and uncompromising, attracting as much criticism as they do praise. He is currently about to start work on his first feature film, a tale of gangsters set against the backdrop of the seamier side of Norwich.

AC. How would you describe yourself?

MM. No, man. First mistake.

AC. Pardon?

MM. With your first question you’re trying to pigeonhole me. Trying to stick a label on me. Trying to pin me down. Don’t judge me, man. Read my writing, watch my films. Form your own opinion.

AC. I already am. Er, I understand that you were kicked out of the National Film School?

MM. They didn’t kick me out. I left. That place couldn’t teach me anything about filmmaking. They wanted me to go to lectures and stuff. You can’t learn like that. I can’t even make some toast without unconsciously breaking it down into a series of shots. It’s instinctive, right? I am a camera. It’s that simple.

AC. What about the criticism that your first short, "Another Student Film about Drugs" was largely just a shallow sub-Tarrantino rip-off that plagiarised all its best dialogue from various comic books?

MM. There’s no evidence to support that.

AC. Apart from the six successful lawsuits by Marvel and DC Comics for copyright infringement?

MM. Oh, that evidence. We settled out of court so I can’t really comment.

AC. What is your fundamental approach to directing?

MM. Hitchcock said, "Actors are like cattle". That’s wrong. They’re much lower down the food chain then that. Have you ever spoken to one? All they talk about is who they’ve worked with or what they’ve just been working on or what they’re working on next. They’re walking, talking boasting machines. I quite often take an electric cattle prod onto the set with me. I don’t use it on them but once they see it they don’t give me any more trouble. On ‘The Exorcist’, William Friedkin used to take a shotgun onto the set and fire it at random intervals. He understood about keeping actors on their toes.

AC. Has an actor ever walked off one of your films?

MM. Frequently. It doesn’t worry me. Actors are like a cheap coffee mug — easily replaceable. I once had an actor come up to me on the first day of shooting and say, "My character needs glasses". "What your character really needs", I replied, "is the bus-fare home because you’re fired". As I said, I don’t stand for any nonsense. Once people understand that they’re fine. And if they don't then they’re sacked.

AC. It’s not just actors that have a problem with you is it? James Ferman (Former Head of the British Board of Film Classification) once called you, "that odious little turd" for example.

MM. That goes back to a film I made called ‘Chainsaw Death Zombies’ which they refused to approve for release.

AC. Wasn’t that on the grounds that it was blasphemous?

MM. It was for two reasons. One was that they said it contained nothing more then gratuitous sickeningly explicit violence. The other was that it contained a flashback scene that they said was blasphemous. Quite how showing a zombified Jesus cutting the head off Mary Magdalene with a rusty chainsaw is blasphemous I’ll never know. It could have been because Jesus was also holding a crack pipe but frankly it’s a mystery to me.

AC. In fact the BBFC panel that viewed the film were so traumatised by the experience that they had to seek counselling afterwards didn’t they?

MM. They all need to see a psychiatrist, if you ask me.

AC. What about your film ‘Psychedelica’ which was variously described by critics as "baffling", "impenetrable" and which Sight and Sound declared as "crap".

MM. People just don’t know what to make of a film sometimes. Film is an artistic medium. That was an abstract piece. You have to look at the deeper sub-text to find the meaning.

AC. What is the sub-text of ‘Psychedelica’?

MM. I have no idea.

AC. You were recently accused of getting £50,000 from the Film Council to make a short film, which you spent instead on drugs and high-class prostitutes…

MM. There were some accusations but they never had any evidence. Well apart from the bit about the drugs and prostitutes. There was quite a lot of evidence to support that. But you can prove anything with facts can’t you?

AC. Tell us about the feature that you’re working on.

MM. Well, I have many projects at various stages of development. But I’m about to start shooting, "Die Screaming with Sharp Things in your Head". I’d describe it as Goodfellas meets Taxi Driver meets Lethal Weapon but set in East Anglia. It’s got a brilliant script. Which I wrote.

AC. And who is appearing in the film?

MM. One thing that I’m constantly hearing is that we don’t have an equivalent of De Niro in this country. That there’s nobody who can play a decent bad guy. Anybody who’s seen ‘Annie: The Musical’ can’t fail to have been terrified by Tim Curry’s portrayal of the villain. He does this trick of looking like he’s playing the part in a very camp, over-the-top way but is actually being very subtle in a way not unlike a young Gielguid. I think he’s brilliant.

We’ve also got Christopher Strauli, who many people may remember as ‘Third patient’ in the sitcom ‘Only When I Laugh’ and Anna Friel is doing a couple of days with us. Rhys Ifans has a part as well. We have to use him because the Film Council insist that he must be in every British film made from now on. I don’t get involved with the politics. I leave that to the producer. I’m an artist.

AC. Mark Marcus, thank you.

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