This is the whole and unabridged version of the interview published in World of Shorts – the Cannes issue.
Bobby Marko is not your average filmmaker. A career-musician who re-invented himself as a visual „composer”, approaching the challenge of shooting films without the traditional reservations of old Hollywood and with cutting-edge tools that re-shape the way films are made. Read about his latest short destined for the festival circuit and how it got from script to „Action!”.

Tell us about yourself a bit first. You are not a “typical” filmmaker, meaning that you started out as a musician. How did you end up in the film industry then?

Music was my life, I’ve been playing music since I was 6 and had been playing music in many forms up until I “retired”. I was fortunate enough to be a signed artist as well as hired musician. However on September 11, 2001, many areas of the United States slowed to a halt, including music. I relied heavily on the money I made as a touring musician so when the tours I was slated for cancelled I was forced to find other work.

After a few years dabbling in web and print design I came across some archive footage of my band from our last summer tour. I decided to give a go at video as I wanted compile all that archive footage and create a commemorative DVD for all the guys in the band, just a personal project. After  working on it for about 6 months (there was a hard drive crash in there where I had lost everything and had to start over, learning the importance of redundancy) I had found a new love and creative outlet. Fast forward a couple more years, I hooked up with some other creative friends of mine and we took a shot at doing a 48 hour film project here in Nashville, Tennessee (a side note: I highly recommend doing a project like this for anyone who wants to cut their teeth at filmmaking, you’ll either love it or hate it, you’ll find out in 48 hours!). I helped write, storyboard, film and edit that short. After that experience I fell in love with the process of creating a story, capturing it on camera and then seeing all of that footage come to life through the edit process.

On your website, bobbymarko.com, you define yourself as a cinematographer first and foremost, but browsing through your posts it is clear you’re more than that. Which part of filmmaking is closest to you?

Over the years I’ve been refining my role as a filmmaker. I didn’t start as a 1st AC, grip, gaffer, PA or any of those positions. But in the last few years I’ve come to learn more about these roles, asking the people I work with a lot of questions and making it a point to learn something new with each project. I’ve enjoyed that immensely and in turn it has taught me more about what I love to do the most in filmmaking. Filling the roles of Producer and Cinematographer fit me the best. As a Producer, I enjoy helping in the creation of the project, from fine tuning the story to putting a team of creatives together. As a Cinematographer, I love creating the visuals for the story, crafting the scene utilizing composition, movement and lighting.

 

As the Cannes crowd is reading this, you are busy working on your latest project, a short called Fruitcake. Tell us a bit about it, what it is about, when and how will people be able to see it?

Fruitcake is the story of Adam, an eccentric, mid 30’s, lonely man who tries to create relationships in the most unorthodox way. It’s set in a time soon after Adam’s mother passes away, his one and only true relationship. His mother’s home where he still lives is in a neighborhood that, over the years, has transformed in ways he’s not familiar with. But through circumstance he feels forced to try and create new relationships which, for the most part, do not end well. It’s, at times, a comedic, heart wrenching but also redeeming story exposing a concept we all face in our lives… the need for community.

We have begun filming and hope to finish in late summer. It all depends on how much funding we can receive between the two phases of filming. We’re hoping to have it complete in time to start festival submissions early fall. After we have an idea of how the film will do in festivals, we’re looking at online distribution channels such as Daazo. There have been so many pop up in the last 12 months, it feels like we have to re-evaluate as we move along.

Why a short? What do you think is special about short films?

I love the simplicity that short films offer. It’s a challenge and a playground for creativity. It’s a challenge because you have to keep the idea simple but not too simple that the audience figures out the entire plot within the first few minutes. A short forces the writer to engage with the audience the entire 10, 15, 20 minutes, that is not easy. In a full length feature there is a give and take, a writer can allow the audience to have some breathing room and let them think on their own without having their full attention.

A short also allows for much creativity because a filmmaker can take more risks. You have 10 to 20 minutes to not only tell a compelling story but also wow them visually. You don’t have much room to allow for “canned” or “throw away” shots, you have to plan each shot for each scene carefully. So for me as a cinematographer, knowing each shot counts, I pay much more attention to details and craft the shot as best as possible to get the most out of that screen time.

You’ve been working on projects big and small, from commercials to feature films. Is there anything that you see as a common issue filmmakers are battling no matter the size of their project?

Smaller budgets and quicker turnarounds! The cost of producing any kind of media is getting less expensive and more obtainable. However, this is a double edged sword. Fifteen years ago a person with about $5,000 could not make a short film. Today, that’s very possible and the industry producers know it. And with the advances in digital media it takes less time than it did fifteen years ago to create and complete similar productions. However, it still takes similar processes and about the same number of people to do the work. Because of this, I’m seeing less money and less time allotment for many productions, even the ones I’ve helped produce, yet the workload is still the same. This can cause many bottlenecks in the process because people are having to move at breakneck speeds in their roles and often those roles overlap and cause confusion.

This is why I’m a huge proponent of new digital tools for filmmakers and creatives. These new tools not only clear up the bottlenecks and streamlines the work effort but it also allows for the same work to be done on smaller budgets.

Fruitcake is special from at least one aspect: you have been using a new approach to prepare for the shooting, can you tell a bit more about that?

Absolutely! After David Wilkinson wrote the story and a rough script, we started going through that script and refining it a little bit at a time. A few drafts later we had the script in a place where we could start talking about how we wanted to see those scenes visually. So I began making some rough sketches in a separate iPad app from which we had written and refined the script. This was nothing new as this process is the same as I had used on other productions. I would have to use separate apps for different elements of the pre-production process.

It was about that time I was approached by David Andersen of Production Minds. He had seen a blog post I had written about using apps for filmmaking and asked me if I would be interested in beta testing some software his company was developing. He sent me some links describing the software and after only a few minutes of looking over the plethora of features the software would contain, I knew this was a tool I had been hoping someone would develop. One application that could contain the script, storyboards, crew lists, talent lists, location details, and more, even in its infancy I immediately knew the potential the Production Minds Platform contained.

It wasn’t long before I emailed David at PM to let him know I was in pre-production for a short film and I would like to use our project as a way to beta test the software. After a few email exchanges, both of us were excited about the potential of this collaboration.

This PMP platform was so new that you actually started prepping Fruitcake while it was not even released to the world. Wasn’t it a big risk using a system you have never worked with before?

Absolutely, it was a huge risk. But I’m a firm believer in the old saying, “Risk nothing, gain nothing.” I tend to go against the norm when it comes to film production. Remember, I did not grow up becoming a filmmaker so I guess my naiveté to the normal process puts me in a position to not know any better. I take chances because I know the result will be greater if I had not taken the chance at all. Not taking the chance means I did it the same way as before… what can I learn from that?

A while back I put together a live shoot using 7 RED cameras and I was told by many that it had never been done, why would I do that. I had quite a few reasons for choosing to go with RED cameras but just because it had never been done before wasn’t an obstacle for me. I don’t consider myself that much of an innovator or even that I take that much risk but for some reason going against the grain is a reoccurring theme in my career.

You seem like a filmmaker who has a keen eye for the latest technology has to offer. How do you see such applications and new gadgets influencing the way films are produced?

I think we’ve only scratched the surface of how filmmakers are using the new tools and apps of the digital age for filmmaking. So far I’ve seen many apps catering to the old way of how films were produced. This is fine as I’m sure it’s a jumping off point. However, the process of filmmaking is changing and I think it’s important that creatives and developers continue to work closely to produce new tools that are in sync with the latest processes of developing all kinds of media. Areas such as live events, corporate media, commercials, music videos, short and full feature films, documentaries –  there is no one way to create any of these mediums anymore. I don’t know if it’s the applications and gadgets that create the path for which films are produced. I think the evolving process of how we create is what’s driving the newer technologies.

The two feature length documentaries I helped produce and create, I assure you, were not created using typical methods. Media producers these days are faced with all sorts of challenges that force us to throw out tradition and make things happen the best way we know how. New technologies and applications can help us as long as we are in sync. That kind of synergy will allow us producers to create more efficiently and have faithful consumers for the developers. Creating more efficiently means better and more collaboration and also a higher degree of creativity.

Cloud technology has a big impact on our lives even today, but as mobile devices and faster internet connections proliferate, it’s not difficult to see a world where filmmakers from all continents are working together in real time. How do you see the film industry in say 5-10 years? Do you still see huge production hubs like Hollywood or is it a world of international indie projects created by enthusiastic and tech-savvy young filmmakers who want to conquer the small and the big screens around the Globe?

Well, I never made claims to have knowledge of industry traits, however, from where I stand, seeing what has been transpiring in the industry in just the last 4 to 5 years, the trend in filmmaking is beginning to favor independent filmmakers and producers. If that trend continues at the rate I’m seeing, you could very well see Hollywood having a smaller piece of the movie making pie, if you will. I don’t have figures to prove this point but just look at the number of Independent films that were nominated at the 2013 Oscars, almost 50 films!

I would love to see a stronger global collaboration with filmmakers and I think that is very possible and a very tangible reality that I hope happens soon. It’s evident in my relationship with Production Minds; a software company in Hungary (one of my ancestry nations I might add!) collaborates with a filmmaker in the United States! Seeing that kind of relational effort move the needle in the filmmaking world tells me that a more global creative effort is very accessible and one I look forward to seeing.

One final question: after wrapping up Fruitcake, what are your plans for the near future? Care to fill us in on your upcoming projects?

For the first time in my career I’ve found myself prepping for one film while still trying to release another. The documentary Becoming Fools that I helped produce and was the director of photography is currently going through the film festival circuit. I’m working with director Scott Moore in planning what we hope will be a fall screening tour in the United States. But aside from seeing that through as well as getting Fruitcake released I’m fairly certain I’m going to take a break from full length documentaries. I’m looking at a few potential story ideas to collaborate on, all of them very strong, and of course, all of them needing a lot of money! But I’m fairly certain a full feature narrative film is most likely my next large production, hopefully with companies like Production Minds lighting the way for a bright future in filmmaking. I try not to look too far forward though. What I tend to plan for and what God’s good humor has in store for me are often at odds!

Text: David Andersen