An interview with Mark Owen | RUEFUL WARRIOR | VMA21 BEST SCI-FI | February Edition | By Silvia Nittoli
Mankind remains the most destructive force on Earth and it should be addressed even more so through the absurdity of war. This is the message that London-based writer and director Mark Owen wanted to convey to the watching world with his latest work, Rueful Warrior. A message that clearly sums up the overall picture and that is strengthened by the use of a quote by Eisenhower at the end of the movie.
In this short movie, Owen unveils the story of an alien warrior, Yalalia, played by Michelle Fahrenheim, as she tries to get ahold of water inside a human facility that is necessary for her in order to save her planet and its civilization. As soon as she arrives here, she has to confront and combat an army of human soldiers, engaging in a long and intense fight-sequence.
While the movie feels like a blast from the past, specifically from the late '80s when the sci-fi action thrillers had their magic moment, the overall style and the message are indeed very modern. Rueful Warrior also stars Oliver Park, Claire Cartwright, Christina Forrest, Simon Pengelly, Georgia Annable, James Ballanger, and Jordan Dumaurier.
• Mark, congratulations on your award at the Vegas Movie Awards™.
Your movie, Rueful Warrior, is very intense and keeps the audience hooked with a very long action scene but at the same time, delivering a deep message. How did all these aspects come to life?
This film was a result of writing a feature film script over a decade ago, which had an expanded plot associated with the same storyline here. There was a huge action sequence in the middle of the script, which involved one of the minor characters essentially becoming redundant to that story. I then thought about her journey more and contemplated how interesting it might be to actually follow this character round the next corner she disappears from and see what happens to her. This alone was an intriguing concept for me and one that would allow me to bring this fictional universe to an audience quicker and with the desire to explore a subject so unrelentingly topical in nature; the futility of war.
• Your short movie feels like a blast from the past. Did you get any specific inspiration from action films/sci-fi thrillers from the 80s?
It would be a total fabrication if I said I didn’t but I don’t shy away from it. You can tell we had fun making this! Ultimately there were more action influences than science fiction because we wanted a very old-school guns and fists movie. Naturally, we delved into a bit of Indiana Jones and Die Hard with the endless punches, bloody brutality, and general grappling. I was absolutely fixated on the idea of adopting good old-fashioned blood squibs where possible and general blood make-up! It was an enjoyable sight to see all the actors with bruised and bloody faces and still fighting away at each other and refreshing to see that women can take a punch too, in a very male-dominated genre. We’ve seen some of the strongest action heroes out there are in fact action heroines and I wanted to extend that theme. We had 8 characters, each with their own unique way of fighting. You get hints of different skills from each of them, but, yes, I would say more action influences than science fiction.
I wanted to unveil a strong character that was so well-oiled with emotional grief and physical grit, yet flawed at the same time.
• Are there any directors that were a form of inspiration for you?
I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from mainstream directors over the years and, although this will sound extremely clichéd, Spielberg’s films were what I grew up with. His films were mesmerizing and groundbreaking in their stories and execution. His films of the 70s and 80s especially immersed me into a mixture of magic, adventure, horror, and science fiction, and was accustomed to finding ways of creating illusion and recognizing the power and impact these films had on people. Away from filming action scenes, I would say I look closely at character close-ups in movies. Spielberg does this brilliantly, but you’ll also see glimpses of this in the subtler side of Michael Mann’s work. What’s really being said by their facial expression when they’re not saying anything at all? I was particularly keen to address this in the film’s final scene.
• How would you describe the character of Yalalia?
Yalalia is a pacifist who has been thrown in the deep end by her native superiors with minimal fighting experience. She sympathizes with the plight of war and can’t see any logic in it any more than the average human. Nevertheless, despite her mission, she knows to defend her heritage with pride. No matter how she tries to see reason, she is met with objection. This is a one-woman battle, alone without help, and against overwhelming odds. However, I wanted to unveil a strong character that was so well-oiled with emotional grief and physical grit, yet flawed at the same time. She is not the most skilled combatant but is one of the most dogged, which made for an intriguing dilemma in her journey. She is almost the perfect embodiment of a reluctant but able fighter. Once I knew my character inside out, the rest of the story fell into place rather quickly.
• How did you manage to give this 80s movie vibes but at the same time making the movie modern and fresh?
I guess a lot of that came down to the production design, costumes, and props. The film is set only marginally in the future, but you won’t necessarily notice. I made the obvious connection with Yalalia’s futuristic gun and the fact that the soldier squad made light of her appearance, based on an earlier coming together prior to the film’s opening shot. Aside from Yalalia’s costume and gun, everything else looks real in terms of production design. Yalalia wears a mix of dark blues and bright yellow leather, which gets steadily dirtier as the movie progresses. That was part of the visual aesthetic that we talked about as a hybrid between the past and something modern. I would say the visual effects of Yalalia’s gun and superpower also helped give the film a more modern feel. The location was real, except for the propeller and therefore it was left down to the narrative and the fact that the moral of the story is still relevant today.
• What were the challenges in shooting this movie?
Well, I could probably write a book on this! Every movie has its challenges but I look back at the budget sheet occasionally and wonder how I even made everything happen, not just from a financial point of view but also from a logistical one. I would also say that adapting the fight training for the filming location was a challenge but then seeing the special effects rig for certain shots was awesome. However, despite the tough action scenes and shooting underwater, the biggest challenge for me as a storyteller was to blend the fun part of shooting this with the serious nature of the overall message. I wasn’t sure it would work so I had a chat with Mark Travis who gives directing masterclasses and I asked him his opinion and he immediately replied with “Have you seen Deadpool?” I knew exactly what he meant and that was the only reassurance I needed to pull it off.
• How did you manage to film the underwater scenes?
We shot these scenes in a water tank in Essex in England. We had an option to shoot in a swimming pool, but Zac Macaulay, our amazing underwater photographer, was advising me that it was not ideal to shoot in that because the chlorine makes it almost impossible for anyone to see anything in front of their faces. The water tank was completely clear water and we were able to secure it along with safety divers that were able to train Michelle and Oliver quickly and efficiently. It was a tough day for them performing underwater, especially as Michelle’s costume was real leather and we were always worried whether it would shrink. We only had one of her costumes, so we had to shoot pretty much chronologically. Our talented fight choreographer, Joe Golby, arranged the underwater fight. The actors were able to hear his instructions through an underwater hydrophone. The divers would give them oxygen then quickly swim out of the frame and then action would be called. It was very stop and start at times, but the footage Zac captured was incredible, so it was delightful to have such amazing material to piece together in the final cut.
• It was very clear to me that your movie is delivering a message that goes beyond the enjoyable action scenes. Can you talk about that?
Despite the fun part of making this film, it is heavily balanced by the serious message within – notably the futility of war. Who makes the decisions at the very top? Who chooses to follow those commands and pass them down to others and how much does one soldier obey them and another choose to take a step back? We all have a duty, not just filmmakers and artists, to keep flagging up this preposterous and nonsensical arena of warfare. I’m not just a filmmaker but also a human here. Ultimately, this movie is what it is like to be human, and the regrets of being human, even for Yalalia who perhaps connects with this feeling more than anyone else, despite her alien heritage.
• You wrote and directed. What do you like about each aspect and how differently do you approach them?
I would say that firstly I’m a storyteller. Normally, the ideas can come from a range of sources, but ultimately it comes down to telling a coherent story. I’ve never considered myself a screenwriter, but most often I will need something described in such detail or come up with a certain piece of dialogue that I always end up penning the script myself. I then always write something with a view to directing it. It’s all part of the process but, although exhausting, it’s refreshing and hopefully rewarding to see the film idea progress from inception to final delivery. With my director’s hat on, I can get inspiration from anywhere, though I usually have an internal process of how I go about fleshing everything out. The fact that the film has done so well on the festival circuit is a bonus, but it’s strange sometimes to think that this all materialized because of a tiny crazy idea in my head! Directing is all about learning, nurturing, and absorbing through osmosis. I’m not much of a reader, so I learn from tutorials, practical workshops, and just watching a lot of movies. I would say I’m always learning, but if I can give something back and pass my knowledge onto others one day then that will be rewarding.
Directing is all about learning, nurturing, and absorbing through osmosis.
• What are your next projects?
As experienced as I feel, I’ve only really tackled science fiction and drama in my previous work. I have scripts written for a comedy and a horror. I want to see where my own strengths lie and test my versatility as a director. After that, I’m focussing 100% on a sci-fi TV show, which I’m penning with Emmalie El Fadli, my friend and Editor of “Rueful Warrior”, and this will hopefully be making waves in the not too distant future. Furthermore, such is the success of “Rueful Warrior”, a feature version that is currently being penned due to the seemingly popular demand. So watch this space!