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Waffling With...Tobias Tobbell

The writer-director of new UK thriller 'Confine' spoke to TMW's Jason Abbey.


When did you first get into film?

I started writing I suppose when I was about 11 years old. I just wrote long stories, inspired by watching films. I started making short films a few years later, that was driven by friends. I wanted to get stuck in, using video cameras and doing VHS to VHS editing and all that stuff. I guess I wouldn't have considered myself fully into it until I went to University when I joined the drama society and loved it and just started writing prolifically. Directing, acting in loads and loads of plays.

So you didn't go to film school until after University then?

I never did film school, but I did make a lot of short films. I did go to Goldsmith's to do this course called 'Feature Film' but it was not film making, it was more producing. It was much more academic than film school. By the time I went there, the way you got onto this course was that you had to have made a feature length film script already. Then you had to develop it, to be ready to finance it when you finished the course. It was an unusual but interesting course.

What film makers have inspired you over the years?

It's tricky to say in terms of specific film makers. Ridley Scott's films come up again and again, and Stanley Kubrick when I was younger as well. Miyazaki, have you heard of him?

Yes, animation, The Studio Ghibli guy.

I love escapism, so he has always been a massive influence. I will never make animation but I just love watching his stuff. They are very inspiring but I won't try and go away and do anything like his work, although in my first few short films I did sometimes incorporate a bit of animation, just for a bit of fun. I've done all sorts of experimental crap to be honest just as a way of learning. As I didn't go to film school it was just a good way to see what works and what doesn't work. Just making it and see what happens.

That's probably the best way to learn in some ways.

I totally agree. I'm very on board with just trying it and seeing what happens.

With the availability of cheap digital cameras and online editing suites, it's possible to just learn from home.

I completely agree. Unless you're going to do something more specific like learning to become a cinematographer, in which case film school will be invaluable because you will learn about film stocks and f-stops. But in terms of being a storyteller then, yeah, go and make loads of short films. Cheap and cheerful, digital cameras. Teach yourself Final Cut Pro at home or I-Movie or whatever you've got. Bada bing bada boom.


What was the budget of the film?

Officially it was a micro budget. We didn't have loads of money to splash around. We had to be really clever because we were building a set from scratch, and it was a big set. For us as low budget film makers it was a big set anyway. Dealing with dressing it with thousands and thousands of books and magazines, beautiful wooden floors, paintings all over the walls each one worth 15-20 grand. We had to be very clever about how we sourced it because we couldn't hire it and we couldn't buy it. By doing that we could spend more money on the crew and light it nicely.

Was it always the intention when you came up with the idea to do it all on set? Or, initially, were you going to film on location?

I always wanted to do the film on a set. I've always loved production design and I love sets. I like designing these things and building them. We did early on start talking about using a location as it seems as though it would be cheaper and more feasible. But you get to a point when you're looking at a flat of a certain size and quality and looking at very pretty warehouse conversions or Georgian flats that you realize they are really bloody expensive to use. There are catering buses, trailers for make up and changing. Suddenly using a location becomes three times the amount it would cost to use a set.

I would imagine with the set it gives you more freedom visually as well; to be able to move out walls when you are shooting rather than being restricted by the location.

That's exactly why I wanted a set. You get to light it how you want. You get to do these big pretty jib shots overhead. You'll notice there are quite a lot of over the top shots. It was fun getting the camera into every little nook and cranny which on location we certainly wouldn't have been able to do, that's for sure.

How long was the shoot?

The shoot was 30 days. We only had 6 weeks to hire the studio so we spent the first week building the set and the next 5 weeks shooting but we had only finished the living room set by the time we started shooting. It was all built but it hadn't been dressed for props yet. So we started shooting around that. But we had a young crew and everyone got on really well. Within the first 3 days Eliza (Bennett) and Daisy (Lowe) were laughing all the time and chatting with each other. I've noticed a lot of the crew working together on other projects. People like me, the director, will only do one film every couple of years. By now they have all done another six or seven feature films and I'm envious of their developing friendships while I sit on my own developing the next one. I'm dying to get back on a set. It will happen hopefully.


How did you get the cast for the film?

The cast we worked on for a while, talking to different people and, because it's not a big budget film, you have to find people who really want to play these characters but who are also enough of a name that they are going to have fans out there, who will watch the film because of them. Alfie (Allen) and Eliza were pretty straight forward to get on-board. I had a conversation quite early on with both of them. I clicked with Alfie very quickly, he was snowboarding at the time so we talked over Skype for the first time. He got up at 6am to do it before he went boarding for the day. We spent most of the time talking about skiing and boarding, which resorts we like and all that sort of stuff.

Was that prior to 'Game of Thrones'?

That was just after Season One. Season Two had just been completed when we started shooting 'Confine'.

How did Daisy Lowe become involved?

Daisy was quite different actually. Predominantly we were looking for actresses who looked like models. We had cast someone in the role of Pippa originally and two weeks before the shoot she had to leave for personal reasons, so we had to find someone. We needed someone very quickly as we had to do costume fittings and prosthetics. The casting director had a connection to Daisy so we met her. I was conscious of the fact she is a model and not an actress but I realized she responded really well to direction and she got her head round the character very quickly and really empathized with her. She got the script on Thursday, Friday we were auditioning, Saturday she was cast and Monday she was fitted in costume.

She was surprisingly good in it.

It's a tough role i think.

You always, as an audience, have a preconceived idea that it's stunt casting to sell the film, as she has a following. But there is a performance there that's quite understated.

She did a very good job. She was really nervous about the whole thing, because she is carrying the film. I know that Kayleigh does all the talking but Pippa is the protagonist so it's pretty daunting for someone new to acting. Even if you've been a wannabe actor your whole life, to take on that role where you don't get to talk too much and throw tantrums or initiate fights, throughout you're just sat on a floor tied up. She is so reactivate. I will never write a character like Pippa again as a protagonist. It's really hard with such a passive character to drive the story forward.


What has the response been like at some of the festivals?

Festivals have been quite interesting actually. Like any film, it has its audience. It's a three-hander and some people may find it too theatrical or some people may love little claustrophobic thrillers like this. We ended up playing at about 21 festivals and across those festivals we ended up with 13-14 awards. It's gone down well at some and at others it's just floated by, and that was that. It's been a nice response. It gave me a chance to go back to the edit after nine months of festivals and cut out some of the lumpier dialogue scenes. Sitting with that many audiences and getting that objectivity you really start picking up on the flaws of the film. It gives you the chance to do a kind of test screening.

Had you worked with the cinematographer prior to this?

No. Eben (Bolter) and I clicked on meeting. Usually a DoP and director form a relationship when they get on. I know they can also have massive falling-outs if they don't click, which can be a problem, I have experienced that in the past. Eben was great as we agreed on the same films, looking at movies like 'Road to Perdition' for lighting styles because we were really going for the practical lighting but also low light which is why we used the Arri Alexa Camera. I came in with a full storyboard in a massive folder. Every shot was storyboarded so his job was to go through the boards with me and make them better. That is one of the reasons that, although the film is micro budget, it is so slick, because we got to spend a lot of time planning how we were going to glide it round the set so it didn't feel too static.
I'm pleased I did it like that. I was terrified of making mistakes so I was meticulous in my planning. On the next one I'm feeling a bit more confident to be able to go in with a shot list and a few key scenes storyboarded, having spoken in detail with the DoP about the style and the different locations and lighting and all the rest of it. But actually trying to be on set a little more free to spot shots. This may mean more time and a longer shoot. No doubt the next film will be a longer shoot but it'll be just as rushed and tight as this one.

Do you have anything else in the pipeline?

I have a couple of projects I've been working on for the last few years. The project I want to make next will be something low budget set on a research base on another planet. It's a six character sci-fi thriller. It will be a relatively small location again so we have more control but it will be a lot more action orientated than 'Confine'. It's essentially a heist story. It's on the second draft at the moment, I'm sure there will be a draft three and four before shooting. I'd love to be shooting by the end of the year or early next year. I'm getting married next year so I'd love to have the next film done and in post by the time it happens, which will give me a break before I start work on the next one.


Jason Abbey