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  • Writer's pictureLouie Young

Birmingham Director Marcus Markou talks about his film upbringing, past work & upcoming projects.

Marcus Markou grew up in Birmingham, UK, in a small Greek Cypriot community and is also a University of Birmingham graduate, the city is in his DNA. With many of his films showing at local cinemas for £1, Markou certainly gives back to his local community with his personal and touching pieces of film.

Being an Actor, Writer, Producer, Director and even his own distributor, there's not a lot Marcus can't do in the industry but what was his journey that got him to where he is today?

Marcus Markou on the set of 'The Wife and Her House Husband.' PC:Marcus Markou

What early memories of film do you have from your childhood that inspired you to become a film maker?

I always dabbled with photography and camcorders when I was younger. My favourite toy when I was five was an old Kodak camera. And like every child, I loved films and going to the cinema. But I didn’t ever imagine myself making movies till my late 30s. Until then, I always saw myself as a writer. I wrote my first play when I was at University, when I was 20 and continued to write plays till my 30s.

It was only when someone suggested that a play I wrote for the stage should be made into a film, did I consider getting involved with movie making. That took me to a part time filmmaking course in my late 30s. I then found, whilst at film school, I had a natural grasp of the artform which was influenced by my love of movies. When I was a kid, in Birmingham, in the late 70s, we were one of the first families I can remember, if not the only family, to have VHS video recorder – a huge Panasonic.

My mother was an film buff and recorded films that included classics Some Like It Hot and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. This was late 70s/ early 80s and there was nothing on TV. Literally, nothing. It would be just a blank screen. So of course, as kids, my brothers and I would just play these films that my mother had recorded. And we watched them over and over again. I think by the time I was 10 I had seen "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" around 30 or 40 times! Without knowing it, I was getting an education in story structure, performance, dialogue etc. And then in the 80s with the boom of video rental shops, I just used to watch everything I could.

Did you study film making or did you enter the industry another way?

In my late 30s I went to Met Film school and did a part time filmmaking course. It was every Wednesday night and every other weekend (from what I remember) for about six months and it concluded in making a short film – which I did – which was called “The Last Temptation of Chris” – which you can view here:

What does the typical film making process look like for you or does it change every time depending on the story?

It always starts with the story. Before anything else, I am a writer. So it starts with a story idea and I make as many notes as I can about that story, looking for its characters and some scenes that jump out. I work hard to find an ending – where is this heading? I try and find a character who goes on that journey of growth and change. And then, once I have all these ideas and notes together and characters, then do a Scene-by-Scene outline. Around 50 or so scenes that will make up the movie. I then tweak these scenes and try and see it as a story that unfolds – so I will remove scenes and add a few too. Each of these scene outlines is a paragraph. Once I am happy with that outline, I will then write the dialogue and create the scenes.

Marcus directing actors on location in The Wife and Her House Husband and stills from the film. PC: Markus Markou

Once I have a screenplay then then next stage is to budget it. And that requires a Line Producer. Once that is done, whether it’s a short of feature film, you then have to find the money. For a feature film, and this is what I am doing currently, you need to attach the talent that will raise the finance. However, with previous projects, I have financed them myself through my own business activities that are non film making related.

You’re a Director, Actor, Producer and Writer, how do you balance the workload and which of the roles do you get more enjoyment from?

I do get enjoyment from all the roles. As an independent filmmaker, you do have to wear all the hats and you wear them at different times. For example, even with my last two feature films I have also been the distributor. I don’t prefer any role over the other – and I enjoy them all equally. Because they ultimately form part of that role called “filmmaker”. And some filmmakers extend that to writing the music or overseeing all the production design – as Wes Anderson does in his movies – which is something I don’t do on my films. The beauty of being the “filmmaker” is that you can get your hands dirty in all departments.

How do you find translating the ideas in your head to on screen?

You have to go with your instinct. You have to go with a gut feel for what will work or not. And the beauty of the filmmaking process is that you are effectively collecting all your material for an edit. The edit is where you make the film. And the filmmaking process is really about collecting the material for the edit. This means, you can try different things during takes if you feel that an idea isn’t translating from the page.

What is the directing work you’ve done and what upcoming projects do you have?

I’ve made three short films and two feature films and I am now working on my third feature film called “Two Kids” which is the biggest budget of all the projects and will require me to work with others to realise it. It’s exciting because I have attached a wonderful actor who will help raise the money and a Producer who is very experienced in making indie films.

If there was one thing you could change about the film industry, what would it be and why?

I would extend the tax credit that filmmakers get to make films to exhibitors (the cinemas) to distribute the films. That way, we would see more British movies being played on our screens. The tax credit (which is going to 34% of the budget (see here) should somehow be extended to distributors in the UK to distribute and screen the British films that have benefited from it.

You’ve screened your films for £1 across multiple cinema chains across the country, how did this idea come about?

For my latest release, the "Wife and Her House Husband", I didn’t have recognised house hold names and it was microbudget – so I needed to get the attention of the press by doing £1 tickets. And by and large that worked!

Cinema poster for 'The Wife and Her House Husband'. PC: Marcus Markou.

What’s your favourite film and why?

I have so many favourite films. It is impossible to pick just one! But if I absolutely had to it would probably be “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

You’re a self-professed Aston Villa fanatic, is there one moment in the club's history that you think you could make a film about?

I think someone is already making a movie of Villa winning the European Cup. I think that’s the obvious one to make.

As a University of Birmingham graduate, you must know about some of the rich history involved with the city. From Black Sabbath to Cadburys, what piece of Birmingham history would you like to make a film about if given the chance?

That’s a very good question. I’d probably have to make it about the Greek community in Birmingham, set in the 1970s.

What advice would you give to young film makers entering the industry?

Always follow your heart. Tell the story that is closest to your own heart. That’s the story you will feel most passionately about.

Want to see more of Marcus' work? Check out his YouTube channel here or you can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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