Saturday, July 25, 2009

Interview: Writer/director Marco Duran delivers suspense and realism with debut film "Within"

The film Within is a member of the horror and paranormal genres, but what makes it truly scary is what is not actually seen onscreen. The film produces as much suspense as it provokes character contemplation - a contemplation that jumps off the screen and lurks in the minds of the viewers - and multiple viewings will reveal even more layers and clues as to who or what is driving the main character.

Within breaks formulaic boundaries, and ends in such a resounding and unconventional fashion that viewers are suddenly urged to ask themselves some of the same questions Peter, the conflicted main character, asks himself throughout the film. The film's plot doesn't end when the credits roll; the plot becomes ours - the plot, in fact, is ours.

Within is presented by first-time writer/director Marco Duran, stars Anthony Rutowicz as Peter, and is distributed by Portrait Pictures and Sophisto Films. While Within will hit the indie film festival circuit later in 2009, you can purchase the DVD now at, where you can also listen to original music from the film, view cast/crew bios, and buy related merchandise. You can also join the film's Facebook group at

Marco recently provided with this exclusive interview about his experience making the film.

DAVID WU: You mention in your DVD commentary that the initial write-up of the storyline consisted of 114 pages - was that 114 pages of actual screenplay?

MARCO DURAN: That was the story in script version. I don't prefer to initially write that way though. I tend to write in regular prose, like a book, so the story was done in 46 pages in prose, and when Anthony (co-producer) translated it to script, it came out to 114 pages.

DAVID: What percentage of that script actually made it onto film?

MARCO: That's hard to say. The story as a whole, once I finished writing it, didn't change all that much. However, of the actual dialogue, I'd say 85 to 90 percent of it made it on screen. Probably less.

DAVID: Being that you didn't have any experience in making films prior to Within, what was it that motivated you to get into this particular project?

MARCO: I enjoy telling stories. I didn't set out to make a movie. I set out to tell a story. By the time the script was done, I'd been living with the story for three months. It was at that point, if I remember correctly, that the offer was given to me to direct when I thought I was just going to write it. So I accepted the director role as well. The whole thing sort of fell in my lap. What motivated me was that this scared me to no end.

DAVID: Would you consider this film autobiographical in any way?

MARCO: They do say to write what you know. I suppose the story is, in a way, my story. The things that I want to do, I don't do. And the things that I don't want to do, that's what I end up doing.

DAVID: The acting throughout the film was very natural, and never "over the top." How was it that, as a first time director, you were able to instill that "naturalness" in your actors?

MARCO: I'm glad that you felt that way. Thank you. I did a few things that I think contributed to that effect.

First of all, I met with all the actors individually and talked them through their character arcs. I also gave them a questionnaire with very mundane questions that they had to answer for their characters - for instance: What music do you listen to? Do you listen to it loud or soft? What is the most traumatic event in your life? What is your favorite book? Do you eat breakfast often or only occasionally?

Secondly, I gave them all free reign to improvise. I said: "You know where this scene is going, what the purpose of this line is. Say it however you would say it. Just make sure we get from point A to point B."

DAVID: Based on their questionnaire answers, did you end up changing any part of the plot or script to work with their tendencies and values?

MARCO: Yes. Some things affected the way that they treated each other, some things affected the way that they carried themselves.

Christopher Wyllie, Russ in the film, wrote about his childhood and how he was picked on, but was good at school and especially chemistry. That worked in well. And that changed the dynamic of Russ and Kilroy. Kilroy became the guy with the money, the rich boy thrill seeker - and Russ being the more level-headed and smarter of the two.

I wanted the actors/actresses to embody their characters, which meant I really had to know the story to know what was essential and what was non-essential. The essentials would not be changed by what the actors brought up. In fact some of their answers to the questionnaire encroached on the essentials and I had to steer the actors back and "correct" their answers. But any of the non-essentials were fair game and, like you said, endeared the characters to the actors.

DAVID: Which scene would you say was the toughest to film?

MARCO: The showdown between Adam and Eddie was the toughest scene to write, I wanted to make sure they felt equal. The scenes in the woods were physically the toughest scenes to shoot since they all took place at night. We shot from 6 pm to 6 am on Saturday and Sunday to get all that footage.

DAVID: Adam and Eddie (not to give away too much in this interview to the audience) are two of the more peculiar characters in the film - and many clues seem to be peppered throughout the film as to WHO they are. Did you do a lot of research as to which clues you would be using?

MARCO: There were some clues that were thought out before, like the car reveal, and there were some that were made up on the spot. But since I knew where we were going, I knew whether or not something would work in the scene. I'm sure there are clues I placed throughout that will never be picked up on.

DAVID: How about the "disappearing ink" bit? Was that premeditated?

MARCO: Yes. And the exact amount of frames through which the ink disappeared was thoroughly discussed. Too little and it wasn't noticeable. Too many and we were spoon feeding the audience.

DAVID: Does the year 1984 have any significance?

MARCO: The year of Anthony's birth, I believe. Where'd you pick that up?

DAVID: Saw that on Eddie's funky business card!

MARCO: Ah yes, "Serving you since 1984" - so yeah, it was how old Peter was supposed to be at that time.

For Eddie's phone number, I know the first three digits are from the Left Behind series: 6 times 6 times 6 (216). The next three are 555. The last four digits are Anthony's age and my age at the time. So Satan... Hollywood... our ages.

DAVID: This film seemed very fun to make - would you say it was fun most of the time, or just some of the time?

MARCO: On our last day of filming as soon as I said "It's a wrap," I vowed to never make another film again. Of course that's now changed. It's in hindsight that it was fun. Honestly, it was my own fault because I was so busy and wearing so many hats, I didn't have much time to reflect and go "Hey, I'm making a film. Wow, that's cool!"

DAVID: William Salsbury, who did most of the film's music, added so much to the mood of the film - did Bill write the music after seeing rough cuts of the film, or did you film after you had heard much of the music beforehand?

MARCO: Bill was a late addition to the crew, but as you said, he added a lot. He was writing to final cuts of the film, so he knew how long to make the music cues.

DAVID: Is it true that music helped fuel much of the writing of this film?

MARCO: Yes. Music in my head and in my iPod, yes. I wrote three scenes to specific songs: The party scene to Paul Oakenfold's version of The Sneaker Pimps "Six Underground." The car chase to Porno for Pyros' "Tahitian Moon." And the final battle to Radiohead's "Street Spirit."

I'm still doing that. It helps me to envision a scene since I'm a musician before I'm a writer. For a movie I'm working on, I have the beginning mapped out to N.E.R.D.s "Don't worry about it"

DAVID: What would say is most similar between songwriting or performing music, and writing a film?

MARCO: The ability to be creative. Creating things whether they be spelled out with notes or with letters or with brushstrokes or with camera moves... just bringing something out of your head and into the world is so fun and so satisfying.

DAVID: You're a worship leader at church, right?

MARCO: Not currently. Right now I'm just helping out by singing and playing guitar.

DAVID: I know your pastor allowed you and the crew to use his house for certain scenes. What did he think of the finished product?

MARCO: The last time he saw it, it was the second or third cut of the movie, which was about 20 minutes longer. I believe he enjoyed it. I know he didn't enjoy all the language being shouted in his living room during the final battle. But overall, he liked it.

It has been interesting making something like this with my convictions. It has made me question what kind of a influence the film will be to others.

What I was going for was infusing some semblance of reality into a very unrealistic story. Some would argue that reality doesn't factor into movie making - that if they wanted to see reality they could walk out their door. And that's it's none of my business spreading more of that "reality" around. Overall though, I feel the moral is clear: If you follow the wide road, you'll end up in the wrong place.

DAVID: One of the best bits of the film was the initial party scene - it was unlike any other party scene I'd ever seen on film. You all threw an actual party, right?


DAVID: Where did your crew find all those bongs?

MARCO: I'm sure it was theirs. Someone's. They didn't have to go to far to find them.

DAVID: How much of the party activity was actually happening, and not scripted?

MARCO: All happened, most non-scripted. The keg stand, the coke pass-off, and the beer chugging were the only things scripted. Everything else was the DP or Anthony or someone else on the cast making stuff up. Whoever had the idea, if we were good on time, we tried everything.

The toughest thing was getting every single person that showed up for the party to sign a release form when they thought they were just coming to a party.

DAVID: What fascinated me was the editing for that scene - especially the sped up portion where only Peter was the one "existing in real time."

MARCO: Good, that was the intention, but I don't know if we really pulled it off.

DAVID: I understand, from the DVD commentary, that the real-life party got out of hand.

MARCO: Yeah, but that was once we were done filming. They tore up some of the backyard, and destroyed a neighbor's mailbox. All in all, nothing big, but you don't like to see people destroy private property.

DAVID: One of the more profound scenes involved a character listing a plethora of drug names - what statement did you want to make about drugs in particular in this film?

MARCO: I really didn't want to make any specific statement. They are there as a plot point and not much else. The list, however - I was trying to have a little fun.

I looked up a website - I don't think it was Urban Dictionary - but I wanted to use words for drugs that are not often heard. Because I figure, someone's gotta use those words, and who better to know them then drug dealers. So I chose 26 names, one for every letter of the alphabet.

The actor came up to me and asked, "Don't you want to throw in some common names like China and Ice?" And I said, "In no way do I want to use anything that people could place." That all being said, I think he asks for cocaine three or four times.

And we lost some names. And we doubled up on some letters. But it's still long enough and people still go,"What?" And I smile.

DAVID: Which festivals are confirmed to be showing this film?

MARCO: None yet. We probably won't hear back from them until September (2009).

DAVID: How's the nervousness, if it exists, during the waiting process?

MARCO: Right now, my main focus is selling DVDs, getting the word out through people like you, finding places to screen the film (I'm offering a free copy of the film if people will invite 10 friends to their house and screen the film in their living room), and - hopefully - finding distribution. I'm too busy to be nervous.

DAVID: Have many of your friends seen the film?

MARCO: Yeah, we used them as guinea pigs - I mean, test audiences.

DAVID: How did they like it?

MARCO: We had varying degrees of admiration. Some have already bought a DVD. Some walked out of the screening. At least the film makes people FEEL something and I'm grateful for that.

DAVID: What do you think sets your marketing strategy apart from any other strategy you've seen?

MARCO: Others plan out marketing strategy, but I'm just making it up as it comes along. That's the story of this whole movie: Make it up as it comes along.

DAVID: Were you confident from the get-go that this film would blossom like it did?

MARCO: It's blossomed? I thought I was still tilling the ground. Next time will be planned out better.

DAVID: Throughout making the film and in its marketing process, how do you think you have grown as a person, and as a person of faith?

MARCO: I know I've grown as a leader in that I was not one before this all started. This film threw me in the deep end. That being said, I can now look back and see all the ways I could have done better. I mean, it's always that way. And as I look back I can improve as I go forward.

DAVID: In what ways do you see yourself improving?

MARCO: Personal relations. People have always been, for me, extremely interesting to watch, but not to interact with. I have had to break out of that.

DAVID: You seem to have had great chemistry, artistically and in production phase, with Anthony Rutowicz - do you see yourself working with him in the future?

MARCO: That's funny, because that's where most of the previous answer came from. Anthony and I work very differently. I'm so much more strict and business-like and "we do this at this time, and we need to have it done by this date, and work work work." And he's very chill, which frustrated me to no end. But I had to see things from his perspective, understand what he was going through and not be so selfish. It's been hard, but good for me. My main character couldn't see past the end of his nose. I can, hopefully, do better.

Portrait Pictures and Sophisto Films present a film directed by Marco Duran. Story by Marco Duran, Anthony Rutowicz and Rebecka Duran. This film is not yet rated.

Visit and bookmark the official
Within website at

All photos in this blog entry provided by Marco Duran.

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