NY Elite: Congratulations on being an ISC finalist. What does it mean for your work to be selected at the International Screenwriting Competition in New York?
Mark A. C. Brown: It is a great honour. I have been pretty selective over the contests I have entered Whirlpool into. It’s script close to my heart and I didn’t want to fling it about indiscriminately. So to be selected was fantastic.
NY Elite: Can you tell us about the work that you participated with at ISC? What is the story about?
Mark A. C. Brown: Whirlpool is the story of a precocious London teenage girl who, after an argument with her mother, runs away to the rural West Coast of Scotland to find the one man she sees as a father figure. He runs a boat tours out to the famous Corryvreckan whirlpool, said to appear at the best of a sea witch as a form of judgement for those attempting to cross the water. The man is more than surprised to see this girl he hasn’t had contact with since she was 7 years old but he takes her in. What follows is a journey of discovery as the girl gets to grips with who she is in this isolated area full of wildness and legend and the man sees a potential new direction for a life he thought set on its path.
NY Elite: Can you tell us about yourself and your artistic talents.
Mark A. C. Brown: I originally solely wanted to be a director. Since I was a small child I wanted to make films but when the early 90’s boom of writer/directors hit cinema the inspiration to write was strong. It was still something I didn’t think was a possibility but I kept doing it as no one else would and by the time I moved from the North east of England to London I was ready to dive into being a writer.
I first fell in to theatre in London and honed my skills writing plays of all lengths for a theatre company I had helped set up that had a residence in the Old Red Lion theatre in Islington. After about 3 years I met a film director and the move back to cinema was inevitable. After making a couple of reasonably successful shorts I got asked to write a feature for a producer and that opened a few doors for me. Not big ones but big enough for me to feel validated and to put all my attention onto being a screenwriter. And I have been doing this since then.
NY Elite: Top 3 projects you have been involved in?
Mark A. C. Brown: In no particular order I would say my most recent feature film, which is in post production, Dead on the Vine. This was shot in the couple of weeks after the first UK lockdown finished. The world had not reawakened yet and we had been given this amazing opportunity of shooting in a stunning vineyard on the South Coast of England. So I wrote a script and my producer Laura Rees, DOP Kieran Coyle and myself set about putting together cast and crew and some form of plan to shoot it And shoot it we did.
Guardians was my debut feature as writer/director. Born out of the frustration that comes with being a jobbing screenwriter of the projects I was involved with either not happening or not happening satisfactorily. My friends and I were all suffering from the same frustration so propped we jump this hurdle ourselves and so in a moment of mild insanity we all agreed to do it and from that came Guardians, a comedy set in my own house and is now available on Sky Store in the UK and iTunes, Amazon and IMDB TV in the US and Canada.
Whirlpool is probably my other favourite. It was a project that was out of my wheelhouse it being a Young adult drama. It came about as a producer was looking for projects in that genre for Netflix and approached us, us being myself, producer James Rumsey and director Brad Watson to see if we had anything. I had just been to the area in which Whirlpool is set and was deeply affected by the legend of the whirlpool and the beauty of the area. So I pitched an idea and everyone liked it and so we spent an intense 8 weeks developing, writing and honing it. Netflix liked it but thought it was too intense for what they wanted and so now it’s ours and we are going to be trying to get it off the ground this summer.
NY Elite: What types of script do you want to write in your career?
Mark A. C. Brown: I have never been a writer who has stuck to one genre. I just want to write strong memorable stories be they comedy, horror, drama, action or period. To work in all these genre’s is the dream. Most of the stuff I’ve been commissioned to do has been horror, but my most successful scripts have been ones that I didn’t even think I could write.
NY Elite: As a writer, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
Mark A. C. Brown: Oh god. Such a simple yet impossible to answer question. I tend to never start characters the same way twice. Sometimes they stem from the idea of the film, sometimes the film stems from the character. I suppose emotional truth is what is important to me. That the actions of the characters are believable, even if they are often ridiculous, and come from a place of truth. I can’t stand characters in films that act conveniently or unbelievably. I love the unexpected but it has to be truthful.
Starting out I usually have one or two characters that drive the film and the themes, and the other characters appear organically through the telling of the story. I think one of my strengths is to have solid and believable lead characters and that comes from my gut instincts when I start the script. I don’t start writing until the characters are ready to talk. Sorry for the pretentious language. The other characters are often the biggest challenge as sometimes you need characters to perform some sort of machination or give exposition to push the film along. So it is these characters that I spend a lot of time working and reworking to make sure they fit the narrative comfortably.
Characters of convenience are lazy or clumsy writing. Every character needs a purpose, no matter how small, and they need a personality and a life.
NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Mark A. C. Brown: I am finishing off Dead on the Vine and then Laura and I are hoping to kick off on Limpet, a script I wrote that I hope to direct. I am also hoping Whirlpool gets up and running but there are a lot of factors at play for that to happen sooner rather than later. I am working on some theatre projects but Covid constantly puts a spanner in the works there. Then I have a couple of short films that I am directing.
NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
Mark A. C. Brown: Not really. I write full time and direct when the project is right for me to do so. I would like to do more directing. I guess I would like to write across different mediums more. My love of theatre has returned and directing short form stuff I great fun.
NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who want to have a career in filmmaking/writing?
Mark A. C. Brown: Find good people to work with. People that do rather than talk. And don’t focus on just one project. I know too many people who have that one script they are hoping to get up and running and it rarely happens. Have a few eggs in your basket. Try and be varied in your work. But mostly good people. People better at what they do than you are. Also just make stuff. There’s no excuse thee days to not just shoot short films.