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Interview: MARK DUFFIELD

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Enterline Media: What inspired you to write this film?

Mark Duffield: I was inspired to write GHOST OF MAE NAK when I first went to Thailand to work as a cinematographer for the British feature film BUTTERFLY MAN (Later I was awarded Best Cinematographer at 2003 Slamdunk Film Festival Park City for my photography). While in Bangkok, I became fascinated with Thai legends and Ghost stories. I heard about an actual shrine at Wat Mahabut in the Prakahnong area that is devoted to a famous female ghost legend called MAE NAK (Mother Nak). The Mae Nak shrine is visited by hundreds of Thai people everyday who ask for blessing and guidance. I became more fascinated with the Mae Nak legend and her tragic love story. I also discovered that there had been many films about her over the last 50 years. I watched the definitive Mae Nak period film called NANG NAK directed by Nonzi Nimiburt. . It is a hundred year old dark tale of a young couple named Mak and Nak who were deeply in love. After being called to war, Mak returns to his wife Nak and their newborn child. When he is alone, the villagers try to warn him that his wife died during childbirth and that he is living with a GHOST – a powerful spirit called "Phi Tai Hong Thong". Mak refuses to believe them and returns to confront Nak. That night the GHOST OF MAE (mother) NAK gets her revenge on those villagers who tried to take her Mak away from her. The next morning several villagers are found dead with terrifying expressions of fear on their faces. The remaining villagers prove to Mak that his wife Nak is a ghost, exhuming her grave, revealing her decaying body and dead infant. They summon an Exorcist Monk to put the GHOST OF MAE NAK to rest by cutting out a piece of bone from her skull and sealing her ‘revengeful’ spirit inside. This film concluded with the ‘evil’ spirit of Mae Nak being held captive in a piece of bone cut from her forehead by an Exorcist Monk, and the bone was lost in time. It was here that I was inspired to write my script and continue the Mae Nak story. In Thailand Mae Nak is a legend and there are many stories about her. Thai people believe the legend to be true and the Monk who exorcised her did exist. The legend is as famous to Thailand as Dracula or Jack The Ripper is to the West.

EM: In a way, GHOST OF MAE NAK plays like a 1980’s horror film that takes place in Thailand and also looks at the religious and cultural differences of Thailand.†† Did you have any problems while filming in Thailand?

MD: I love the horror films of the 1980’s. There are some classics such as POLTERGEIST, GHOST STORY, THE THING, EVIL DEAD, THE FLY, JACOBS LADDER, THE SHINING, and I’m sure there are many more that influenced me. Just like the US industry is looking for Asian horror to remake, I am often inspired by the horror films of the 1980’s. These films have great stories and were made for an ‘adult’ horror audience. So I appreciate your accurate observation.

It was important for me to be accurate about the Thai Buddhist religion and follow the correct procedures for the rituals. Thailand being a Buddhist country also believes in karma. And this I used as a theme in which those who did bad would receive bad.

As a British director making a horror movie in Thailand I faced many challenges. The most obvious one is the language. I don’t speak Thai even though I had written a Thai based horror story. But I had my script expertly translated from English into Thai that helped the Thai cast and crew clearly understand my story. I did have translators and it was fun trying to convey what I wanted to say as a director. Bangkok film crews are highly skilled, so the film making process was no different to making a movie in the West and the language of filmmaking is universal. However we did have to make an offering at the actual Mae Nak shrine. The day before filming the entire Ghost of Mae Nak cast and crew went to the shrine to ask Mae Nak for her permission to make a film about her. I felt she gave us her blessing as the filming went very smooth and it was a joy to direct.

EM: What was your favorite thing about making this film?

MD: I enjoyed every aspect of making this film. Writing the script was a joy because I really loved the story, the characters and everyday I was excited and inspired to work on it. It was fun thinking up the gory freak death scenes and exploring the legend of Mae Nak. Once we started filming there were some exciting special effects and set-pieces to direct. I especially liked the wirework stunts, especially levitating 3 people at the same time in the Operating Room scene. Mixing the soundtrack was also an exciting discovery. It is recorded in Dolby Digital EX, which is 6-1 speaker surround sound, ideal for a ghost thriller. But on a personal level, I really enjoyed working with the Thai cast and crew and they made me welcomed as a Western director in Thailand.

EM: How big was the budget?

MD: The budget was a low budget and it is hard to define because of the Thai currency. But it is a film that has very good production value, with wirework, ‘hit and run’ stunts, ‘man on fire’ stunt, over 70 computer generated special effects, a large cast and crew, many locations and a Ghost.

EM: What will be on the DVD?

MD: The DVD will have my Director’s commentary track, my one-hour video diary on the filming, a ‘blooper’ reel, a making of featurette, the Bangkok World Premiere featurette, (and possibly my new short film REVOLVER?). The above details are correct at present but please check with Tartan for confirmation.

EM: What films you do have in the works now?

MD: I am writing an exciting new horror script set in the West in English language. I do have several other spec horror scripts I have written and I am also rewriting or fine-tuning them. This is something I always do with my scripts until they get made. I do have a new Thai/Asian horror script but with Western characters and English language, it’s great idea. I am keen to develop my passion for horror/fantasy films, however I’m afraid I don’t want to reveal anything about my scripts as yet, but I will keep you posted.

EM: What are your favorite horror movies?

MD: As a young boy growing up in England, my first introduction to horror films was the Hammer Horror Films. And I still have a fondness for Hammer Films and their Victorian gothic and contemporary retelling of the horror classics like Dracula, Frankenstein and many other horror stories and characters they made into movies. The Haunting by Robert Wise is a horror film and ghost story that I admire. The Changeling, Stir Of Echoes, The Shinning, The Exorcist, Suspiria, CANDY MAN, FINAL DESTINATION are a few of my favourites but also because these are films that have inspired me as a writer and director.

EM: What are the best and worst movies you have seen this year?

MD: The best movie I have seen this year has to be the Korean "Giant Monster’ movie THE HOST, it’s just great. I really enjoyed AN AMERICAN HAUNTING, Guillermo Del Torro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH, SEVERENCE and THE DESCENT. I have not seen a bad film as yet.

EM: What movies are you waiting to see in the next 12 months?

MD: I’m very keen to see David Fincher’s ZODIAC, I’m sure it will be a cinematic experience. It has been shot in true High Definition digital video, which will be interesting to see from a cinematographer’s point of view.

EM: Going back to GHOST OF MAE NAK, is there anything you would have did differently while making it if you had the chance?

MD: I am very pleased with the way GHOST OF MAE NAK has turned out. It’s hard to say what I would do differently if I had the chance. I know that I did the best I could and more to achieve results in the short time schedule and tight budget I had. But I’m sure if I were given the chance to remake the film, I would naturally develop and direct the film differently.

EM: Thanks for answering my questions. I did enjoy the film, but the first 20 minutes had me worrying that it might disappoint me.  Some of the death scenes made me glad the bad people got their just desserts.

MD: Thank you. I’m glad you stayed with it and enjoyed it. I would like to thank EnterlineMedia for showing interest in the GHOST OF MAE NAK and myself as writer and director. I would like to thank the fans of GHOST OF MAE NAK. I appreciate your support. And for those who have not seen it, then I hope you will give the GHOST a chance and allow your self to be taken on a ghostly thrill in Bangkok Thailand and discover a true Thai legend. GHOST OF MAE NAK will be released on DVD with Extras by the Tartan USA Asian Extreme label on 10th  of October.

I hope those who have seen it will want to learn more about the making, and those who have not seen it will discover a new horror legend of the GHOST OF MAE NAK.

this interview is (c)9-24-2006 David Blackwell and cannot be reprinted without permission (except for excerpts and a link to the review). Look for additional content at http://enterlinemedia.livejournal.com  and send all comments to lord_pragmagtic@hotmail.com