Ghost of Mae Nak Interview : Mark Duffield

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We recently had the chance to sit down with the director of Ghost Mae Nak the new horror/thriller from Tartan that is being directed by Mark Duffield. in Ghost of Mae Nak, Mak and Nak, a young newlywed couple in Bangkok, acquire an antique brooch and an old abandoned house that soon bring them into contact with Mae Nak Phrakhanong, a figure of horror and despair from one of Thailand's most enduring ghost legends.

While Mae Nak's ghost protects the couple from an unscrupulous real estate agent as well as a pair of burglars, it becomes apparent that she expects a terrible favor in return. Mak, the young groom, is incapacitated by a powerful coma, and his bride Nak must exhume Mae Nak's corpse from its hidden grave so that the skull can be restored using the antique brooch. Only in this way can Mae Nak's spirit finally be set free.. Thanks to The Goon and Danny boy our two top notch writers for putting together the interview questions for Mark. Without further ado here is the interview with this up and coming director who you will hear plenty about on this site in the future.

Where did you first hear of the Mae Nak legend?

MD: I first heard about the Mae Nak legend when I visited the Mae Nak shrine in Bangkok Thailand. I had heard about this ghost legend Mother Nak who Thai people believe in and would give offerings to and ask for her blessing and guidance. The Mae Nak shrine is still there, at Wat Mahabut in the Prakanong area and hundreds of people visit it everyday.

Every country has its ghost stories, what was it about the Thai Legend that drew you to it?

MD: The Mae Nak legend is a tragic ghost story about true love that transcends her death and allows her walk the earth to be with her true love. I was drawn to the love story that I felt was a universal and timeless tale. I also like the idea that the ghost of Mae Nak would seek revenge on those who tried to take her true love away from her.

The ghost in the movie comes across both as a protector and a terrorizer, was this intentional, and how does that differ, if at all, from the Thai Legend?

MD: My version of the Mae Nak legend is different to Thai films made about her. Yes I was keen to show her as a protector of the young newly wedded couple and also show the dark side of her who terrorizes or curses those who try to come between the couple. Most Mae Nak Thai films are hysterical and portray the ghost as a vindictive spirit. I wanted to make a film that I felt was truthful to the legend and me.

There have been more than 20 films based on this legend in Thailand. Was it intimidating to do a film on the same legend with the Thai people as the primary audience?

MD: It wasn't intimidating at first because the response I got to the script was excellent. The script also got the funding and Thai distribution deal. But once we started filming and word grew, I realized the attention I was getting from the Thai movie industry. But I really believed in the project and was determined to do my best. The real test came at the Bangkok premiere where after the screening the film was applauded and many Thai people and I was personally congratulated.

Was it difficult at all to work with a cast and crew that don't speak English? What challenges did you have to overcome with regards to difference of culture, language, etc?

MD: A first it is was difficult, but filmmaking is a slow process and we eventually learned to find ways on communicating. Of course I had translators, and there was the script, which was written in English and translated perfectly into Thai to work from. As a director I had to be precise about what I wanted and always double-checked the information was clearly conveyed. A film director is highly regarded in Thailand which also means it becomes a responsible role.

Did the movie come out the way you envisioned things when you wrote the screenplay?

MD: Yes the movie did turn out to be close to how I had envisioned in the script. But as a director I try not to get to 'controlling' about making a film but I like to allow room for 'cinematic' surprises, the unexpected. This to me is where the movie-magic comes from. The cast was very close to how I imagined and I felt they really looked like they belonged together in the film.

Most modern day horror films have a lot of Jump out at you parts. Ghost of Mae Nak is missing these, and yet still comes off as frightening. Was this done on purpose?

MD: Yes. I did not want to make a 'jump-out-of-seat' movie. I am more interested in creating a ghost story that lured the audience in to its dark mystery and character dilemmas. This was frightening to me because it stays in the mind.

When you are writing the script, what part do special effects play on how the script is constructed?

MD: When I write a script I don't think about the special effects. I concentrate on the story and what action or image is truthful to the storyline. I knew the freak death scenes in FINAL DESTINATION were and inspiration for GHOST OF MAE NAK, and I was excited to think of 'freak-death' methods that would be logical and truthful to the Thai setting. But I did not see them as special effects until I started preproduction and had to plan how to create them.

What was it like choosing the cast when you didn't speak the language? How did you know who was right for the roles?

MD: I cast first on the "look" of the actor and did they look like the character I had in mind. Then the actors would be invited in for a recorded reading and I would judge their level of performance and would look for the right emotion. I knew they were right when I saw them act and would decide on my intuition. The older actors were easy to cast but the younger ones took several auditions to find the right ones.

The pace of the film has been claimed by some to be slower than most American films. Was this an intentional style?

MD: I believe the pace is the right pace for the story of the film. Too fast and the audience would not care for the characters which would weaken the story and their involvement. In fact I would say I am more influenced by American films in my style. When I was writing the script I was inspired by the structure of THE DEER hunter in which the first hour it is all about the characters, the wedding, the friendship. If it jumped to the Vietnam part of the story too early then the film would not have its impact and you just wouldn't care for anyone.

Have you seen the movie in its entirety after it was finished? What did you think of it?

MD: The first time I saw the movie in its entirety with final 6-1 Dolby Digital EX sound mix, was at the Bangkok Premiere. I was very pleased with it as well as the audience's positive reaction. It was a dream come true for me.

Are you planning on doing any other Thai horror films?

MD: I do have a new horror script based in Thailand but this time I have Western English speaking characters. There are many Westerner's in Thailand so they would be characters that are truthful to the story and the country. It's a great idea but I'm keeping it under wraps.

Were there any advantages to working outside of the Thai studios on The Ghost of Mae Nak?

MD: The big advantage of working outside the Thai studio system is that I had a lot of freedom to direct my vision.

Since this was your debut as a director, what was your experience like? Anything you wish you could have done differently?

MD: My experience of directing GHOST OF MAE NAK was a wonderful experience. The shoot went really smooth and there was a good atmosphere on set. Personally it was difficult at times dealing with the hot weather temperatures of Thailand, England is usually cold and wet. If I did anything differently, I would like to have more time (and budget) like a Hollywood movie?

Did you have any outside influences for the filming of the exorcism scene?

MD: The exorcism scene was based on my research of Thai exorcisms. I talked to a senior Monk who described the rituals. There are several but I focused on the exorcism that was also part of the Mae Nak legend, in which the Exorcist Monk removes a piece of bone from the possessed skull and holds the evil spirit inside. The props department told me that some of the knives we used were actual exorcism knives.

Was the inclusion of the oft seen ghost with long stringy black hair and bright white skin a nod to forthcoming Asian films such as Ringu and Ju-on?

MD: In Thailand the Mae Nak ghost is portrayed as a woman with long black stringy hair. Long black straight hair is normal for women in Thailand, so the character is truthful to the 'look' of Thai women and Thai ghosts. I wanted my ghost to have a pale/white skin because I felt it represented the loss of her spirit the very thing she wanted returned and when she is restored, her skin and look transforms back to a classic looking Thai woman with normal looking features of that period.

Who inspires your work in film?

MD: Many filmmakers inspire me. Sometimes it is because I've seen a film that has an impact on me and triggers an emotional or creative inspiration. Then films that are related to a script I am writing inspire me. Since I write horror stories I watch a lot of horror films for inspiration.

What is your favorite Horror Movie?

MD: I don't have one favorite horror movie but 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 as well 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 are a few of my favorites but also because these are films that have inspired me as a writer and director.

If you could do anything else for a living, what would it be?

MD: I would like to teach.

What scares you? What gives you nightmares?

MD: Sometimes people scare me and give me nightmares.

How did you get interested in filmmaking? Did you go to school to learn your craft, or just pick it up as you went along?

MD: I have been interested in filmmaking from a very early age. I can remember watching the 1960's BATMAN TV show and wanting to know how it was made. No I did not go to film-school but just made films. People saw my work and asked me to work with them. I was very interested in cinematography and developed my skill as a cinematographer.

Are you going to continue to direct? Where do you want to go from here?

MD: Yes I want to continue to direct. I have many ideas for new horror and fantasy films. I want to direct a movie in the US or UK next with English dialogue and characters.

What is your next project and can you give us any details?

MD: My next project will be a Western horror film but I am keeping things under wraps at the moment.

Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for us. Is there anything else you would like to add or plug any websites

Well I would like to thank you guys for showing interest in the GHOST OF MAE NAK and myself as writer and director. GHOST OF MAE NAK will be released on DVD on the Tartan USA Asian Extreme label on 10th October with director's commentary, my 1-hour video diary and several other extras. 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.

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