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Interview : After Last Season’s Mark Region

in Filmmaking
on Jun 9, 2009

At the end of March, an exceedingly odd trailer for a feature film showed up on Apple’s trailer page. For a film titled After Last Season, the trailer was a collection of almost random moments and conversation between students, researchers and a doctor seemingly involved in some kind of science experiment involving perception and telekinesis. The sheer mysteriousness of the whole endeavor — the fact that the trailer conveyed so little information about the film itself as well as its low production values (an MRI machine seemed clearly made from cardboard) — spawned an instant internet cult, with fans debating whether the film was real or a spoof, made by an “outsider filmmaker” or an elaborate stunt hatched by a savvy prankster.

Just over two months later, the film has opened in four cities, proving that it does indeed exist. However, with the unveiling of the film, the mystery has deepened. Its director, Mark Region, did virtually no publicity, and, after seeing it, some viewers are still debating the intentions of the director and the meaning of the film.

I took note of After Last Season when it first surfaced, calling it “the world’s most baffling movie trailer,” and then linked to a video review made by Mike Mohan in which a number of audience members reacted after seeing it on opening day. In the comments thread for that blog post, I wrote that I’d like nothing more than if Region were to get in touch with me, send me a screener, and agree to an interview.

Yesterday, that hope was partially granted. Region emailed me, writing that he didn’t have a DVD screener with the proper finished picture and sound but that he’d agree to an email interview. I sent him back a number of questions and several hours later received a set of answers. After reading them, I emailed back that I’d really like a telephone interview in order to flesh out with him his responses. A few hours later I was on the phone with Region, and the below interview is an edit of his written responses and the additional information he provided over the phone.

With the below answers, I can’t say that all (or even many) of After Last Season‘s mysteries have been solved (although, actually, I think it’s better this way). Region struck me as a modest, somewhat shy and sincere person who is trying to tell a story and say something through his movie. Because I haven’t seen the movie, I was hesitant to construct questions based on my assumptions about it and instead tried to learn more about Region, his intent in making the movie, and some of his specific creative and production strategies.

After Last Season is currently playing in Lancaster, CA; North Aurora, IL; Rochester, NY; and Austin, TX.

Filmmaker: First, tell us something about yourself. What’s your background, and how did you become interested in making a film?

Region: I didn’t go through film school like many filmmakers. I started writing screenplays and doing short films in my spare time. When I could, I would read books on filmmaking and cinematography.

Filmmaker: Do you have a day job? What do you do when you are not making films?

Region: I have a regular job, like a normal person. I’m a business manager at a real-estate business.

Filmmaker: Where do you live?

Region: In Massachusetts — Tewkesbury.

Filmmaker: What led to your decision to make this particular film, and what ideas informed its production? Do you have any particular filmmaking influences?

Region: I have watched many types of movies from dramas to thrillers to action movies. The influences are from many places. After doing short films, I became more comfortable with the idea of making a feature film. I also had been working on a screenplay for two to three years by then.

Filmmaker: Can you name some movies you’ve seen that made an impact on you and, perhaps, After Last Season?

Region: I have probably seen all the movies that people have seen — films from some of the blockbusters to less well-known films. I like them all. Dumb and Dumber from the Farrelly Brothers – that’s funny. And then the Indiana Jones movies. (Laughs).

Filmmakerr: What about with regards to After Last Season? Have any films been an influence?

Region: Just thrillers — The Sixth Sense, maybe that had some influence. The Exorcist. But really, when I did this film, I didn’t have them [specifically] in mind. This is something different that I wanted to do.

Filmmaker: Your film has been described on different sites as both a comedy and a thriller. How do you describe the film?

Region: We first listed the film as a drama and a thriller on imdb.com. For many not intended reasons related to the trailer, it became listed as a comedy on apple.com. I would describe the film primarily as a drama and a thriller. I wanted to push some boundaries in the thriller and suspense parts, but I didn’t want to do too much. Also, we were constrained by time and budget, and I kept the dialogue simple. It made some scenes lighter than others.

Filmmaker: What are you trying to say or communicate with this film?

Region: The film covers several subjects. Scientific innovation and how it can be used to solve a murder is one of them. Showing some facets in the lives of medical students is also one of them.

Filmmaker: Where does that interest in the lives of medical students come from? Were you a medical student at one time?

Region: I’m not a medical student, but I’m interested in medical subjects. I wanted to explore some concepts related to schizophrenia and the boundaries of science. I had this idea that I could explore boundaries of medical science, and to see where science ends and science fiction starts.

Filmmaker: Why the interest in schizophrenia?

Region: I had this idea about the play between science and science fiction, and then I did this research and I found schizophrenia. I did more research and found a play here between patients who suffer from schizophrenia and the boundaries of the science. [By dealing with schizophrenia you] can do that play between what’s real and what’s not real and where science can go in the future. Maybe that’s the plot. But if you put that in [the interview] then that is the plot.

Filmmaker: It’s interesting you say it that way, that you’re worried that your story can become too defined. Do you want the film to be confusing, or difficult to pin down? I haven’t seen it, so I can’t speak to the clarity of its story…

Region: After you’ve seen it, you know the whole plot. It’s all in there. It’s very logical. I wanted to make the movie as realistic and logical as possible, it’s just in the way it’s presented. The way it’s presented it will produce some kind of thrilling or disturbing reaction. But it’s very logical and it’s all in there.

Filmmaker: Some people still seem confused by it, though.

Region: Those people haven’t seen the movie — they have just seen the trailer. We didn’t have time to shoot other footage to add to the trailer – we only took bits and pieces from the movie. But people who have seen the movie are amazed.

Filmmaker: Have you been getting direct feedback from viewers?

Region: There is a Facebook link — if you go that link, it’s a Facebook group,
“I Believe in After Last Season.” People in there, some of the reaction:
“I just got back from seeing it, it’s amazing”; “I’ve never seen anything like it”;
“My mind has melted out of my ears, I probably will see it again.” Here’s another one: “If you can see it do it; I’ve seen it twice today.” One user gave it an A+. And we have two critics we put on the website.

Filmmaker: Did you go to any of the theaters?

Region: Those theaters are too far away. I’m in the Boston area.

Filmmaker: Why those cities?

Region: People responsible for the release called several theaters and they spoke with Cinemark, and somehow they were able to get a deal.

Filmmaker: Who were those people?

Region: The investors.

Filmmaker: Did you find them or was there a producer involved?

Region: I found them. Friends and relatives.

Filmmaker: What were your expectations for the theatrical release?

Region: We had enough money for a release, but not enough for a large-scale campaign. We wanted a wide theatrical release and ended with a limited release. We are hoping the film will later open in more theaters.

Filmmakerr: Why did you take such a low-key approach to publicity? You haven’t had press screenings, sent out screeners, or promoted yourself to the media.

Region: [As I said], we didn’t have enough money for a large-scale campaign, and also we don’t know what we were doing! So, it’s a combination of both. We tried to do this, we tried to do that. But we finally were able to get a release and then we had the audience reaction and more reviews and then reviews from your site, and then I had the offer from you for an interview.

Filmmaker: So, one step at a time?

Region: Yeah. We are not professionals. We do not have the means of a major studio, and we were searching for a way to do this. That’s why it’s so low key.

Filmmaker: From what I understand, many of the scenes were shot with the actors in bits and pieces and with actors delivering lines often without the other actor or actors from the scenes in the room. Why did you work this way, and what effect were you trying to achieve with your direction of the actors?

Region: We worked this way to reduce the amount of coverage. If the actors became confused as to where they were in a scene, I would give them some reference point. Basically, there were some angles and shots I wanted to do because I already had them in my mind, and I drew some pictures of how the final version should look like. We kind of made a storyboard then we knew what shots we needed, and that saved some time. We knew what shots [we needed] from what scenes.

Filmmaker: But how did you guide the actors — their emotions and motivations — given this cut-up approach to the shooting?

Region: Most of the time we could only do one take, so I counted on the actors to do their best. Before we started shooting I answered some of the actors’ questions about the characters, but I didn’t give a lot of specific directions, so the actors kind of found what the characters should feel or how they should behave on their own. If they had questions I would tell them background of the characters. But I didn’t tell the actors to do this or do that too many times. We didn’t have a lot of time.

Filmmaker: Another aspect of the film that’s been talked about is the nature of the dialogue, which often talks about directions from one location to another, or the geography of one place or room to another. Why are these seemingly obscure or random statements so prevalent in the film as opposed to dialogue that might reveal the emotions of the characters or more clearly advance the story?

Region: I tried to keep the dialogue simple because we had little time to shoot the scenes. I wanted to make the dialogue realistic. The dialogue would be something that you would hear in a normal conversation. This type of dialogue also serves as a contrast to the intense and disturbing parts of the film.

Filmmaker: One aspect of the film that has fascinated the people who have seen it is its relationship to realism. The spare, non-descript locations, the cardboard MRI machine, props that are obviously not the items they are meant to be (i.e., the newspaper) — what was your aesthetic strategy in using such minimal production design elements? And why all the blank walls with paper on them?

Region: We only had enough money to shoot the film and not enough for production design in the beginning. Additional money only came several months later for the special effects and for the computer animation. We made the sets simple. I used shots of walls to show the passage of time in some scenes and to show that something is happening at a different location in other scenes. For the rest we tried to keep the sets simple because of the budget.

Filmmaker: Some viewers have thought that because some of the props, like the MRI machine or the newspaper, are so clearly not realistic that perhaps the film itself is playing with the concept of realism — that maybe you have deliberately created a world that is more minimalist or abstract than our own.

Region: The way it happened, first we made the MRI, and it looked pretty good from far away. We couldn’t tell it was made from cardboard or bits of plastic – it also has plastic. But when you shoot with 35mm, and sometimes because of the light, some lines across the front of the MRI became visible. When we shot, we couldn’t tell, but on film the lines are darker — you see it’s not a polished surface. That’s how the MRI came to be.

Filmmaker: What about the newspaper? I read a review that mentioned that it’s just a piece of paper.

Region: It was supposed to be a sheet of paper the person printed out after reading Yahoo News. It wasn’t supposed to be a newspaper.

Filmmaker: How many people were on your crew?

Region: Ten or twenty.

Filmmaker: Including the actors?

Region: Not including the actors. The crew was made up of people I hired before the shoot. Some were carpenters – they were not film people. They helped me build the sets.

Filmmaker: What was the size of the shooting crew, then?

Region: When we were shooting, I had one assistant camera and myself, and that was the crew. I did the sound. I did the lighting. We had two or three or lights, and sometimes we only used one. I shot the footage and then the assistant camera helped me with the camera, the focus, loading the magazines. We only had five or six days [to shoot].

Filmmaker: What about post-production? How was that handled?

Region: Editing and post-production were a lot easier because that’s when the investor’s money came in. Those were done in the normal fashion.

Filmmaker: Who did your special effects and computer animation?

Region: Some people took care of those, mostly because of the investors.

Filmmaker: Did you have much input into their design?

Region: Yes. I basically chose some things and told them how things should look like.

Filmmaker: Were these people from a VFX house, or were they people who simply knew how to do things on a computer?

Region: People who knew things to do things on computer. Unknown people. We put [the effects] together from scratch.

Filmmaker: In an earlier interview you stated that the film’s budget was $5 million, which seems like a high number considering that you had a tiny shooting crew and only shot for five or six days. Is this number correct?

Region: It’s correct. When we shot, the budget was $30,000 to 40,000, but to do those special effects and the computer animation, the budget went to that number.

Filmmaker: To $5 million?

Region: Yeah. And that also includes a few other things — titles, lab costs.

Filmmaker: But it doesn’t include theater rentals and the cost of distribution?

Region: No.

Filmmaker: How do you feel about all the internet speculation about the film — the questioning of your intentions, whether or not it’s real, and whether or not it’s a spoof?

Region: I think speculations about someone you’ve never heard of and from a production company you’ve never heard of are normal. Add to that a trailer about a film that covers unconventional subjects and you have more speculations. I spent and we spent a lot of work and years to bring this film to the theaters. There are some light moments in the film, but it is not a spoof.

Filmmaker: Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and your movie?

Region: It’s a thriller. The critics would say it better than I do. One critic said it’s a film unlike anything you’ve seen before. That’s from the critic, and that’s something we tried to do.

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