Mark Atkins has worked on more Asylum films than anyone I've come across, and in a wide variety of positions. But most recently, he's the writer and director of Battle of Los Angeles, a sci-fi spectacle that debuted on SyFy last Saturday night and hits DVD a week from this Tuesday. Mr. Atkins was kind enough to take time out of his very hectic schedule to answer some questions for COMMITTED.
977: What started your love of film? How old were you when you decided you wanted to make them for a living?
MARK ATKINS: I grew up in a family that appreciated films and filmmaking, my parents put out a magazine when I was a kid a called THE FILM JOURNAL. It had critical reviews/interviews and great full page color photos, storyboards etc. So I grew up in a family that was into films. My uncle also became a recognized natural history filmmaker, now he is shooting features…I always wanted to kind of follow in his footsteps. I made the decision to really focus on film when I was accepted at the University of Central Florida's Film Program.
977: Give us a sampling of the films you've found inspiring over the course of your career.
MA: Bladerunner, The Thing, Wages of Fear, Vertigo, Brain Dead, The Fifth Element, Hellboy 2,
977: What was your first job in Hollywood?
MA: I don't know about Hollywood exactly but I began my career working as an assistant cameraman for Paul Atkins my uncle. I worked on his nature films, GREAT WHITE SHARK, and SECRET KILLERS OF MONTEREY BAY, BBC and National Geographic Specials. I learned a ton working with Paul and my aunt Gracie who was the Producer of those.
977: How did you get involved with The Asylum?
MA: My first feature film, NIGHT ORCHID was playing in LA at the Methodfest film festival and they asked to see a screener. Eventually I met them and we struck up a distribution deal. I kept in touch and when they started doing in-house movies they hired me to direct EVIL EYES.
977: When you chose to write and/or direct, what kind of project are you drawn to? What are you looking for in a concept?
MA: I am drawn to projects where I get a opportunity to bring to life a world that does not exist in reality. Hense, I love monster films, fantasy, action and adventure, etc. Not that I wouldn't do a more realistic type of story…I am working on a period war movie script right now but ..I am drawn to making the unreal real.
977: You've worked as a cinematographer, a director, writer, editor and more; which part of the process, which job, do you enjoy the most?
MA: Directing is the most rewarding because most of the other jobs work in service of the director's vision. Or at least that's the way I like to do them if I am hired as a cinematographer or editor. On my own films, I like to work as my own cinematographer mainly because I enjoy it but also it save a lot of time I on set.
977: When taking on a project like Battle of Los Angeles - a tie-in - how do you approach the script in terms of distinguishing it? How much awareness of the Hollywood production do you allow yourself? And how much did you rely on the facts of the original incident?
MA: One of the things that few people are aware of on this project is that I actually pitched a film based on the 1942 Battle of Los Angeles incident back in 2008. I made a pitch video, sort of teaser with some photos I doctored up from the original incident and I pitched that to the Asylum. Shortly afterwards I learned that the studios had bought a pitch based on the Battle of Los Angeles. I still wanted to get my project going even though it is kind of disheartening when you hear someone else is doing the same thing. The Asylum folks liked my pitch, I think they even showed the video to Syfy back then and it was put on a some kind of side burner. Of course in 2010 when the studio movie goes into production, the producers at the Asylum decide to greenlight our Battle of Los Angeles. But the reality is, it has origins much earlier.
I didn't really concern myself with the particulars of any other movie made with a similar concept. The only people I need to answer to are my producers so I have to model the script based on their input. Originally I wanted to set Battle of Los Angeles in the 1940's but it wasn't deemed commercial enough. Everyone liked the idea of having a super secret paramilitary group called MJ-12 who had knowledge of aliens so that was woven into the story. Also thankfully they supported the idea of having Nia wielding a Katana. I doubt that any other alien invasion movie would have that angle….
977: From a directing standpoint, did the production of B.o.L.A. present any unique challenges?
MA: We had a ton of pryotechnical FX, explosions and the like, those were very challenging. They take a lot of time to set up. Art department had a huge challenge in creating the Mothership set and MJ-12 bunkers. Aaron Martin, Production Designer did a ton with little resources. All the interior sets were done at the Asylum studios. Plus the fact that we only had 12 days to shoot the movie. That's standard for an Asylum budget but this movie had many complicated battle scenes and we didn't want to compromise the action.
977: What's your favorite of the Asylum films you've been involved with?
MA: I have many favorites….Battle of Los Angeles has to be one of the tops especially for the cast we were able to work with…this was one of those times were the synergy amongst the cast members helps to elevate the script and you end up filming relationships on screen that surpass what you've written on the page. I also really enjoyed Merlin and the War of the Dragons and Allan Quatemain and the Temple of Skulls and Haunting of Winchester House
977: What would you consider your dream project(s)?
MA: I have many many dream projects. As I mentioned I am currently working on a period war script. I have a werewolf movie called Bad Dogs I want to make called that would be way over the top like Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. I am working on a stream punk fantasy that concerns an alchemist apprentice from 1860's San Francisco who awakens in modern times. And finally I would love to do an animated feature film. I studied cell animation in college and have a few concepts I think people would love.
977: Any new projects on the horizon?
MA: I am posting a feature called Sand Sharks which stars Brooke Hogan, Corin Nemec, Vanessa Evigan, Eric Scott Woods, Robert Pike Daniel (from Battle of LA), Delpaneaux Wills and Gina Holden. If you're a fan of horror, and over the top action I think you'll love it. The script by Cameron Larson was outrageous. So expect that out before the end of the year. I have another Sci fi horror adventure coming up and with luck a medieval action movie for Asylum….