A Conversation With James Mark
James Mark has helped bring amazing action sequences to thrilling fruition in both big-budget theatrical releases and small-screen television shows since 2006.
He's worked on films like Pacific Rim, RoboCop and Repo Men, and on genre TV shows like Transporter: The Series, Falling Skies and Covert Affairs.
But in his spare time, Mark and his brother Chris created a martial-arts troupe in Canada that is finally getting to put their impressive skills on full display in Mark's feature-length debut, Kill Order.
BVB: Blood Violence and Babes had the opportunity recently to speak to Mark by phone to talk about his vision for Kill Order, his appreciation for just how good his baby brother is at martial arts and what the future may hold for the world he's introducing audiences to in his first film.
BVB: I had the chance to watch Kill Order last night, and I’ve got to tell you, man, I really, really enjoyed it. It was well done. Kudos.
James Mark: I’m glad you liked it.
BVB: What inspired Kill Order? What inspired you to come up with this story?
James Mark: Well, I have a stunt company here in Toronto, of martial arts performers, and I’ve had it about 10 years, my brother being one of the members, and over the years we’ve been producing and creating a bunch of digital shorts and digital videos online, as a hobby, we just love creating, and then eventually I took an interest in directing and decided I wanted to take a step forward and try directing a feature-length film, and I wanted to make a film that showcased the abilities of these guys and also my brother, because as you can see, he’s extraordinarily talented. So, I started coming up with concepts that were interesting to us. We have a fascination with Japanese anime. We wanted something live-action that is anime-flavored. That’s why there is a Japanese influence in the film. But, ultimately, we wanted to showcase them and focus on the action and their ability.
BVB: I thought it was perfect, and I agree with you, I think Chris comes across on-screen really well, and he’s just amazing at his ability, and I can see why you felt like this would be a perfect vehicle for him to headline. Did he do a lot of his own stunt work?
James Mark: He did all of his own stunt work. Yeah, he did everything. He did it all.
BVB: That’s amazing because some of the kicks, in particular, were just jaw-dropping. I mean, I hadn’t seen – there’s one kick that he did, and I’m trying to think, it was near the end of the film, but there was, it was an extra twist in there that just defied gravity. That’s amazing.
James Mark: That’s all real. No wires, nothing. He can do that on the sidewalk (laughing).
BVB: Did you utilize a lot of wire work? I know you said with the kicks and all, that was all real, but there’s a lot of scenes with people flying through the air, was that all on wires?
James Mark: That was all on wires. If someone was flying across the room into a wall, or into a tree, onto a picnic table, that was wires.
BVB: That’s awesome. I got to tell you, I watch a lot of movies, obviously for my website, and I also review them frequently for Creative Loafing, I’ve been really jazzed in the last few years because there’s been this great resurgence of very serious, but also just really brutal, hard-hitting action films. You’ve had The Raid, both the original and its sequel, you had Atomic Blonde last summer, you’ve had the two John Wick films, that really brought back a sense of urgency to the action genre that had kind of gotten overlooked, and kind of forgotten about, because so many action films went the buddy-comedy route. When you set out to make this film, how did you decide on your approach to filming the action sequences to distinguish them from other, similar kinds of films?
James Mark: We have a very specific style when filming action. We lurched action cinematography from someone we worked for, Brad Allan, on a number of sets. He’s a big Hollywood director and formerly the Jackie Chan Stunt Team. We were fortunate enough to work on a couple of sets that he was the second-unit director on, and we just watched what he did. One thing we learned was that, what’s most important when you’re creating the action and choreographing the action, that’s when you decide how you’re going to shoot it. So, before we even get to set, we’ve already [inaudible] and shot each scene in a complete video in our gym, and we basically just copy our [inaudible] on set in the exact same way. We pick the angles that sort of speak to us the most. The style for this film, we wanted everything to be visible. We wanted people to be able to see what the characters are actually doing. We didn’t want shaky camera. We wanted to show off the skills and have the audience hear the punch when they stand and strike, and feel all the impact. That was kind of our biggest influence.
BVB: One of the things I loved about Kill Order was, in addition to just presenting some amazing action sequences, you have, your style, and I’m hoping this will continue as you do future films, you have this gift of really pulling people into a moment and then just shocking the crap out of them!
James Mark: (Laughing)
BVB: In particular, I loved the two sequences – you know, I wrote in my notes, ‘Everyone David loves gets shot in the head’ – (Laughing)
James Mark: (Laughing)
BVB: I really, especially with May, like that sequence where they are in the apartment and she’s trying to console him and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, she just gets a shot to the head. It was just jaw-dropping because I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t thinking, oh my God, they’re going to kill off the lead actress. Was that intentional in the sense you wanted these moments to make the audience gasp, both with May’s death and also Dr. Chan’s death?
James Mark: Yes, that was the intention, kind of a shock there, and we wanted to come out of left field, but it’s also very important for David’s character to go through those experiences, and will hopefully play in the sequel (laughing).
BVB: I’m going to sneak this in because that was my last question. You clearly set up a sequel at the end. Have you already mapped that out? Do you know what Kill Order 2, how it’s going to grow this world?
James Mark: Yeah, because we had limited resources, Kill Order was supposed to act as an introduction to this character, and it’s almost like an extended teaser, so to speak, rather than the traditional narrative. And, yeah, we have it mapped out, and we would love the opportunity to be able to explore the world we’ve created and the mythology behind all these powers.
BVB: I really hope you get that opportunity because I really want to see more. When it ended, I wanted more immediately. I really hope that happens.