Cinema Sauce was lucky enough to catch up with the director of the British home-invasion thriller Confine. Set in a small apartment, the film definitely lives up to its title. Tobias Tobbell speaks honestly about female representation, the choices behind his casting and the challenges he faced during the film’s shoot.
For everyone who hasn’t heard of Confine, or hasn’t seen the trailer, what is it about?
Confine is a home-invasion film and it’s about a woman who hasn’t left her flat in 4 years. She was a model previously in life and ended up in a car accident that left her with scars, which is why she hasn’t been out. Her home is broken into and she is taken hostage, it’s set over one frenetic and very intense evening.
Where did the idea for this come from?
From a lot of different places, actually. I remember, superficially, watching Fashion TV in a nightclub when I was in Turkey way back in 2003. I was trying to work on a story in quite an isolated environment and thought it might be interesting to explore one of these sort of personalities. Someone who’s a supermodel; someone who’s traditionally very out-there and thinking all about her looks. Maybe thinking about what would happen if you took these looks away from her and how she might react.
It’s definitely not one of your typical home invasion flicks. Instead of centring on a family or a couple, it’s just one woman. As a male, how come you decided to have such a weak and insecure female as your lead?
It’s definitely driven by both the female protagonist and the female antagonist. I do know that young female audiences are quite big supporters and fans of home invasion films. This obviously not a horror, but it is a little bit like a psychological horror. It seemed to make sense to explore using two female characters as leads, instead of throwing a male in there. It made sense to have a female antagonist, as well. Someone who, also, uses the way she looks to manipulate people. So, you end up with these two characters who use their looks, in some shape or form, to get past.
The two characters are quite similar; however, they both have very conflicting personalities. Which one did you enjoy writing the most?
*Laughs* I definitely enjoyed writing Kayleigh (Eliza Bennett) more than Pippa (Daisy Lowe. She is much more fiery and feisty and screwed up, so much more fun to write. Pippa was actually quite difficult to write, because she’s so introverted and passive. I was thinking, In any given scene how do you get her to move the scene forward? All she really wants to do is hide or not be noticed. It’s very difficult to write and very difficult to perform a character like that. Whereas, Eliza – playing Kayleigh – had a lot more to get her teeth stuck in to.
How did you find your two leads?
Eliza came along fairly early in the process; we were looking at people who were younger, quite pretty and petite. Ideally blonde, but that didn’t matter because you could dye their hair or get wigs. She had to be someone who was different from the Pippa character. When we met Eliza she was actually quite smart, down-to-Earth and she really wanted to play a character that was more fierce and more baddie-like than her usual stuff. Daisy was quite different, we had someone else cast in the role of Pippa and she had to pull out a couple of weeks before we were due to start shooting. We were panicking! Daisy’s name came up and we went along to meet each other. Her film experience was extremely limited, so from my point of view, I was quite anxious about how she would react to direction, how she would respond to the character. Also, as a real-life model I was worried about what her personality would be like. I’m a new film-maker so I’m not used to handling big, difficult personalities, but she was an absolute sweetie. She responded very well to direction in the audition and was, also, very down-to- Earth like Eliza. They got on very well with each other, actually. It just fell together very quickly. We got her the script on day one and on day two we were auditioning her and on day three she was cast. From her point of view, it was a very fast turnaround.
That sounds like quite a challenge! From your perspective, would you say the biggest challenge was setting the film in such a small space?
It definitely was. I’ve got a theatrical background, so I’m fairly used to working in relatively confined spaces. I’m attracted to films that are quite isolated and contained, maybe not quite as small as Confine turned out to be! But, from a photography point-of-view, it’s quite fun to figure out how we can mix up our lighting styles and where to put the camera; trying to get in to every nook and cranny and sweeping it around the flat to try and get a cinematic space. Rather than just handicam the whole thing. We built the set, rather than filming on location, so we had a lot more choices about where we could put the camera. We could remove walls and get on top of the set. It was quite an exciting experience and for my first proper big feature film, it was actually quite nice just being in the one location and getting to explore that. In the next film I do it will be a little bit bigger and, hopefully it will keep moving on and going forward like that.
How has this compared with the previous films you have worked on?
This was a very different experience, I have to say. The previous films I’ve done, in terms of directing, have been all location-based films and much lower budgets. In most cases, much smaller crews, so you are a lot more free to just hope around between locations. This was much more well-prepared; we’d sat down and spent months story-boarding it and figuring it out. Everything was very well organised so if anything went wrong, which it always does, at least we had fewer problems to deal with. The film I produced last was, also, shot in lots of fields and there were a lot of exterior shots. It was very cold…It was a good experience, but it was hard work being out in a different location every day, not knowing where your nearest bathroom is or where your lunch is going to be served up or made. So again, Confine was great because it was all one place, we knew where we were going every day and the dining room was just outside the studio. It was quite a comfortable shoot and I think people got quite friendly with one another, because it was so relaxed.
What stands out the most to me in the film is your use of music and sound design. As Confine is so confined, the music adds a new level to the film and makes it bigger. Was this always an important element for you?
Absolutely. We got the composer Paul Lawler on-board way before we even thought about shooting the film. I compiled a list of tracks from other films, people like Trent Reznor and Clint Mansell and gave them to him with a lot of notes. He began knocking up themes and experimenting with instrumentation. We tried to create a subtly different theme for Pippa, Kayleigh and Henry and we did that during the shoot. So, music is very important from my point-of-view and it was very exciting to watch it build up from a very early stage. Sound design was the same – we got the guys on-board before the film was going to be shot and sat down and discussed how we were going to make it feel cinematic, because we didn’t want it to feel like it was just a little film in a little flat with no drama. To get this feel of space we discussed how we were going to move around it and make sure the sound complimented the camera movement. Thinking back to your last question, this was something different to my last films as I never had the opportunity to sit down with composers before we shot. So, that was a new experience for me and that was great fun.
So, you’ve written, produced and directed. Which role do you prefer the most?
*Laughs* Definitely not producing! I’m really pleased I produced, because now I have enormous empathy for what these thankless producers have to go through. These poor people who work so hard and they don’t get any gratitude for it. All they get is a lot complaints if something goes wrong, but never a thanks if something is right. Everyone just assumes it’s always going to be right and it’s only when something isn’t there, or isn’t done quick enough, that they end up hearing about it. Writing I find very tough, I have to say. It always takes me a very long time to develop scripts and I lose my objectivity quite quickly, and I always rely on readers’ outside opinions. But, I like working on my own story and in an ideal world I’d actually work on the stories with another writer, I suppose. With directing, I extremely love every single element! From music and sound to production design, cinematography and working with the cast. I’ve got an editing background, too and I really love the part as well. Directing is great fun, so that’s my favourite role.
As a director you get a lot more control and a lot more recognition. Most people wonder who directed the film, rather than who designed the sound or produced it.
*Laughs* Well, there’s that, too! I wouldn’t say I was someone with an ego, but it’s always nice if you’ve done something and you’re recognised for it. When you direct something and it goes well, you get recognised for it. If you’ve done a great job on music, the director gets recognised for it and not you. So, I’m at least in the right position to get gratitude for the work that I’ve done. Or, get attacked for the work I’ve done if people don’t like it, so there is a flipside!
I’m going to go back to your characters in Confine now. Do you think the film represents women positively? There are a lot of slow panning camera shots over your very attractive female characters…
Fair question! I certainly wasn’t consciously doing that. We were just trying to get the camera everywhere. It literally roams around every corner of the bedroom, the living room and the three characters in the film – Alfie gets his fair share of pans up or down his body, as well as the girls. It was never a conscious choice. Although, I did have a couple of meetings in the early days with possible producers and financiers who didn’t end up getting involved the film, certainly kept saying things like, “You need less clothes on these girls, you need the girls to do this or that.” I found that stuff quite hard, but in the end, you do have to pander a little bit with the people who have the money. Maybe it got in to my head subconsciously. I certainly wouldn’t like to think I’m that sort of person or that sort of director, let’s put it that way.
Of course, I applaud their personalities and stuff like that. I love to see a film with a strong female villain, especially in a home invasion film because you don’t see that often.
Yeah, if there’s a female involved she’s always part of the gang, but never the leader.
Exactly. I loved Kayleigh’s character, she was a lot of fun.
Yeah, she is fun! And in terms of that question, my next film is even further away from the femininity of the characters, if you like? It’s a sci-fi setting and there’s six characters who are working-class; there’s no dainty skirts or high heels or anything like that. They’re all in it together.
When do you think you’ll begin filming that one?
It’s difficult to say, because it’s such a complex process between cast and financing. I haven’t even finished writing the script, yet! I have versions of it, but I haven’t finished writing it to a standard that’s ready to go in to production. I imagine it will be at least another two or three months before we start talking seriously. I’d love to start filming early next year, we’ll see how things pan out.
I hope that goes well for you and my final question will be, why should people go and see Confine?
What can they expect from it? Like I said, it’s different from a lot of films of its genre. It’s a refreshing take on that kind of narrative.
To be honest, that is the main reason to see this over anything else. I mean, if you’re in the mood for something like that – a psychological thriller or home-invasion thriller, then this certainly offers something slightly different, because it has the female lead and because it has the female antagonist. It is a very different sort of world to the world that we are used to in this genre of film. Hopefully, as you say, that will be refreshingly different for people.
Here is the official Confine Trailer and some stills from the movie. Enjoy!
You can find out more information about Tobias Tobbell and follow his upcoming movies over on Two Bells Productions.