New Interview: Mark Yates, Storyboard Artist Friday the 13th 2009

Although the fans have mixed reactions to the overall experience of Friday the 13th 2009, there is no doubt that Jason Voorhees was brought back to the big screen with a vengeance. This reintroduction to the franchise took a long and bumpy journey with rights issues between Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers having to be ironed out as well as a writers strike occuring during pre-production. With that being said, Director Marcus Nispel and Storyboard Artist Mark Yates worked closely together to create the blueprint that would be used to film the newest adventure of Jason Voorhees.

Mark Yates was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions about the creative process for the new Friday the 13th. Mr. Yates explains how his storyboards aided the production during the writers strike as well as his experience with his directorial efforts.

Mark Yates Interview

(F13TH FRANCHISE) Thank you for taking the time to discuss your experience in the film business. What prior education did you have if any to enhance your talent?

(MARK YATES) I studied art and advertising at college in London. Commercials are 30-second stories and working on them as a copywriter and an art director, then after leaving college as a creative director was a great foundation. I always storyboarded my own ideas. The ‘how’ merely comes with practice but just as important as ‘what’ an artist draws is ‘why’ they are drawing it. Sure, a lot of commercial and film directors know what they want but there are just as many that don’t so to work with a storyboard artist that knows what they might need is a great advantage. A director must surround themselves with great people and to be considered one of them is a huge compliment.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) How did you find your way into storyboarding films and what is the correct process to create a storyboard that conveys the true scene from the script?

(MARK YATES) Good writers are worth their weight in gold as the story should drive everything. So hopefully you are working on something that has been well written. Living in Los Angeles, it’s hard to ‘swing a cat’ without hitting someone who wants to be a writer or a director! Everyone needs storyboards to sell their ideas and drawing them is something few can do well; so there is always work for those who can. Many of the commercial directors I work with have eyes on directing movies so there’s a natural progression. It’s the main reason I’ve drawn the movies I have.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) Outside of your work on Friday the 13th, you have had the pleasure of working on a number of fan favorites in genre films. You previously storyboarded films for Director Zack Snyder on 300 as well as the Dawn of the Dead remake from 2004. Your newest film was the remake of Conan The Barbarian. We know you can’t talk about the Conan remake at this time, but what was your experience like working on 300 and Dawn Of The Dead?

(MARK YATES) I worked for years with Zack on commercials and they were always really fun times. Zack is a director that knows what he wants so drawing with him was always a good experience. There is an edition of the Dawn of the Dead DVD that has several scenes compared alongside storyboards and it is incredible how closely they match. Before I watched them I hadn’t realized just how closely the boards were followed on set. On 300 we had of course the graphic novel to use as a reference. Frank Miller’s unique style greatly influenced the look and feel of the movie. He’d just directed Sin City along with Rodriguez and Tarantino and was looking to direct on his own in the near future so he watched with great interest as his pages were turned into drawings meant for a moving camera. To have Frank studying your work is quite an honor.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) What circumstances brought you to being a part of Friday the 13th 2009?

(MARK YATES) In 2007 I decided to take a year away from my desk. It’s hard to breathe life into anything if you are not living one yourself, so the year turned out to be incredibly refreshing. Far from cutting myself off from the film business, people seemed to be living vicariously wishing ‘they could take a year off too!’ It made me open to opportunities that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d been drawing. I sculpted for a show and got my first real taste of directing on a music video. Marcus approached me in November, told me of the film and asked me to board it. I had worked with him for a decade in advertising and we get on like a house on fire! He always encouraged my creative input so with that in mind I knew we could do something great together for Friday the 13th. Still reluctant to sit back at a desk though with an entire movie to draw I agreed to it on the condition that I could direct again, this time as Second Unit director. Marcus jumped at it and we were off.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) What was your experience working with Director Marcus Nispel and Writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift? Did of all of you get together on a frequent basis to discuss the scenes before filming? What was the daily process like from your side of the production in preparing the storyboards that would be used for filming?

(MARK YATES) Writing on the movie was held up by the writers strike so with a looming shoot date development of the script was drawn instead of written. Marcus and I had a great opportunity to stamp our mark on the film. Shannon and Swift were open to a lot of our suggestions so when the strike was over a lot of what we’d drawn was incorporated into a new version of the script.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) What was your experience like in directing the Second Unit on the newest Friday the 13th film?

(MARK YATES) Knowing the story inside out is the key to making good shots as everything is shot the way it is for a reason. Having drawn and worked on the whole movie with detailed storyboards beforehand was a great advantage when it came to getting it on film. A second Unit can operate without a large cumbersome crew and achieve a lot in a short time. It lends itself to being storyboarded well as sets have usually been left or redressed by the time you need to get your shots. It is amazing what you can shoot with very little if you plan well.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) Did you keep anything from the Friday the 13th production in terms of your storyboards or props from the set?

(MARK YATES) I kept hold of the boards as many of them were splattered in fake blood! I drew them all on index-sized cards and we used all the originals on set. There were 3000 or so of them so technique suffered as time was extremely limited and it was only content that was important. During pre-production we wallpapered the entire second floor of the office building six feet deep with them. You could literally ‘watch’ the entire movie by strolling up and down the corridors. It was quite a sight.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) Would you storyboard for the Friday the 13th series if called upon again?

(MARK YATES) One of the scenes I came up with was when Chelsea gets it under the pier; Harry Knowles called it the most sublime of all the kills in all the Friday the 13th movies. I directed lots of that whole sequence too including when she’s hit in the head by the powerboat. That was the first shot on the show that I directed and from then on I knew we were going to have a lot of fun telling the story. The more input and influence you have on a project the more satisfying it is to work on, so yes I would do another.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) What newer projects are you working on after Conan The Barbarian in film or other projects outside of Hollywood?

(MARK YATES) At the moment I’m concentrating on writing and directing my own material. I’ll be co-directing a movie called ‘The Last Resort’ in as soon as April and then possibly Second Unit on a movie that shoots in Europe. Living in Hollywood, there should always be a lot in the pipeline so I’m finishing up a script set partially in the Amazon called ‘In the Image of God’, working on another set in ancient Egypt and writing a sci-fi script too. Portraying a story is such a responsibility and a thrill but film development is such a long process that directing commercials is the day job I’m headed for. I’ve storyboarded a few thousand of them in my career and it’s time to be directing them myself. My first spots may be shot in Germany.

(F13TH FRANCHISE) Do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring artists or people looking to break into the Hollywood scene utilizing their artistic talents?

(MARK YATES) Anyone coming to Hollywood should be determined to be themselves no matter how much pressure they feel from anyone for them to become one role or another. Just make sure you are surrounded by people you consider to be more artistic and talented than yourself and great things will happen.

A big thank you goes to Mark Yates for agreeing to share his thoughts and experiences about his career and his time working on Friday the 13th. Check out Mark's blog to find out more about his work.
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