Ep. 50 – Mark Borchardt (Coven) Interview 2023

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In this episode, Carl King chats with his friend Mark Borchardt – writer and filmmaker known for Coven. 

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Episode 50 With MARK BORCHARDT!


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CK:  I am here with Mark Borchardt. Thank you for being here. 

MB: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Carl. 

CK: Can you start by telling our viewers about your show, Cinema Tonight? Like what it is, and how can people hear it? 

MB: They can hear it on riverwestradio.com and I discuss films and books. In fact, when I’m done with this, I have to research a little bit more for tomorrow’s episode. Well, it airs on Saturday, but it’s about film and it’s an eclectic mix of films. There’s obviously no specific genre. It’s across the board from the history of film through the prism of my viewing, and all the books that I enjoy and so on and so forth, many of which relate to film. 

CK: And you also get into some philosophical talk and motivational, positive thinking that I really like. 

MB: That’s just based on a premise that there’s one life to live, that everybody has talent and ambition, everybody has potential, and there are so many distractions in everyday life that you can fall prey to that and you can destabilize the trajectory of your success, and that should be avoided at all cost. So I’m saying, hey, get connected to yourself, get connected to what you believe in life. 

CK: It’s interesting, my previous interview with guitarist Steve Vai, he also talked about distractions and it’s about how many distractions will you let into your life in one day? 

MB: Yeah, that’s really interesting, because you really have to lay down a psychological roadmap for yourself, not just goals to do but to be and how that you psychologically handle the day. It’s like a tide that ebbs and flows and so forth, and yeah, you want to make sure that you hit certain points, you get certain things accomplished and you have to disallow, you have to predict potential distractions and preface your day by understanding that those can come up and what you can do to circumvent them so they don’t alter the course of your success that day. 

CK: I like that idea of planning for distractions, to plan to avoid them. That’s good. 

MB: Correct. I don’t let people throw me off guard. 

CK: You seem to be inspired by and love Milwaukee and want to live there for the rest of your life, it seems. Can you share some of your favorite things about Milwaukee? 

MB: I’m from Milwaukee. That’s where I live. It’s a huge, beautiful city, and actually it’s snowing right now. You can hear the roar of the wind outside. I’ve got a lot to do today but I’ll head back out there. I had some business I had to go outside for and then I’ll take a walk, and when I walk, like in these circumstances, it’s quite inspirational. I live in the city but I also am by beautiful, beautiful woods and so forth. You’re just out there by yourself, so it’s quite incredible. 

CK: I was out near Detroit maybe a few months ago and I was at an event, and I got to take a break by myself and walk out into the snow in the night and stand there in the silence, and I thought, “This must be what Mark is talking about all the time.” 

MB: Correct, that would be highly correct. Being in that particular atmosphere with the barren trees … Well obviously during fall and winter there’s something very, very … There’s a real sense of connectivity between yourself being in potential that’s outside that you can bring in and so forth, and it’s just you, yourself out there, and then it all comes back home to you. 

CK: You do a lot of writing. Can you tell me what types of projects you’re writing lately? 

MB: Oh, sure. I do a lot of writing in a very eclectic landscape. I woke up after around 3:00 this morning. I do a lot of writing, and for various things, but let’s just say … let’s take today for an example. There was something … not for anybody else, for myself there was a deadline coming up for a one-act play and when I found out about this particular festival, I did due diligence and wrote about 80 pages and then in transcribing, I had over 40 typewritten pages trying to get it down to a 15-page play, but with all the other things that I’m responsible for and obligated to and have to do, as the days and weeks went on, I realized this is just not going to happen, that you would deliver something that was underdeveloped and is just not worth it. Again, keeping in mind that I did due diligence. 

And I just realized to bring the play into a further plateau of maturity, dialogue would need to be strengthened, premises would need to be narratively established in a more designed state and so forth, and with everything else that I had to do with the limited time allotted in the diminishment of that allotted time, like after 3:00 this morning, just lying there in the dark, I said, “You know, just let it go. You’ll do the play and all that but it just most likely ain’t gonna be able to be submitted for this particular festival because the peace of mind and your well-being is what you want the most and it’s what you’re striving for, and if things become obviously too stressful, it’s no longer worth it. I mean, I couldn’t have written any more under the circumstances, and again, I knew when to let go. I’ll have a far better play for it. And then what did I do, Carl? This morning I was right back working right on it again even though I knew that I may not have that looming deadline anymore. 

Like with the winter and so forth, a number of projects take place in a particular … various seasonal milieus. Well, more specifically in the autumn and winter, and so when I encounter days like that, it’s just the mind just … especially in the early mornings in such an ethereal state that it just beckons you to write. 

CK: I like that idea of getting back to basics and getting right back on the bike and focusing on the task at hand, like you always say. 

MB: Yeah. And it’s like after this show, again, like I say, sometimes you’re in a marginal state and working for or researching for Cinema Tonight, there’s things that inspire me and so forth, and then, A, I begin to write for it and it becomes something quite enjoyable instead of just a task at hand, because you’re always … a lot of creative endeavors can become just obligatory tasks, but then you want to get to that transcendent point where you’re actually enjoying it and it’s really good for your creative and spiritual well-being. 

CK: It seems like you’re able to write anywhere you go. Are you able to block out everything else that’s going on and just write? 

MB: Yeah, well it’s not a matter of blocking out, it’s just I value my aesthetic connection more than outside nonsense. So you’re quite correct, I have a notebook with me at all times. Any time that I need to write and I know that I have to write it down, I’ll do it. So yeah, I can … if there’s people around, it doesn’t matter at all, because I’m not maybe drawing from a purely inspirational circumstance, but rather a situational one where I know some of the elements and I can play off those elements and get right down to the writing. It’s how you value things, and I value the work above social nonsense. 

CK: Is it possible for you to estimate how many total stories, plays, radio dramas and screenplays you have written at this point in your life? 

MB: Well I know I’ve written at least a dozen full-length screenplays, a lot of short form ones, three one-acts products in festivals from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, I’ve had various things published regarding art or whatever, if I’m called to do something. So yeah, I wouldn’t really know what to put a number on, but it’s a lot. There’s thousands of pages written in many projects that have come of that. 

CK: That’s amazing. 

MB: Yeah. 

CK: Is it true that you like writing more than directing? And if so, why is that? 

MB: Oh, absolutely, 100%. Writing is a very pure, pure thing that comes from one’s being, one’s spirit, one’s intellect. It’s the most direct connection possible to one’s self, whereas directing and so forth and filmmaking has a lot of utilitarian facets, a lot of hands-on things that are mechanical with equipment and getting schedules together and all of that stuff. So it’s limited in its aesthetic appeal. I’m well versed with the camera and it is kind of like a tool of authorship when you get out there and film, but it’s more of a regimented thing where writing is more of an extemporaneous thing. 

CK: I tend to like writing more because I just can be left alone to do my job and there’s not people around, and I can just … It’s sort of a lifestyle thing, lifestyle design almost. Do you agree with that? 

MB: Correct. Yeah, totally, absolutely. Yeah, I write seven days a week because that’s what I do. It’s not mandatory, unless I’m working for someone. It’s just what I do in life. 

CK: That’s awesome. I’m curious about a term that you use when you describe some films. What does it mean to you when you say that a film is cozy? 

MB: Well, think of a chamber piece or a chamber drum and so forth. You’re thinking about ’30s and ’40s black-and-white, “old dark house” murder mysteries and so forth, that would kind of epitomize the idea of a cozy film. Well, and also the concept, my man, of coziness is again that ethereal sense of the early morning with that fresh, hot cup of coffee, your thoughts and writing stuff down, that kind of crystallizes the idea of coziness. And then in the evening after a long day, potentially a cold day if you’ve been working outside a bit, and that warm embrace of evening with the reading lamp and the waning light outside the window, that would be cozy as well. Early morning and early evening. 

CK: You often talk about how time is very important to you. Can you talk about that? You told me the other day that time speeds up when you get older. 

MB: Oh, it’s crazy, Carl. It’s devastating. It’s crazy. Time does fly. It starts to speed up. There’s nothing you can do to stop the march of time, but you can make the most of the days, you can make the most of the minutes. But you have to be conscious of time because if you stop thinking about it, it just moves. And again, the only potential remedy for that is to make the most of each day so that you carry something with you of accomplishment. Because if you don’t, I mean … I know people, tons of people who are successful, tons of people who are not focused and their whole life, the landscape of their time is just being scorched by inaction. And I will not fall prey to that, so that realigns the way that you interact with people, because some are so talented for making the most of time and others, just zero regard for it. It’s harrowing. It’s crazy. 

And when you’re forthright with people about your identity and who you are, that works in your favor, so you don’t have to go through the motions and things you don’t want to get into.

CK: I’ve heard you say a few times on your show that you don’t like that term “when you get some extra time.” 

MB: Oh, yeah, yeah. All of those terms that are codified. I know that “codified” is pronounced harder but I just pronounce it my own way and call it “codified.” Yeah, there’s a lot of coded language people use and a lot of coded, pejorative language that’s employed, and I’m always aware of that, attempt to be aware of that. When you say extra time, you mean like people trying to waste your time, trying to get you to do something you have zero interest in or they have various terms, say, “What are you doing this weekend?” They don’t care what you’re doing. It’s kind of like a disingenuous preface to their own ambitions to involve you in their own ambitions. I don’t dig that, man. Don’t ask me that if you ain’t interested, because, believe you me, whatever it is you want to do, I ain’t down with, because I’ve got my life to live and I know exactly the way I want to live it. 

CK: Yeah, you’ve got an endless list of projects you want to do and probably not enough time to ever do all of them. 

MB: Carl, you’ve exactly said what needed to be said. Again, like I said, if you don’t stick to it, it’s devastating. Yeah, I’ve got projects all over the place and I’m just building them up in various … they’re like high rises in various forms of development and so forth. Yeah, definitely. If you don’t tend to the garden, weeds will grow, plants will wilt, all of that stuff. So yeah, it’s a matter of consistency and focus and maintenance. 

CK: The other day you and I did a quick phone call and there was a moment where I could hear the pen scratching on the paper in the background and you said something interesting. Could you explain what was happening there? 

MB: Sure. Absolutely. Every time I’ve got a phone call, which is absolutely no disrespect intended to the person on the other end of the line, but I’ve got stuff to do. I’ve got stuff to do that I can do while being on the phone. I’m focused on you, focused on what you’re saying, but I had stuff to sign and stuff to fill out, this that, the other thing. That’s what I’m going to do. Even if it comes down to folding clothes, I’m not just going to be sitting there on the phone doing nothing but having a conversation. I always, before a phone call, if I have to do a phone call and I will have something secondary to attend to as well. 

CK: That is a really interesting-

MB: Because it’s your time, man. 

CK: That’s a super interesting idea. I’ve never thought of that and I like the way that you describe that. 

MB: Hey, I’m folding clothes. I hope I don’t hurt your feelings on the other end. If it’s things that I can do that are very systematic, that doesn’t require any thought, I’ll be doing it. So, definitely. 

CK: I’m curious if you would describe yourself as antisocial, or what is your policy for socializing? 

MB: Oh, no, no, no. It’s just that it’s not necessary. It’s not antisocial in the least. In fact, I learned the hard way about too much socializing, and like a Utah wildfire just raging through your days, man. It’s like, oh man, you got scorched years behind you. So no, I don’t get any particular energy being with people talking about random stuff. It has no interest for me. When I am with people, it’s to be productive. We’re working on a project. I’m not going to sit around in some place talking with people about random stuff and think, “Oh, this is great, man.” It’s wearing. It tires me out. It depletes my energy. I have little to no interest usually in what’s being said, because I know specifically what I want in life. So, I deal with a lot of people but it’s all in a productive sense, in a productive track. 

CK: It seems like you don’t really like doing interviews, and I’m curious, what is it that you don’t like about it? 

MB: No, I don’t, because they’re ridiculous. No offense, Carl, because this is a decent one, because we talked about it beforehand and that’s what makes it an acceptable interview. I respect you. You’ve always been good to me and I really, really respect … Now, can I mention your book? 

CK: Sure. 

MB: Okay. So, you gave me your book quite some time ago, So, You’re A Creative Genius… Now What? Obviously I read it cover to cover, highlighted it, went back, looking at highlighting. It’s not like it’s the first time that I read self-empowerment book or anything like that, but rather I liked its accessibility, its humor, the thought that went into doing it and doing it kind of in a divergent way from a lot of … different than a lot of other serious ones. You were very serious about the content but you also did it, like I said, in an accessible, unique way, which I really appreciated. But what was the question? 

CK: The question was, it just seems like in general you don’t enjoy doing interviews too much. 

MB: Oh, about interviews. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, why? I mean, why would you interview anyone? It always has to do with an angle. Oh, and first, before I get into that, again, Carl, I wanted to … we should allow again for my appreciation of your book. I really appreciate it, so thank you.

CK: Thank you. 

MB: Okay, so, yeah, because all interviews have an angle, you don’t just interview a person off the street. “Hey, who are you? What’d you have for breakfast today? Are you a success? Are you a failure? Are you happy? Are you sad?” No. Everything’s an angle. I don’t get into that. It’s funny because there’s a lot of people that are stars and like, “Oh, well, then they’re stars. Why do they have to do these interviews? Well, they have to do the interviews because they’re contractually obligated. They’re legally obligated to do it. Most of them, I’m sure, don’t enjoy it at all because who would want to expose themselves? Yeah, you want to promote things and so forth. Some people do, and so forth, but again, half of them, again, they’re just legally obligated to do interviews. They don’t really want to do them, where some people, yeah, they may really, genuinely enjoy them and they can express themselves. 

And I think with me, that there’s always this sense of artificiality, there’s always this sense of the performative in it, there’s always this sense of mitigating what to say and what not to say, and it just becomes like, “Oh man, this is tiring, trying to navigate all of this stuff extemporaneously.” But this interview, it’s not bad, Carl. I’m not doing them. I’m doing it because of you. I’m not doing it because I wanted to. I’m not doing it because I wanted to express myself to anyone but myself, but, again, this is all based on you, of what the Carl King project, of what you’ve accomplished in life and continue to accomplish. There’s a great amount of respect, sincere respect for that, and sincere admiration, and that’s why this interview’s taking place. 

CK: Thank you, I appreciate that. I wanted to ask you about some filmmaking stuff, because you and I both enjoyed the film Tár and I wondered if you could share some thoughts on that. 

MB: I’ve always liked adult films. I’ve always loved adult-themed films. Ever since I started getting into films many decades ago, I always loved and was fascinated by the adult world, always was a part of the adult world. I was never really into kids’ stuff and so forth, so-

CK: And of course when you say adult, you mean grown-up … you don’t mean pornography. 

MB: Right, yeah. Well, yeah, when I say that, I understand the double entendre thinking in that. No, adult films to me means adult films as in for adults instead of people flying around in the sky. I mean, like adults worried about taxes, and adults with strenuous relationships, adults with seared ambitions because of different paths in life and so on and so forth. So yeah, no, I don’t feel like, “Oh my God, are they going to think I’m talking about adult films, the other one?” It’s like, man, if you’re that brain dead, whatever. Whatever gets you through the day, man. 

CK: So specifically about Tár, did you want to name a few things that you liked about it? 

MB: Well, one of the most interesting things about Tár is when it starts from the get-go when she’s being interviewed by an actual interviewer in real life, and it goes on. It’s an elongated scene and a normal person, Joe Blow, would start to get restless and uneasy because they’re like, “Oh, wait a second, this is not fulfilling my expectations for why I go to …” well, for them a movie, for us a film. “What am I doing here?” They wouldn’t intellectually be able to connect to it. They want to see somebody flying around in the sky or someone jumping out of a building or something like that. And with Tár, it’s completely a psychological and intellectual exercise, and in that interview, it’s kind of … that interview at the beginning sets the template of how the film, in a sense, will narratively unravel, that we will spend time with these ideas. It’s more mise-en-scène than montage, where we’re not excited by the act of filmmaking but rather what occurs such as the example giving of that interview. And it’s an adult woman dealing with adult issues in the milieu of an adult life. It’s a very, very solid, consistent, strong film, adult-themed. 

CK: There was a scene in there, actually more like a shot, where she’s throwing all of those Leonard Bernstein records on the floor, all those vinyls. Do you remember that scene? 

MB: Yeah. 

CK: I’m curious, did you notice the part where she touches her bare feet to someone else’s bare feet in the room? I’m wondering who that other person was. 

MB: Yeah, no, I don’t remember that at all. I mean, there’s lots of details obviously you did, and yeah, that’s a curious anecdote in the film.

CK: I recall you once saying, and you may have just been kind of on a rant one day, but I think you said, “Who cares about the plot of a film?” And I wonder if you can explain that. 

MB: Sure. Yeah, I’m not in third grade. I really don’t care about stories. I mean, it’s immaterial to me. I don’t sit around a lot of times, “Hey, what was that film about.” I don’t know. I mean, narrative-wise, that’s the least of my concern. I’m more concerned about the psychological impact, the intellectual stirring that can be achieved by the film in aggregate, all the elements of the film beyond mere storytelling. So yeah, I don’t go to a film to watch a story. I could care less. It means zero to me. I will be aware of good dialogue, of great repartee such as in films like The Maltese Falcon and a lot of the Sydney Greenstreet-Peter Lorre … Or take Key Largo, for example. You would key in … and Maltese Falcon and Casablanca and so forth on the dialogue, that repartee of the dialogue. So I’m looking out for good writing, which that’s a micro sense. Dialogue in a macro sense is the overall tapestry of the narrative itself and all of the plots and subplots interweaving and so forth. 

So, plot and story are two different things. Plotting is more of a mechanical awareness of how this overall design is being achieved, while story is something more routine and it’s more of a primordial overlay on the film’s narrative. So, plot and story are similar but also, once dissected, they’re different entities within a film that obviously subsist concurrently. 

CK: Okay, I’ve got three more questions for you. First one is from a friend of mine named Chris Higgins, and he asks, “I’m curious what Mark does to unwind and recharge. Does he watch movies or read or what?” 

MB: That’s interesting, because I could say that’s the exact opposite, because reading and watching films are actual part of the work but they do … Let’s put it to you this way. One thing that I do is that, all throughout the day, I’m aware of when I need to slow down and relax. I don’t put relaxation in one room that I’ll enter at some later point. It’s like I’ve got a ton of stuff to do after this interview, but I may have the rest of the morning coffee, less than a cup, and read for 10, 20 minutes. Then I’ve got to get back to work. Later on I’ll take a walk, which obviously will probably lead to some writing and so forth, but yeah. And then sometimes I’m like, “Oh man,” sometimes I’ve got to work till 8:00, 9:00 at night and I’ll just accept that. Otherwise it’s freaky, because you do want to stop and relax, and sometimes it’s just not possible, but it’s just taking time out and knowing when to take a time-out within the network of all the doings during the day, and just being consciously aware of your psychology and so forth. So, like I say, you’re just weaving a tapestry throughout the day.

So yeah, reading, it’s relaxing but it’s part of work and I wouldn’t say watching a film is relaxing, because sometimes I’m doing work while watching it and so forth like that, but, you know, it’s not like a high-intensity thing. 

CK: The next question comes from Modiac and he asks, this is a little bit of an odd question, “Do creative people actually create art, or is art like math where it is discovered and not necessarily created?” 

MB: Well, the latter part of the question is scientifically correct because there is no such thing as free will or anything. It’s like, whatever a subatomic particle or whatever divided or whatever, I mean, every … You can’t get out of anything because it’s been predetermined billions and billions of years ago. I mean, if that exact same particle would split in the same way, this would all occur again. There’s not one breath, not one movement that hasn’t been predetermined billions of years ago. You scientifically can’t get around that. Consciously, of course, you forget about it. You don’t think that, you just go about your day and say, “Hey, look, it’s me. I’m taking a walk. I decided to do that.” Well, that was actually decided billions of years ago. There’s no getting around that. But, because you don’t consciously thinking about it, you think, “Hey, I’m doing what I want.” And so everybody wins. 

CK: That’s an awesome answer. I’m glad that that suddenly sparked a conversation about free will. That’s really cool. 

MB: Yeah, there’s really … scientifically there’s … I mean, it’s the illusion of free will but it’s been predetermined billions of years ago. 

CK: Is there a final film that you’d want to watch before passing into the afterlife? 

MB: That’s a really good question, actually, and I wouldn’t … I couldn’t say, because it would be a false answer for two reasons: number one, I don’t know what kind of person I’ll be at that point, and two, it’s something that it doesn’t have an answer that has no meaning because the answer seems to be almost infinite, which is interesting because you’re not going to be the same person. 

CK: I might say Empire Strikes Back just because that’s the earliest thing I remember watching, and that would be a nice bookend to my life, watching the same film at the beginning and end. 

MB: Carl, I think your answer is the most beautiful answer … It actually is almost bringing me to tears, but that is a beautiful answer that you’ve provided us. 

CK: Is there a book that you would recommend about writing or screenwriting for someone who wants to get into that? 

MB: I’ll recommend some stuff and it’ll be some obvious stuff, but it’ll be some actually sincere, what I’m rereading right now, Stephen King’s On Writing. 

CK: That’s what I’ve got written right here. That’s great. 

MB: What’s that? 

CK: That’s what I’ve got written right here after that. That would be my answer. 

MB: There you go. On Writing by Stephen King, and that’s not to preclude the dozens and dozens and dozens of other fine books, and many of which I’ve read, about writing. And then, did you say screenwriting or filmmaking? 

CK: Writing and screenwriting. 

MB: The one by William Goldman, obviously, is a classic, which I’ve read. And then obviously you have the mandatory, at least back in the day, the mandatory Sid Field books and so forth, and then if you really want to … I mean, just for academic purposes, you obviously want to reference Aristotle’s Poetics, that being kind of like the first screenplay book where it actually identifies the structure of the acts and so forth like that. But yeah, just as a populist answer but a sincere one, Stephen King’s On Writing, for writing, and then the William Goldman book. Actually, it’s amazing that the name actually eludes me since it’s been in my … The title of that book has been in my mind for 40 years and it’s just like you get older, you get over so much information-

CK: It’s funny you’re saying that because right now I’m blanking on the name of it as well and I was thinking that same thing, like, “Oh man, what is the name of it?” 

MB: Yeah, I think it has something-

CK: Adventures in the Screen Trade?

MB: Adventures in the Screen Trade, correct. 

CK: Is that it? 

MB: Yep. 

CK: We’re both showing that we don’t know anything. 

MB: Yeah, yeah, no, it’s awkward not remembering something obvious, but the mind can only hold so much, and after 40 years of knowing that title, it eluded me, eluded us during this interview. 

CK: Mark, I want to thank you for taking the time to be here today. You are a huge inspiration to me both creatively and personally, and I will always be waiting to see what you make next. 

MB: Well, thank you, Carl, and I can say the same thing about you. You’ve been a huge inspiration for me. Your work ethic is solid and extremely, extremely admirable, and it’s been a cool interview. I enjoyed it, and I just really … Actually, Carl, I just really appreciate you for who you are and that actually we have this interview as a testament … Just on a side note, William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade has been read cover to cover. It’s just due to age and over-information that that title couldn’t have been immediately brought to the fore, but that’s the way life goes. But sincerely, Carl, thank you so much. 

CK: Thank you. 

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