Stepping Behind the Camera With Mark Kiefer

While Mark Kiefer is well known around Beacon Hill as the current chair of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission and the one-time leader of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, many readers might not realize that he is also an established filmmaker and screenwriter, with more than 50 shorts and his first feature now in development to his credit.

Beacon Hill filmmaker Mark Kiefer.

Kiefer, who has worked as an economics and management consultant for more than 25 years, specializing in the transportation, aerospace, and defense industries, made his first foray into filmmaking in around 1995 when he lent his younger brother, Jonathan, a hand in making a short while Jonathan was attending film school at Boston University. Jonathan wrote and directed the 16mm short called “Claude” as Mark served as the producer and made sets for the film. (A producer is “someone who gets films made,” said Kiefer, not unlike a real estate developer who sees an opportunity for a building on an empty lot and then hires an architect, gets the financial backing, and “puts it all together to make things happen.”) Kiefer attended Wesleyan University, also the alma mater of blockbuster filmmaker Michael Bay and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Lawrence Sher, the venerable Hollywood cinematographer whose credits include “Joker” and the “Hangover” trilogy, was also an economics major one year behind Kiefer at the small Middletown, Conn., liberal arts college. But unlike some of his fellow Wesleyan alum, Kiefer didn’t take a single film class during his undergraduate studies, despite having a lifelong fascination with moviemaking. “I always loved movies – the storytelling aspect and also the mechanics of how they work and are produced,” said Kiefer. “At an early age, I was fascinated by the magic of storytelling and mechanics of movie making.” The seed was planted as a child when Kiefer viewed a documentary on the making of the original “Star Wars,” which boasted the most advanced state-of-the-art special effects of its time. Asked to name some of his favorite films, Kiefer puts “Amadeus” – a 1984 feature recounting the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture – at the top of the list. But Kiefer said the ‘80s teen coming-of-age comedies made by John Hughes also resonated deeply with him, especially 1985’s “The Breakfast Club,” which he first saw as a junior in high school. Kiefer’s other favorite filmmakers include Paul Greengrass, the British director, producer, and screenwriter behind several of the Jason Bourne action films; and Tony Gilroy, the American director of 2007’s “Michael Clayton,” among others. “I like phycological thrillers,” he said. “Ultimately, the stories I’m most interested in are character-driven, where the heroes are just ordinary people.” Although Kiefer had enjoyed working on “Claude” with his younger brother, he stepped away from filmmaking for more than 15 years until his involvement with an indie sitcom pilot  called “M.V. Blues” in 2011. Described by its creators  as a buddy comedy that combines elements of two classic TV sitcoms, “Seinfeld” with “Gilligan’s Island,” “M.V. Blues” followed the lives of three successful men looking to escape the doldrums of middle-aged life by writing the next hit Hollywood movie. A chance encounter they have with a big movie producer then has them seeing stars while also testing the true nature of their friendship. The 35-minute pilot was filmed on location in Martha’s Vineyard. It was written and acted by a dentist on the island, Sandy Nadelstein, and his brother, Brad, along with Sandy’s old college friend, Fred Hessler, while Kiefer served as producer and production designer. “M.V. Blues” was considered for broadcast by both CBS and the USA Network, but both networks ultimately passed on it, as, Kiefer said, is the fate of most pilots. “There are only so many slots [the networks] have, so they have a particular strategy for the content they produce so it has to be just the right thing at the right time,” said Kiefer Since “M.V. Blues,” Kiefer had gone on to write and produce around 50 comedy sketches and short films. His works have screened at the Nantucket Film Festival, Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, Woods Hole Film Festival, Boston International Kids Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, New York City Independent Film, Festival, Atlanta Comedy Film Festival, Memphis Comedy Festival, Baltimore Comedy Festival, and the Palm Springs International Comedy Festival, among other festivals. Prior to “Pacific Coast,” Kiefer had also penned three other feature-length screenplays: a period drama set in 1930s Germany; a thriller set in modern day New York; and a buddy comedy about Native American heritage set on Nantucket. Kiefer even produced a humorous ad spot for New Salem Cider – a Western Massachusetts manufacturer of artisanal hard ciders that is fronted by Kiefer’s longtime friend and Beacon Hill native, William Grote. Filmmaking has also provided Kiefer with a new medium to explore another area of personal interest for him: history and historic preservation. “I have a longtime interest in historic preservation, and I’ve been able to combine these two worlds by making a couple of period comedy short-films in the past,” said Kiefer. One of  his  period short films, “Or the Whale,” a fictious account surrounding the full title of Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick,” won the 2022 Audience Award Winner in Nantucket Shorts Festival. Kiefer now serves as chair of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission. He joined the BHAC in April, although he had previously served on the commission for about seven years around a decade ago. In between his two stints with the Architectural Commission, Kiefer served as president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association from 2014-16 and subsequently as its board chair from 2016-18. In September, Kiefer spent two weeks in California, filming for his first full-length feature film, “Pacific Coast,” which is expected to have a running time of around 90 minutes. “We were mostly in and around San Francisco,” said Kiefer. “Then we spent a couple of days in Los Angeles. It was a rather intense couple of weeks.” Upon his return, Kiefer and the film crew shot more footage over a weekend in New Hampshire before spending five more days shooting in Boston.                In all, Kiefer spent 20 days shooting the film in three different states, one of which was on the other side of the country from his Boston base. “I’ve got a couple of short scenes left to do, but for all intents and purposes, principal photography is finished,” said Kiefer,  who worked on “Pacific Coast” with a small group of actors, several of whom had previously appeared in his short films. Kiefer will then move onto post-production work, which he describes as “the most intensive and time intensive” aspect of the filmmaking process.” “A feature film can take up to nine months to edit,” he said. “A lot of work is required to make a finished film – sound design, visual effects, color grading – all the work that goes into making a film look and sound as good as it can be.” Kiefer hopes to wrap up “Pacific Coast” by the end of ‘22 so it can be viewed next year at festivals, as well as at a special screening for his friends and family. “It’s a great joy to see [my work] on the big screen in front of a live audience,” he said. For Kiefer, “Pacific Coast” will be the capstone of all his filmmaking work over the past decade. “It was the culmination of a lot of that work, writing and developing characters,” he said. “It took three years to get the script in sufficient shape to shoot. The casting process was done mostly remotely, and there were a lot more moving parts than on a short film.” Kiefer, who said he shot some shorts in a single day, added: “Making short films was great preparation. Making a feature is the same process as making short films; it’s just for more days. Shorts are like shooting one scene in a feature film. A feature is just cobbling together a bunch of scenes.” “Pacific Coast” is also a departure from his three earlier full-length screenplays, which, he said,  are all “of the scale that they would require a lot of outside resources to produce.” This time, however, Kiefer said, “I wrote this specifically to be able to produce it myself.” While Kiefer said he has learned about screenwriting process  from watching some of his favorite films multiple times to dissect them, as well as by reading scripts “to understand how storytelling works,” he has gleaned most of his knowledge via firsthand experience. “Mostly, I’ve learned by doing,” said Kiefer, who added he has also benefitted by participating in writing workshops offered at the Woods Hole Film Festival.   “Like any artistic endeavor, we learn best by doing it,” he said. “Writing is certainly no exception, and the more you read, the better you write.” Looking ahead to his next film project, Kiefer sets the same benchmark he always has for himself – to top his most recent achievement. “My goal and ambition has always been to use each opportunity to get another opportunity and hopefully, to make the next opportunity a little bigger and better. I want to keep making films, and I hope they get bigger and better,” said Kiefer.

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