Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ReelScotland Interview with "Donkeys" Director Morag McKinnon

There is a fantastic article online today at ReelScotland with Donkeys director Morag McKinnon. In this rare interview with Morag, she speaks candidly about the second installment of the Advance Party series, what it was like to take the characters from the critically acclaimed Red Road and set them in a different light featuring some of the same brilliant cast (including the always excellent Kate Dickie). It is a long piece, and well worth reading, but of note are nuggets and quotes regarding the process of the film, working with screenwriter Colin McLaren and more:


Was the change in title, from Rounding up Donkeys to just Donkeys, part of needing to make it tighter? I suppose so, yes, that’s fair to say, but after yesterday’s screening I’m surprised anyone knows why it’s called that at all because the audience laughed over the line ’rounding up donkeys’! They didn’t hear it and they’ll be going out wondering why it’s called that!

That was the first public screening. Laurel and Hardy would have screenings where they worked out how long people would laugh for, which is why there are scenes with a space to laugh, and I think we should have had a public screening before this so we knew that there’s this key line in the film and you can’t hear it.


How did you come to be involved in the Advance Party project? The scripts were completed in tandem, so how did you decide to use the various characters?I rolled up to Sigma Film [the film's producers] and said ‘I’ve got this script, do you fancy making it?’ and they said that they liked the script but that they had a scheme called Advance Party and did I want to be part of it?

I said alright, not knowing really what it was because you say yes to opportunities when you can, especially if they’re making feature films because that’s really rare. I knew they wanted an English one [Red Road], a Scottish one and an Danish one, so I did the Scottish one and then [Advance Party creators] Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen basically constructed these characters and gave them to us and said if we wanted to add extra characters that was fine.

The interesting thing is that you have stories inside you and gravitate towards the characters you want to work with. With Andrea, she knew she wanted to work with Jackie, and stories emerge from that very naturally. I went straight to Alfred because he’s a liar, he’s fallible, he’s 64 and I wanted to do something with someone coming to the end of their life, having a health scare and really having to confront what their life was all about. I think that as you enter your 30s you start to really think about mortality, at how to prioritise your life, and that’s what I was going through at the time. I wanted to do something tragi-comic because I’d just finished working on a prison series which was very gritty and hard and I really needed some laughs.

You react to what you’re experiencing and it was a very natural gravitation towards Alfred and I knew what story I wanted to tell. You have this palette of characters and you very naturally know what you want to do and tell.

How did you come to work with Colin on Donkeys? I’ve actually known him since htherigh school, and most of my work to date has been written by him. We’ve been a creative partnership since art college. He wasn’t the first writer because I think the company wanted me to work with someone else but that didn’t quite work so I got Colin on board because I thought it would work

Was that before or during Red Road? It was concurrent and I think the gestation for the script was made longer because I did try to work with someone else and we had to start all over again which is why we were kind of delayed coming after Red Road because our script took longer to develop....I knew I wanted to go with Alfred and that I wanted it to be a story about someone coming together with his estranged daughter, so I started writing the treatment, then the other writer came in but that didn’t work out and so I gave that to Colin and he embellished it into a script. Sigma wanted me to write it but Colin came in and did what he does so well, which is to impart witty dialogue and nice plot twists and he can do what I can’t do, so there’s a nice collaboration there. Also, I knew the tone he’d bring to it because we’ve done tragi-comic things in the past and I really like that so for me he was a very natural partner. It’s a lovely, lovely script.

Red Road was such a big success that you’d expect any sequel to have guaranteed press and publicity around it, but there’s not been been a buzz around Donkeys. Why has it taken so long for the film to receive its premiere?

It treads a fine line tonally and there were two rungs of editing. There was a long edit and we thought it was nearly there but not quite, so it was a case of sitting on it for a little while. Then there was an edit revision and then a process of revising the edit. That was essential because it was too long and it needed to be tight and show its full potential.Sometimes you can get too close and it was a protracted edit because it wasn’t quite there. It can be healthy to go away and come back again with fresh eyes. I think it benefited it in the end. It was sent out to a few festivals and there was this sense it wasn’t quite ready yet and we needed to get the tone right.

Future of Advance Party series:
Do you know the state of the third film? I can’t tell you anything about it apart from the fact that the director, Mikkel [Nørgaard], got himself involved in the Danish equivalent of Friends and he might not be free for a while yet. That’s been very successful and he also has family commitments. They did develop a script a while back which seemed really nice. There’s a new Advance Party project where they have eight scripts that they’re developing. Perhaps the way the series was developed could have been looked at as, in a sense, there are intrinsic problems when different scripts take different lengths of time to develop.

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