Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Part Two: Virgin Media Interview with David Mackenzie

Sorry for lack of updates; pressing personal life has taken precedent.

Right then, for those that did not see it earlier and as promised, Virgin Media did release their second part of their interview with director David Mackenzie. Well worth the read are David's comments on short films. For those unfamiliar with David's background in shorts (and a significant part of the Sigma films approach and background in developing filmmakers too I think) please read on:

Your lead actors in You Instead, Natalia Tena (Harry Potter) and Luke Treadaway (Clash of the Titans), both starred in short films before getting their big breaks. Do you think shorts are a good calling card in the industry?

"I made nine short films before I made my first feature. I was itching to get onto the longer format, because you put almost as much energy into a short as you do into a feature, and in the end you haven’t got as much to show for it. I don’t know how else you’d break into the industry. In the old days, people had to start out making commercials, and that’s another way in, but quite often people who direct commercials find it quite hard to then get into drama. Somebody once said to me ‘if you want to do drama, just do drama’ and I sort of followed that – one of my shorts was an arty documentary, but all of the others have been dramas.

So yes, I think it definitely is a calling card but it’s not just that, it’s about learning how to do the job. You have to get good at making films and learning to juggle all the things you have to juggle when you’re a director."

You won the Lloyds Bank Film Challenge with your film Beer Goggles. How important do you think competitions like that are for young film makers?

"That was a really good one. In a way that was my first professional commission, getting a reasonable budget and a proper format to take somebody else’s script and turn it into a movie. That was great. I think any of those opportunities are worth taking, because they’re all about putting in the flying hours, to develop the skills and make mistakes and learn some lessons."

Almost all of your films have been in Scotland. How did shooting your feature film Spread in LA compare to your usual locations of Glasgow and Edinburgh?

"The major difference when you’re shooting in LA is the weather, it’s so much more controllable. As a film maker, you’re at the mercy of the weather - it’s always changing, sometimes in the middle of a scene - and that makes it quite hard. You sometimes have to rip it up and start again when the weather changes because the scenes will never cut together. So you’re constantly being battered by that, as well as all the other problems with the schedule. Finding yourself in an environment where you don’t have that problem makes a significant difference to what you’re able to do. And you can focus on other things. I really enjoyed it for that reason! I’d like to go back to LA when the opportunity arises."


n 1997, California Sunshine was nominated for a BAFTA – not bad for your third short! Did you feel that the industry was finally taking notice of you?

"California Sunshine was definitely a step up for me, I made a tiny bit more money for it than my previous ones, for a start. And it was a bit more of a professional production. It was shot all in one location, so it was controllable. And I had a great crew. I finally felt like I was beginning to learn from some of the mistakes I’d made on previous films. So it was definitely a step up."

How did you fund your earlier films?

"They were all through various schemes – it was basically a case of finding little pockets of money where I could. My advice to a young film director would be to find a good producer, one who’s going to get as much out of it as you are, so that they’re learning their skills by trying to put the pieces of the jigsaw together, while you’re learning your skills by developing scripts and shooting movies."

Is it important to connect with your characters on a personal level?

"I think it’s a really good idea, if you’re making films that have that personal element in some form or other, you’re bound to have some insight into it, more acute than if you’re making something that you have a bit more distance on. It’s not the only way of doing it, it’s not an essential ingredient, it can help. I also think people are capable of using their imaginations and empathy to tell stories about subjects that aren’t quite so close to home."

Would you ever go back to making short films?

"Yes I would actually. If the opportunity came up to do something and I had the time and a good enough idea, I’d love to make shorts again. I think there’s something quite sweet and poetic about shorts that you have to expand on in a longer film and it becomes something heavier."

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