Young Adam and Hallam Foe director David Mackenzie has two films out this year - the compelling Perfect Sense, and straightforward rom-com You Instead, released 16th September.
Starring Luke Treadaway (Attack the Block) and Natalia Tena (Harry Potter) as two warring musicians handcuffed together at T in the Park, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable affair - read our review here. We caught up with Mackenzie for an exclusive chat.
You Instead must have been a chaotic shoot.
The main thing was that these festivals are quite tightly organised, they know when this band’s coming on, this band’s going off and so forth. They have these targets to meet, and so when we did things like our stage crash, we had to be there at the exact time, while they had five minutes of waiting around or something. As a result of that, that gave us our structure, there were all these markers throughout the day, giving us a schedule. We were able to work within that, but there was a lot of thinking on your feet, as circumstances change by the moment. For me that was fun, because with filmmaking, you’re usually serving a preconceived idea, which has all been scheduled and organised very tightly. I always try and make room for the magic of the moment where I can, but in this case that magic of the moment was about 80% of the process, which was great.
Were the weather conditions challenging? From a director of photography’s view it must have been a tricky shoot.
Well people have said that, but actually it was ideal for us, we had a script which involved mud – there was rain but it wasn’t overwhelming. We had kind of a mixed bag, so we were able to get that festival feeling where the rain’s coming down, and that’s a really important part of it. If it hadn’t have rained we would have been a little disappointed, we had these buckets on standby just filled with mud ready to go in case it didn’t. Coming back to how chaotic the shoot was, normally you get your schedule and you never go over a page in a day. This was four pages, with one line per scene, and we just had to laugh! There was no kind of professional logic of how to deal with that, we just did the best we could. I had a fantastic first AD, who was very calm. So we were kind of the calm in the storm, we were relishing the mayhem in a way, and as a result of that we could harness that mayhem, and bring it to our advantage.
That shot of the sunrise, with the flock of seagulls and everything is really nice.
That wasn’t in the script! We were just out there, and it was almost apocalyptic. The seagulls were just fantastic, it seemed to be that kind of moment. You just go with the flow and take advantage of what’s presented to you. That’s the kind of filmmaking that isn’t often allowed, and when you are allowed it and it works, it’s a real privilege.
Coming back to the idea of something not being in the script, was it hard to stick to it with such an unpredictable shoot?
It was difficult to stick to the letter of the script in some cases, because the events of the festival threw things up which were just as juicy, and were real, right there. So the skill was thinking on your feet, taking the essence of what was in the scene, and trying to turn it into what was in the environment there. The poor actors had a lot of dialogue, the whole thing in their heads if they needed it but sometimes we found that we didn’t need to say so much. In the spirit of thinking on your feet, we worked with the circumstances. But the essence of the script is always there. The scene where they get muddy, and the silent disco thing, there were a few little scenes in between, but we kind of bypassed them and it seemed the right thing to do.
How was the festival as a shooting environment? Were fans and organisers receptive, or did the sheer amount of people just get in the way?
When we moved into the festival for the first time, it was just uncontrolled mayhem, but I kind of got an adrenalin kick out of it, because it was going to give us mayhem, but also give us something real, something we couldn’t have imagined. There are moments, when the camera is near the actors, where people could see what was going on and try to get involved, most of the time people were just having fun in their own little world, a couple came up and did the waving thing, but it never became a problem. We always just rolled with it. There are a few people in the film who are just interacting with the cast as normal, but it just worked.
Speaking of which, there are some good musical cameos in the film, were they all spur of the moment, or planned?
All of them were spur of the moment. Newton Faulkner was brilliant, he played it for laughs and was great, I was really impressed with his acting skills!
What was it that first attracted you to this script? Was it that spirit of adventure that could be employed n the shoot?
The fundamental thing is that when you’ve made a movie about the end of the world (Prefect Sense) you want to make something a little lighter! This came as a writing sample from Tom, who has written a novel which we are interested in adapting, it just seemed fun, it takes place in a short timeframe, it doesn’t need to be too challenging in terms of narrative, because it’s basically about two people getting together at a festival. It was young people, in an interesting setting, a real Ying and Yang challenge from Perfect Sense. I had my doubts as to whether it was going to be possible, I was just finishing off Perfect Sense while we prepping – at one stage I was doing sound mixing on that, then going down the corridor to where they were doing rehearsals for You instead, then back down to the sound mixer. That was really exciting, and it was a very quick sprint, we gathered momentum, the cast and crew were all great, we lost all those initial fears about whether it would be a complete disaster or not, charged at it and just came out the other side, very tired and confused but invigorated at the same time.
It must have been surreal the two productions overlapping, as they couldn’t be much different, even though they deal with fairly similar themes.
Yes, but at the same time, as a filmmaker if you go through the same process each time, finding your cast, finding your crew, prepping, shooting, according to schedule, it becomes a coordinated process, and it can be frustrating, and even kind of boring. So when something comes along which forces you to rip up the rulebook, it suddenly becomes something that can take you back to that kick you had hen you first started making films. It came at a really nice part in my own arc, when I was beginning to get frustrated with the process, it was nice to be able to do something different. There’s a very quick gap between a thought and the action when you only have five days, in the middle of thousands of people all having a great time. The normal process is that the thought goes through so many channels, so it was nice to be able to condense that a little.
On a shoot like this, do the lines get blurred a lot, in terms of everyone having to pitch in together with every job?
It’s a hard one, because the script was very reliant on it’s dialogue, and I went into the shoot thinking that one of the easiest things to do is to shoot people taking to each other – you just reverse the shot, or cut, the actors do the work. I was keen to keep the dialogue as bubbly as it was, but we all found that there were so many things going on, we couldn’t be talking too much. So there was this weird process where we were trying to reduce the amount of dialogue, and it becomes a clamour, everyone trying to get heard and not hearing each other. There was a bit of mayhem there, so in the process we tried to ease off there, and hopefully succeeded.
What else do you have lined up?
I’m working on a script based on a book called Journey Into Space, which is a sci-fi book, that’s what I’m building up to at the moment. Sigma films is just about finishing a horror movie we shot last year called Citadel. I’m doing an art project in February and trying to start a graphic novel with an artist friend of mine, based on this book called Stain on the Snow, which might end up being another film we do. So a few in the air, not sure which will land first, but something either late this year or early next. There are so many factors.
Any bizarre anecdotes from the festival?
I’m not too good at these… it was incredible how everyone came together, particularly in the crowd scenes, we manged to get crowd surfing and everything – the magic of getting things to work, with the last bit of light in the sky… we got so tight as a unit. It’s not really an anecdote but that was a real high point. The seagull thing, at four thirty in the morning was another, a real beauty moment, even though we were all knackered!
So we won’t see you shooting another at Glastonbury next year?
Well I’d love to do that method in another environment, it’s not going to suit every type of film but it was a really interesting process. You can’t recapture that kind of thing with two thousand extras, it just isn’t the same.