Tag Archives: Edinburgh

Alastair Mackenzie talks Perfect Sense

When Kim Aakeson’s loosely translated screenplay arrived at Sigma’s offices in Glasgow, David Mackenzie asked for a second opinion…

Q. It’s refreshing that Perfect Sense, rightly, depicts Glasgow as a cosmopolitan city. Are you pleased to be involved in a film that sidesteps received notions about Glasgow (and Scotland) that are often perpetuated in film and TV?

A. I’m pleased to be involved in this film because it’s a brilliant film. That goes without saying. But it presents Glasgow as a global player. The very fact that this story happens in Glasgow is indicative of the fact that Glasgow is a happening place. When the script first came in it was quite it was quite non-specific and we made the decision to set it in Glasgow because we wanted it to be a contained story. Albeit, one against a backdrop of an enormous pandemic that wipes humanity senseless. We wanted to keep it in a situation that was contained and relatively small so Glasgow seemed like the perfect place. So contextually it works really well and I love Glasgow. I used to live there, my brother lives there. It’s as good a place as any.

Did it feel like you were at home during filming?

Yes. I live in London but I’m from up here. I’ve never actually lived in Edinburgh but I spend a lot of time here. My mum and dad live up near Perth – so any excuse to get up here, I’ll take it really. It’s always like a homecoming.

Did you have much involvement with the development of the script?

‘I didn’t have much influence. It was my brother. When I first came into the offices at Sigma and I read it, I agreed instantly. It’s a Danish script translated into English and the first version that I read was quite sparse but that was actually its virtue because all the key elements of the film were in that original script. It’s been embellished a little bit, there’s more coverage of the global nature of the pandemic with the footage from around the world. But the actual script when we first read it was so powerful and so affecting, when they asked my opinion, I said ‘you should definitely make this film.’ My input was ‘yes, let’s do it.’

In Perfect Sense you play a scientist. You often play professional characters, do these roles ever make you think about what career you would have chosen if you weren’t an actor?

The older I get the harder it is to continue lead an unstructured, chaotic life and therefore when I play characters, be it scientists or lawyers or doctors, I often envy their clarity. But I envy it as a kind of fantasy. If I was leading those lives – well, the fact is I’m not leading those lives – so I don’t know what it would be like. But I would benefit from a bit more structure. I get a wee taste of it and then I go back to chaos again.

With You Instead premiering at the Glasgow Film Festival and Perfect Sense at EIFF, attention seems to be divided fairly between the two cities. What contrasts would you say they offer?

I don’t know if I can define a contrast. For me, I lived in Glasgow and I come here [Edinburgh] a lot for festivals. I’ve worked here quite a lot and shot a couple of movies, done a couple of plays. I associate Edinburgh much more with work. Glasgow seems to be a little bit looser than Edinburgh. That’s where our offices are, that’s where we do most of our riffing. We come to Edinburgh to present it. Edinburgh is, maybe it’s just my projection of the city, it always seem more formal to me; I put on a suit when I come to Edinburgh, in Glasgow I wear an anorak.

Did the sci-fi element of Perfect Sense appeal to you?

I like the idea of …when one thinks about science fiction, one normally thinks about these big budget, effects driven, studio movies and this a genre-bending take on sci-fi. So you’re dealing with fiction, you’re dealing with science, just to really tire out the metaphor. But it’s in a very contained, small, human, engaging way. It’s a love story set against the backdrop of this epidemic. A studio probably would have done it in the opposite way. It would have been the story of an epidemic in which there was a love story. We’ve gone the other way. The love story is the more important thing so you engage a lot more with the emotions. It’s a very emotional film, a very affecting film. You’re heavily invested and engaged with the characters, and the backdrop is very relevant but it’s not all the story.

How would you compare making Perfect Sense with You Instead? Did you enjoy T in the Park?

There’s an extraordinary contrast. Perfect Sense was a relatively high-budgeted film, very structured, and it was very well organised. You Instead was also very well organised but we shot it in four days at T in the Park. It was site specific so we had to finish it there and then. If we couldn’t get a shot, we couldn’t have that shot because we couldn’t have 90,000 people stay for an extra day.  So it was a lot more free-form. It was very invigorating and energising having to make this film against all the odds. We inadvertently had 90,000 extras. We had four seasons in a day, or four seasons in four days, which is great for the movie: it rained, so it gave us a lot of mud which looks great; it was sunny which also looks great.

I enjoyed making both of them enormously. You Instead was slightly more memorable because we were all forced to camp for four days. In one way we were engaging in the festival, which was the movie, so we could hear Jay-Z in the background but we couldn’t actually see him, which was tantalising. But we had a job to do and amazingly enough we did it. However, as my brother said, it may only have been 4/5 days of shooting but it took six months to edit.

Have the approaches to these two very different films prompted any ideas about future projects and the filmmaking process?

Our pipeline, shall we say, is full of ideas that we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t done You Instead because it was an experiment and as an experiment it’s worked. We had about three weeks, the script came in, and we were going to shoot it the following year, this year. And we thought, ‘you know what? Let’s just do it now.’ So we had three weeks of pre-production and Gillian Berrie, our producer, who is just an extraordinary force, she pulled this whole thing together, along with all the people in the office. And so the infrastructure was in place which enabled us to use those three weeks effectively.

What it means now, what we realised is, that we can shift the business model a little bit of how to make films, for us anyway. I think for David in particular, the way he has to direct, he was very enlivened by the process. I was also very enlivened because a lot of the time, filmmaking for an actor can, if you’re not careful – there is a danger that it can be stultifying because you’re waiting around, you’ve got to stay on your toes against all the odds really, waiting for the light etc. But in this case it didn’t matter where the light was, we had to just do it. It was liberating and in terms of the type of films we can make, it makes you realise that you can do anything really. The skill comes in the post-production, the six months in the edit, and the choices that the director has to make are hugely important. It’s a huge amount of work. So it’s naïve to think you can just go away and shoot a movie in four days and get a great movie. You need all the rest of these bits  in place. But it’s made us realise – there’s a changing economic environment, filmmaking is getting increasingly difficult in terms of finance but we’ve realised we can do interesting things for less money.

It seems David and yourself are not afraid to try new approaches to filmmaking, to keep learning and adapting to avoid becoming formulaic…

It’s all a work in progress. I was watching a movie on the train up. A great movie, but it’s thirty years old. Just in that space of time the way stories are told is so different. You can go a lot quicker, there’s much more cuts in a film. I mean, I’ve got kids and they can’t watch old films and they think an old film is ten years old. The way the film is actually edited is slightly less naturalistic, though at the time they thought it was utterly naturalistic.

With You Instead, for example – and some of this applies to Perfect Sense as well – because it was improvised, because it was site-specific, it’s rough around the edges and a bit crazy. It’s not formulaic and it’s not conventional in terms of storylines; there are some storylines that peter out, some that continue, there are weird asides. It’s unconventional. You need your audience to be on the ride with you. They have to be prepared to suspend their disbelief enough to see past those rough edges. And I think people are now, we’re in the “YouTube Age.” So people are used to, are getting more and more inured to, and more exposed to these types of films which are more improvisational and rougher. So that opens things up, you can start experimenting more. But the most important thing is that it’s got to be a good story and think there is with You Instead and Perfect Sense. They are love stories, what’s more universal than that?

Shorter version at http://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/news/2011/06/alastair-mackenzie-talks-perfect-sense


Interview: Storytelling in purgatory with Wayne Thallon and Andrew Hawley

Trailblazing director of A Spanking in Paradise, Wayne Thallon, and lead actor Andrew Hawley talk about filming in Edinburgh, brothels and the art of telling tales.

Centred around an Edinburgh sauna, A Spanking in Paradise is a local affair and Thallon is exuberant about the city: “You can turn up and film anything which is worth its weight in gold to low budget productions. It’s manageable and quite beautiful. It’s got your chocolate box, your rough-and-ready underbelly and I’m from Edinburgh.”

Hawley, who plays wide-eyed Justin, visiting his uncle and moonlighting in his brothel, is similarly enthused, ‘I didn’t know Edinburgh well because I studied in Glasgow but it’s got a good atmosphere. I came up here, got me hair cut, Wayne stuck me in a house and we just got our heads down.”

Casting the ideal lead was difficult but, “as soon as I saw young Andrew here, it was love at first sight,” recalls Thallon. The conversation takes a more facetious turn, how did Hawley prepare to be Justin, the innocent bystander? “I had to pretend I was virtuous and I wanted to keep myself clean. I made sure that I kept out of brothels so that by the time I was here I was suitably horrified by what I saw. That’s real horror that you see.”

Writing the script was easy for Thallon given the comic potential of the subject matter, “a lot of people don’t realise these saunas are legit Edinburgh institutions that have been there forty, fifty years so it’s a scene that begs exploring. You’ve got a small space, and for whatever reason, there are women in there who are competing so they hate each other. Then men come in from all walks of life and it’s a storm in a teacup. The humour is constant.”

The laughs are largely down to canny characterisation and Thallon’s gift for story-telling. Mention of Justin’s line, ‘this is purgatory rather than paradise’ inspires an amusing detour: “That’s for the religious fanatics. I like to throw in something serious. It reminds me of back in the 90s before internet porn.”

“You had to buy magazines like Razzle and Escort and you’d be flicking through, not me personally, and come across a Polaroid of a naked dude who was called Barry from Dagenham or Des from Southend and it was called ‘One for the Ladies’. That’s my one for the ladies moment.”

Rab (Simon Weir) is the owner of Birds of Paradise and a master storyteller. Hawley explains, “Rab is involved in a lot of crime and he’s terrifying at times but he can be engaging and warm and that’s the complexity about him.”

It’s something Thallon is clearly passionate about, “If someone can drag you in with these monologues, someone who changes voices, intonation, mannerisms; then that is good old-fashioned storytelling. Where is the Scottish Lost in Translation or American Beauty? What we do is formidable storytelling and we should play to our strengths.”

The film is not about sleaze, it’s a story about family that encompasses prostitution, Hawley points out Justin is there to learn about his father and according to Thallon the brothel,  “is not a sexual environment. If you don’t want to be turned on by prostitutes, work a day in one. What an industry professional goes through on any given day is not appealing.”

What gives A Spanking in Paradise the edge is character and local colour, Hawley quips, “You couldn’t do the same thing in a brothel in Leeds.”


Interview: Fighting crime with Miles Watts

Miles Watts explains how York inspired his black and white comic book caper, Crimefighters.

“I was cycling along to Danny Elfman’s Batman soundtrack, and combined with York’s gothic architecture, I thought it would be the perfect setting for a really British low-budget Batman spoof.” Watts wrote the script in five months in collaboration with a friend and then shot the film on a miniscule budget of £7000 in three weeks.

Watts admits the final week was the hardest of his life but the social nature of his filmmaking ensured it wasn’t just a job, “I really love working with female/male crew, I would hate working with just men. I want to spend more time on the set when there are girls, it’s more fun, or maybe I just like showing off. When you get girls on the set everyone behaves differently and you gain from it.”

This attitude may explain the dominant female characters present in Crimefighters. “I have a lot of female friends who have been influential in my life. When I first started writing scripts the male characters were too much like me so I decided to write from a girl’s perspective. I’ve borrowed lots of snippets of genius from girl friends and I’m also a big Buffy fan. It’s Joss Whedon syndrome, he’s been accused of not being able to create anything without a strong female character and I think that’s my problem.”

Crimefighters explores social issues such as binge drinking, “In a lot of towns there’s a drinking culture that tends to be to the detriment of artistic endeavours. There’s so much talent in York; musicians, filmmakers, artists but the pubs are a distraction. I have been in boring retail jobs where the social life is great, you go straight out to pubs after work with your mates and get really drunk. I don’t know who couldn’t relate to that.”

Watts is keen to point out it’s not just young people: “youths are scapegoated, newspapers have a tendency to point at the hoodies but I’ve seen many instances of men and women in their thirties, drunken stag and hen nights who cause more trouble. There’s a bit in the film where thugs are threatening a homeless guy and I saw that outside the cinema I was working at. I wanted to make that distinction.”

Watts indicates Crimefighters is just the beginning, “In the next year a lot of things are happening. I’m setting up a production company at York Uni, there’s a new film and media centre opening and there are a lot of enthused people who are interested in each other’s work. When Crimefighters was selected for EIFF a lot of people realised that it was possible.”


Film review: Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

Dogtooth (2009)

Dir. Giorgos Lanthimos

Some people will do anything for a quiet life. The ‘seen and not heard’ rule, nannies and corporal punishment are all examples of this but Father has his own methods. His far from pubescent daughters think that ‘play’ means to inhale anaesthetic and ‘race’ to see who wakes up first. He does, however, pay for his employee Christina to have sex with his son and even if he does think that a pussy is a ‘big light’ he can at least impress her with the merit stickers on his rickety single bed. Aside from creating an alien vocabulary, the parents have mastered lip-reading, never cry in front of the children and have convinced them that their non-existent second son was fatally wounded by a cat. This later prompts Son to attack an invading moggy with a pair of shears and when Christina trades copies of Jaws and Rocky for sexual favours from Older Daughter, the blindfold Father has imposed on his family starts to unravel.

For a film that features sibling incest, Dogtooth is suitably disturbing. Watching two full grown adults scrabble after a model airplane or Father calmly duct-tape a video cassette to his hand in order to beat Older Daughter over the head are just a couple of the scenes that will extract gasps. It is hard to know what to make of a film where the characters down an entire glass of orange juice or milk at once for fear that will lose its freshness or where we are invited to watch two mature women scamper around in swimming costumes with a childish ignorance of the signification of their own bodies.

Even outside his perimeter fence, Father’s conversation is stilted and distant and the film has a starkness that extends beyond the clinical white walls of the isolated homestead. The final scene where the camera is fixed on the boot of Father’s car is too long, leaving us to ponder if there really is a convincing message behind its grotesque contents.

Showing at Cameo Picturehouse until May 20th