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You Instead - David Mackenzie interview

David Mackenzie

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DAVID Mackenzie talks about some of the challenges of shooting You Instead around the T In The Park music festival and why he embraced things such as mud.

He also talks about capturing the live performances from his actors and some of the live performers themselves for cameos.

Q. I imagine it’s quite a big undertaking to shoot a film around a music festival such as T in The Park?
David Mackenzie: There’s obviously a major undertaking in terms of the limits to your schedule. These things tend to only be up for a day or two before they’re going and literally packing up the moment the last song is played. So, if you’re going to do a music festival movie we came to the conclusion that the only thing we could do was to make it really quickly if it were to capture the authenticity of it, rather than trying to recreate it. I mean, the idea of recreating it with all those stages and all the people would have been really quite hard to do even with a really big budget. So, we came to that conclusion once we had taken on the film.

I thought maybe I might need to shoot a few extra bits and pieces at the other end of it but about two days into the shoot I began to realise we were going to get through it and that was a really good feeling, confronting the challenge of a seemingly insane schedule and realising that not only were we going to get through it, but also that there were distinct advantages to being able to do it that quickly to get under the skin of the thing and to capture some of the mayhem of it.

Q. What made you want to take on the challenge in the first place?
David Mackenzie: Well, the script came to me and I thought I could handle it. For me, I’d made this movie called Perfect Sense, which was dealing with some really big themes. This was basically about kids having a good time and it’s not trying to be complicated in any way and it’s lively and full of energy, so it was exciting in those ways. It was almost like a foil to the last thing I’d done and the chance to try something different. It was very exciting for me as a process as a director and hopefully for the audience. I want it to capture the spirit of a festival in a way that few people have done before.

Q. I’d imagine it’s therefore essential to have actors who are prepared to muck in, literally, and not require their trailer all the time?
David Mackenzie: Yes. But also the poor actors have to know the 90-page script completely. They don’t know what order it’s coming in because it’s going to change all the time. They’re getting four hours sleep. So, it’s a total immersion experience. But that’s one of the things I like about the film – the film is an immersion experience. Once you get in there, there’s a little bit of set-up to know what’s going on, but then you’re in that festival world until you kind of get spat out the other end.

Q. How big a factor was the mud?
David Mackenzie: The mud is perfect for us! If we’d had no mud it would have been a missing ingredient and we had buckets standing by because there is a scene in the mud. Fortunately, we got enough rain that it didn’t overwhelm us. We were very lucky with the weather. Some people have said that we weren’t so lucky because it rained, but that rain was good for us because rain is part of the whole festival thing, particularly in Scotland!

Q. Was it always going to be set in T in the Park?
David Mackenzie: Well, once we took it over it was going to be T in The Park. It was written for another festival but as soon as we took it on it made sense. We’re based out of Glasgow, it’s the biggest Scottish festival, and we had all our connections there. It would have been very hard to imagine doing it at another festival. There were some quite scary logistical things to consider. I mean, there was a moment where we had to stop shooting… we needed to get from A to B but came to a complete standstill because Jay-Z’s entourage had to cross the road and we couldn’t say: “But we’re the film crew!” The idea of doing it at one of the English festivals, particularly one where there’s a lot of other media, could have been really problematic.

Q. How did you go about grabbing the various musicians that cameo, such as Newton Faulkner?
David Mackenzie: Well, that’s a spontaneous thing that also kind of happened. Newton was brilliant. He was really game for it. He played his part, playing himself, only wittily.

Q. He was aware you were making a film? Luke has said that a lot of the crowd were never aware that the characters the actors were portraying weren’t real…
David Mackenzie: It was strange, even when there was a camera nearby they thought it was trying to be a documentary thing or something. So, there were moments when you were crossing the border of fact and fiction quite a lot but Newton was aware that he was playing himself and Gavin and him may have had a little chat about what was going to be said.

Q. How was capturing the live performances of Luke Treadaway and Natalia Tena, especially the Tainted Love sequence?
David Mackenzie: The moment we were doing that, which we shot in maybe an hour and a half, was the moment I realised we’d cracked the film. It was on the Thursday night, so it was our first proper night, and they got it right. They’d rehearsed it, they got it right, the atmosphere was great and the crowd were great. We had three of four cameras operating, they were playing live and they were playing well, and I could feel I was at a festival. It’s a romantic dance in a great way and they come together in a really good way in the scene. So, it was a turning point moment for me. They had to get up there and do it. We’d rehearsed a bit, of course… especially the music because we always knew that it could be problematic making them look like a real band. You can fake it a bit but they had to hold it together enough to be convincing. And so they were.

Q. Was it always going to be Tainted Love that you used as a sample? And was it easy to get the rights?
David Mackenzie: From the script it was, yes. We had a lot of trouble with… one of the biggest things in terms of the production was getting all the licenses for the music but I think that was one that was not a problem.

Q. Luke wrote a song for his audition that eventually got used and also became the name of the film…
David Mackenzie: Yeah, we liked the song. My only regret about that is that it starts with a ‘y’. I’ve now done two films that start with a ‘y’ [You Instead and Young Adam] and it always goes right to the back of the alphabetical list! I’m going to have to choose a film that begins with an ‘a’. But it just seemed an appropriate thing because the song was his and we needed to find songs. We’d developed a few others with Eugene Kelly, who is a great Scottish songwriter, with The Vaselines, so Eugene and Luke were doing stuff together and one of the songs is You Instead, which we used at the beginning and we used as the second last song. It’s become the title of the film as well.

Q. Are you a festival-goer anyway? Do you have any favourite memories, if so?
David Mackenzie: I’m getting too old for doing that and I’ve got kids, so I’m actually getting to the point where I could bring them to it. So, I haven’t been for a while but, yes, in the past I certainly have. It’s memories of those kind of things that you’re tapping into. My very, very favourite memory was Glastonbury in 1989 and seeing, among other things, The Pixies play and dancing like mad to Fela Kuti, which was phenomenal. I wasn’t even aware of who he was at the time but he just blew me away. Seeing Elvis Costello on stage, headlining the main stage, just with himself on guitar and being fantastic, and getting the first hit of acid house coming into my life… in among a whole bunch of other bizarre memories [laughs]. That’s quite a lot of memories to have of one festival, particularly whatever was going on with the acid house!

Q. What was the biggest lesson that you learned about yourself on this one?
David Mackenzie: That I’m good at thinking on my feet! To me, that was a sort of revelation. Ever since my first film, it’s been a process of: “This is what we’re going to do…” We’d then organise it, whereas this is much more a case of, well, here’s an idea and five seconds later you’re shooting it. And to realise that I was quite good at that and quite good at remaining calm and focused, and to realise that it was possible to make films using that method was a great thing to learn. I’d absolutely love to be able to apply that in some way not to every film but to some of the films I do. Shooting in a live environment means that you can’t control that environment, so you have to kind of relax and just let that environment do what it does and try and let all the various tides of what’s going on help you rather than hinder you. So, that was a really thrilling thing to discover.

Q. What’s next for you?
David Mackenzie: I’ve got a few things going. I’m about to start writing an adaptation of a book by Toby Litt, called Journey Into Space. I’m working on a graphic novel of a script that I’ve written called Stain on The Snow, which is an adaptation of a book by George Simenon and that’s set in 1940s Belgium and involves a kid on a crime spree. So, the idea is that the graphic novel is sort of a step towards making the movie. It’s an interesting experiment for me and I’m really excited about that. We’ve also got a number of other projects in development and we’ll just see what’s going to come next. We’ve got a prison drama that’s pretty close to being ready and we can maybe shoot that quite quickly. So, a number of things are in the process of aligning and I’m not sure which one will hit the ground first.

Read our interview with Natalia Tena