SAE Glasgow Film lecturer Paul Mackie has been busy working on a wide range of film productions alongside his lecturing responsibilities. From the award-winning short film Convergence, to Netflix’s new film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and Fast and Furious 9, Paul spoke to us about what his work on these projects entailed and how the skills he learned at SAE while he was a student helped him thrive on set. He also spoke to us about how he thinks the film industry will recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
How did you secure the role of Assistant Director on Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga?
Last September I was working on Fast and Furious 9, in the locations department, and as that job was starting to come to an end the rumours started to fly around about this other production that was coming called Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. I was originally pre-booked on the locations department for it but I got a call out of the blue saying I had been recommended for the AD team and as that had been a department I had been chasing to gain more work in I jumped at the opportunity. The funny thing was Eurovision was using the same Unit and Tech bases as Fast 9, so I finished up one day on Fast 9, had a day off and then the next day I was back in the same place for Eurovision. It was strangely comforting.
How did you connect with the film’s DOP Danny Cohen after your graduation from SAE?
Danny was the speaker at my graduation back in 2017, he was receiving an honorary degree. He made a great speech and was a DOP I had admired whilst I was studying - particularly loving his work on the film, This Is England. I wanted to speak with him at my graduation but sadly never got the chance and never thought I would again. Cut to, two years later and I get the call sheet in for my first day and see his name and I think that was more exciting to me than the prospects of meeting Will Ferrell and Rachael McAdams. He was a master at work and just made the job look so easy. I refrained from geeking out and enjoyed the fact I was one of their colleagues for that small period of time.
What were your responsibilities on Eurovision?
The main job was looking after the cast and crew. I had come from Locations, where there were always a million and one jobs to do. AD life is slightly the opposite, it is preparing for a million and one jobs you might need to do but also being prepared that the only job you might end up doing is being a battery farmer to the entire crew. Looking after cast and stunt doubles was always a pleasure, they were all so very humble and no outrageous requests that you may have imagined there might be, however, you need to then be on the ball to get them where they need to be on time. The crew were just as lovely and humble and a lot of the time it was just about keeping them well watered and fed. One of my most favourite parts about the role was the problem-solving. Sometimes we moved across three locations in one day and you have to quickly assess where all the amenities are, how we can move everyone in an orderly fashion and also taking note of all possible problems that could arise (sometimes based on local knowledge), that was really where I thrived. It was such an amazingly tight team of folk working on it and made the night shoots all the easier.
How does the Film course at SAE prepare you for working on a professional film set?
SAE gives such a broad range of knowledge to students and, even although not every job can be covered for practical reasons, it allows them to go off into the world knowing the broad spectrum of departments and terminology that comes in so useful when you have to quickly find the Gaffer, for example, and just head towards a lighting rig and the likelihood is he won’t be far away. Also, understanding the process of filmmaking in general means that you go in knowing that it will be long hours, repetitive takes and how important a well-fed crew can be to the working day. The biggest thing I took away from SAE when I left was the concept of networking, because even if you go in doing a runner job that you don’t particularly want to do, then you can find the appropriate opportunity to network with the trainees in the department you would like to break into. All the jobs I have gotten up to this point have all been through people I have worked with on previous films. Staying professional on the smallest of films could pay off to get the job on the biggest of films.
What have you enjoyed watching on Netflix/other streaming services during lockdown?
I have been catching up on a lot of things that I missed because I have been busy - mainly TV shows because films are easy to sit and watch when I am busy and on the move but struggle to keep up with season upon season of a show. I have been catching up on Designated Survivor, The Crown, Afterlife and Hollywood on Netflix. On Prime, I have mainly been watching the stuff that I missed in cinema last year but watched their latest original released called 7500 starring Joseph Gordon Levitt which was a very intense watch. I have also been enjoying Disney+ for The Mandalorian and just saw Ken Brannagh’s new film, Artemis Fowl, which was a fun watch but I think would have served better as a series than a film as it packed far too much in than 90 minutes could handle.
Do you think coronavirus will affect the way we consume cinema going forward?
I think the cinema experience might become a little more sacred again as we move further forward out of the phases of lockdown. I think it will be saved for those big blockbuster movies and epic movies that can afford to take a hit if they don’t meet their expected box office. I am sure eventually, as social distancing wears off, it will be more of a hygiene task for cinemas to give a deeper clean between films, which could see there being fewer showings per day to allow this. Due to this, I think we will see less independent films taking the cinema route and more of them being welcomed onto VOD platforms, which is no bad thing as there is more of a chance to get your work seen by a wider variety but it also means there is more competition. However, as any filmmaker will tell you, there is no bigger dream than to see your film on the big screen, so this could be bittersweet.
You also worked on Convergence as First AD - what did you work on this feature film entail?
This was a film that came out of the blue and was because of a short film I was production managing called Mia: A Rapture 2.0. The DOP was a great guy called Steve Johnson, who at an event for the short film asked if I would come on to a feature he was writing and directing to assume the role as First AD for some of the bigger crowd sequences. The cast, headed up by Jeremy Theobald and Nicolette McKeown was for the most part a pretty small cast and crew who produced it in a run and gun fashion. However, there were a few sequences that needed that bit of extra assistance to allow Steve and his team to just get on with shooting and allow me to take care of the rest and keep them on schedule. The biggest thing here was people and time management to get what was needed and get out the door on time as we had a short window to get some very emotional sequences. I believe my biggest job was to support Steve in continuing to keep the set a very calm and laidback environment - the only drama with this team was on screen - everyone had their jobs and mucked in which is an absolute credit to Steve and his producers.
How do you feel about the fact that this title won Best Film at the British Independent Film Festival?
I was over the moon when we found out we had been nominated but when it received the win I honestly was immensely proud to be part of it. I was on another job so couldn’t even make it down for the ceremony but I know a good time was had by all. That really opened the door to it getting its cinema release in November 2019 in Cineworld and finally found its home on Amazon Prime back in May.
You worked on Fast & Furious 9 which has been put back by 11 months. How has COVID-19 impacted your work in the film industry?
I was gutted when I heard it got pushed back but was so glad that it won’t suffer because of it. For me it has completely stalled my production work in terms of the films that were lined up for me to work on physically. However, it hasn’t stopped productions planning and picking up stuff that can be done remotely and just adapting as best I can to keeping myself busy with training animatics for COVID and also helping with some post-production on projects that people needed support on.
Are there any positives to come out of the lockdown for you creatively?
This truly has been time to take stock of a lot of things and re-evaluate the filmmaking process and time management in general as I have been on a rollercoaster for the last nearly five years or more. I have been continuing to write a lot, developing spec scripts that were sitting in my drawer, looking at possible shorts to put into motion when there is an opportunity and also working with actors on their showreels and directing them remotely which has been a great exercise for all involved and makes the most of what we have. Lockdown has shown us what we can do with so very little.
Do you have any advice for freelancers regarding protecting themselves against unpredicted events such as COVID-19?
I would say exactly what I say to people regarding general health and safety, which is go in prepared and know where your comfort level is at. Always read your companies guidelines or call sheet risk assessments as the worst thing is being underprepared and you lose work over it. There are several guidelines still been drawn up and I urge people to familiarise themselves with them - such as the one on the BFI site and make sure to not be pushed into anything they don’t think is right, as some companies may try and tow the line with the rules.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline that you’ve been working on?
I have a couple of scripts I am working on for features, one of which I hope to direct in the summer of next year. I had other smaller projects that I could have done first but this one has been a bit of a beast to crack and it has been niggling at me for the best part of eight years as a concept and back in March I finally broke the back of it and it has just run away with me. I have a very specific idea for how I hope to make it and in very early prep for it just now to try and see if it can logistically happen... just in process of finishing off the script just now... so we shall wait and see.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is out now on Netflix.