Director David Mackenzie has spent the last decade crafting an amazing career in cinema. His works has captured the minds of film fans and critics alike. His latest film, “Perfect Sense” no exception. In the film, Eva Green plays a bright, young scientist named Susan who is a scientist searching for answers to important questions. So important that she has given up on other things, including love – until she meets Michael (Ewan McGregor), a talented chef. Suddenly everything starts to change. While Susan and Michael are experiencing new and unforeseen depths of feeling, all around the world people are also beginning to feel strange – something is affecting the emotions. Susan and Michael find themselves embarking on a sensual adventure, experiencing head-spinning, stomach-tightening moments of pure connection. Is this because they are falling in love or is it because the world is falling apart? “Perfect Sense” serves as a life-affirming look at what it means to love and be loved in these turbulent times. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with director David Mackenzie to discuss his evolution as a director, the challenges in bringing “Perfect Sense” from script to screen and much more!
The entertainment industry is not for the faint of heart. When did you decide to pursue a career as a filmmaker as opposed to going in a different direction?
It was right around the time that I failed to get into the army. It is kind of an interesting story. You see, I come from a military family, so I thought that was what I wanted to do with my life, although I wasn’t that predisposed to it to be honest. I think I wanted to impress my Dad. I failed to get in because my hearing wasn’t good enough. I had always been interested in photography and poetry. Somehow or another the combination of the soul of a photographer and a poet isn’t that far off from being a filmmaker. It came out of that, when I was in my late teens really. I had a revelation when I was around 18. I saw four films in one week and they kind of blew my mind! Those films were “2001” by Stanley Kubrick, “Alphaville” by Jean-Luc Godard — who remains a shining light for me — “Caravaggio” by Derek Jarman — which among other things starred a very young Tilda Swinton, who I later went on to work with in the film “Young Adam” — and “Strangers Than Paradise” by Jim Jarmusch. Those films completely blew my mind. Those things sort of added up to make me want to become a film director.
Your latest project is “Perfect Sense.” For those not yet familiar with it, what can you tell us about the film?
I guess it is kind of an anti-genre genre movie in a way. It is a sci-fi film, which many might describe as kitchen sink sci-fi or lo-fi sci-fi. It was done that way very deliberately as it is a high concept movie that is being told on an intimate scale. Basically, it is the story of a love affair at the end of the world. Hopefully, it is a movie that is just as romantic as it is scary. It is emotional in all sorts of ways. It is a multi-faceted thing and is sort of hard to put in a box to be honest, for what it is. It definitely has a sci-fi element and quite surprisingly, a strong romantic element.
What attracted you to the project initially?
Seeing the opportunity to make a movie that was on big scale in terms of its themes but on an intimate scale in terms of what it was. I found that really exciting because I had just come back from America where I had made a movie. The script for this film seemed like a European film but the themes were more American in a way and it felt like an appropriate thing for me to do at the time. That is kind of what happens with projects, they land on your doorstep in one form or another and the ones that you end up doing are the ones that seem right at the time.
As you mentioned, the film balances two very big elements with a blossoming romance and a world that is falling apart. Was this a difficult thing for you to pull off?
In terms of difficulty, the difficult thing was imaging some of these elements of humanity’s collapse, the story elements. It is hard when you are trying to create a world that is breaking down. In a way, the hopefulness, romantic and beautiful elements of it were great because they were the relief from the heavier sides of the film. As a filmmaker, I have always tried to juggle both the heavy and the light. I am quite comfortable with those things! But obviously, when you are dealing with the lighter side or the more joyous side it is definitely a relief from dealing with the elements that might drag you down a bit.
There is no shortage of talent with Ewan McGregor and Eva Green along for the ride. What did they bring to the table for a project like this?
There is a great chemistry between them. I think it is a very essential part of the movie and they are bringing that. It is kind of a combination of acting and them, their chemistry. You can’t really fake chemistry, so they are bringing their hearts and souls to it. They both really responded to the script, which you know, is an out-there thing. It’s not a normal film. It is a film that is trying to rebel against the conventions of some of the pockets that you could put it in. They understood that and brought their intuition, their intelligence, their brilliant acting chops, their extremely good looks … [laughs] and everything else to the table!
As a director, what was the biggest challenge in bringing this film from script to screen?
That’s a hard one! Because the film is divided into development, pre-production, production and post-production, they all have their challenges. During the shoot, I think it was trying to deal with the elements of the film dealing with the senses and the loss of the senses which you, yourself, are not experiencing and you have to imagine. That is always sort of a hard reach. Another thing that was difficult was during the edit. There were some areas where we are constructing things very deliberately in a sort of news-reel type of way and that was very much by design but there are so many choices there. That was always a hard thing to get through. Actually, making this film was a very pleasant experience to go through.
Is there something that jumps out at you as your fondest memory of making this film?
Yeah, I always have fun working with Ewen Bremner and having him and Ewan McGregor together. I think they have worked together since “Trainspotting” but the sparks were flying off of them and that was really good fun and memorable. All sorts of things regarding the food for the thing as well. We tried very hard to recreate the sense of a real kitchen and making sure that it all looked real with steam coming off of it. It is a hard thing to do but getting that right and capturing the energy of a real kitchen was a good experience for me as a director. The film has lots of mood shifts and changes, each one has a different tone, so being able to grasp those tones was good fun and a good learning experience as well.
How do you feel you evolved as a director through the years? Is that something you pay a lot of mind to?
Yes, definitely. Every film is a learning experience. Some of the films come together in a more difficult manner than others. I certainly think I am a much better director than when I started. I know how to do things and get around problems, I know how to make a shot work and do all sorts of things with actors. All of these things are things that I have learned from experience and you can’t teach them. That is the good thing about building up a body of work. “Perfect Sense” is my seventh film. It is quite interesting because I am collaborating on an art project on which I am working with a couple of people who haven’t made films before. I am watching these artists that I am working with direct for the first time and there is something great about that — the joy of doing it pure, without knowing what to do. I am still learning and I still enjoy learning and hopefully I am getting better!
What is the best piece of advice you would give to young filmmakers?
“Know your own mind and be patient” is probably the best piece of advice I can give. You have to stand your ground and it can be lonely out there doing that but you have to be patient. You are not going to get it right every time and you might not necessarily get it right the first time but you have to keep on doing it. It is a long game and plenty of careers have started off with one great movie but they find it hard after that, ya know. Keep in mind it is a long game!
Is there a particular type of film or genre you are anxious to tackle in the future?
Yeah! I am quite keen on what I am going to probably do next, which is a prison drama. It has a lot of fight scenes and action in it. I have never done that kind of thing before. I have always kind of turned away from projects that feel too genre-ish because it doesn’t feel real to me. This project feels both real and genre-ish and I am intrigued by that! I am also writing a script for a sci-fi and a western, so I am sort of going through the genres now. It is an interesting thing because when you enter into the territory of a genre, you have to kind of deal with all of the history of that particular genre and all the games that the genre plays. It is guaranteed to be a learning experience because you have to immerse yourself in what it is and what it means. As someone who loves cinema, I am looking at the experience of these things as something that is going to teach me things that I don’t yet know.
Looking back on your career at this point, what do you consider your biggest milestones to date?
That’s a really hard one! I made a movie called “Young Adam” with Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullen and Emily Mortimer. It was my first proper film. I spent 10 years trying to get it off of the ground. I guess that was a film that let me carry on as a director and it was a major milestone. It even played in Canne. It was really exciting and I guess that means that everything else I have done since is insignificant! [laughs] It’s hard to know but that was definitely a major milestone.
What other projects should we be on the lookout for in the short term?
I have another film that is coming out early this year in the U.S. which is called “Tonight You’re Mine.” That is the U.S. title, in the UK it was called “You Instead.” That should be coming out within the next two months, I believe. That is a very different kind of film, it is a rock ‘n’ roll comedy! It was made in a very kind of speedy way with a punk rock vibe to it. It is a very light and fun romantic comedy.
We look forward to spreading the word on all of your work! Thank you so much for your time today!
Thank you for the great conversation and for making it very enjoyable! Have a great day!
“Perfect Sense” opens in at the IFC Center this Friday, February 3, 2012 and is currently available on VOD nationwide.