Film You Instead shot at music festival - David Mackenzie interview

Interview with You Instead director David Mackenzie

Hallam Foe and Youg Adam director on making a film at T in the Park

List: The film’s been described as a rock’n’roll romcom. Is that about accurate?

DM: I’m not really a kind of romcom-type maker; it’s definitely a rom-com in some ways, but its also a rock’n’roll movie in most other ways. I like to describe it as an immersion experience, where the story almost becomes irrelevant as you get totally surrounded by the craziness and atmosphere of a big music festival.

List: Are you familiar with T in the Park?

DM: I am, yes, although I’ve never done it stone cold sober before, while trying to make a movie, so it was a slightly different experience.

List: Are there any favourite performances you remember?

DM: That I remember? Shit. Um … The last thing I remember was seeing the Pixies when they reformed, which I quite liked.

List: How did you contend with the weather?

DM: Well, when you make films in Scotland, you get used to that. You just develop a way of rolling with the punches on that one. And you have to know that your story will be able to function in all conditions. We were actually quite lucky, in that we had both rain and sun – in a way it all mixed in quite nicely. There was a scene that involved mud, and we were worried we were going to have to fake the mud, find water to pour down and churn it up and so on, but thankfully we didn’t have to do that.

List: Did the script often cater for that sort of thing?

DM: A lot of what happened during the making of the film was, we had the script in the back of our minds, and we just took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves to us. We’d never have got through it if we didn’t have that sort of fast and loose way of doing it. The scene was meant to involve mud, and it just seemed obvious to sort of take advantage of it as it was there. In doing so, two scenes got cut that would have been in there afterwards, so it all evens out in the end anyway.

List: How difficult was it corralling extras?

DM: We went a day early – you know how the campsite opens on the Thursday – and we had hoped that we would be able to get about 1500 people to be in the background of one of our stage shots, but we arrived slightly late and so our scheduling was off – there was another good show on at the same time, so everybody just wandered off. We had about 50 of our own extras that really loyally stayed with the film all the way through. They’re heavily featured now … We just had to go with the backgrounds that were there. For a fairly low budget movie, we ended up getting some pretty big production values – we’ve got 90 000 extras and quite a lot of great festival texture that’s all built in. That’s one of the great things about shooting in live locations. The not so great thing is that you have no control over that, and so there are plenty people having a good time and not really caring about us.

List: Such as people interrupting in the background?

DM: There were quite a few shots where people did look at the cameras, and we’ve now decided to put some of that stuff over the end credits where they messed up the shots one way or another. I thought these guys would never make it into the film, but there they are! I quite like the idea of – whatever it is, 90 000 that go to T in the Park – going to see the film to see if they can see themselves in it.

List: Did that curiosity add to the celebrity that’s meant to surround the two stars?

DM: There were a couple of people in some of the montages where it’s exactly that – it feels like they’re being recognised because they’re famous, rather than because there’s a bunch of cameras around them. There was definitely someone who recognised Luke [Treadaway], who thought he was a rock star, which was quite fun.

List: How was it in terms of noise pollution?

DM: The end result sounds fantastic, but obviously there were some areas where the dialogue needed to be re-recorded – apart from anything else, there was music in the background that we don’t have the rights to use.

List: Are either of the stars musicians?

DM: Yes – Luke’s first movie, where he was with his brother [twin Harry Treadaway] called Brothers of the Head, where they played some proto-punk band – it did well at the Edinburgh International Film Festival about 3 years back. Natalia [Tena]’s got her own band called Molotov Jukebox who are very good, and two of the songs in the film were both written by them.

List: Was that something that was borne in mind when casting?

DM: Well, yeah – we thought, what’s the best way of doing this – we considered actually casting musicians and trying to get them to act, but we figured that’s going to take an awful lot of focus on them to try and get this together – we didn’t necessarily think we’d be doing this on such a short schedule. But then it just became obvious that having actors who were also musicians was the best way of getting it. And their music is great, and they sound great, and they look great. It’s convincing enough, and maybe by the time the film is out, the bands we made up will be real bands. At the time we shot it, they weren’t.

List: There must have been a lot of improvisation, as a necessity.

DM: The script was originally from Thomas Leveritt, but yeah, the cast worked a lot on the script themselves, changed quite a lot of lines and so on. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities presented to you – that’s what makes this kind of filmmaking really fun.

List: Did you feel that the characters were based around any particular rock stars?

DM: I think maybe Tom might have thought they were – I didn’t think they were. I think there’s definitely a mad, sort of Courtney Love-ish vibe to Natalia's character Morello, and Luke’s character Adam’s could be inspired by MGMT, as they’re an electro duo, and there’s also a bit of Joy Division and New Order in there as well. Of course, that’s just what I thought – you can form your own opinion when you see it.

List: There’s a Newton Faulkner cameo in there as well, isn’t there?

DM: He’s brilliant. That was totally spontaneous again – he done his show, and then we got him doing this great scene with Gavin Mitchell [of Chewin’ the Fat – he plays a band manager], and he was brilliant. And it wasn’t just one take, he did two or three takes and every time, it was great, he’s a great improviser, and it’s a great bit in the movie. His stage performance features in the movie as well

List: Were you keen to have other musicians in there to sort of colour it?

DM: We knew that, being at a music festival, they’re not there for us, and so we knew that there was a chance that we might not get them – it was just a go-with-it kind of thing.

List: It’s screening at the Glasgow Film Festival – did it seem important to have it screen there, particularly?

DM: Well, yeah, as it’s a Scottish audience, it’s their festival, but the really important thing for us is that the film is out at the cinemas before the festival season starts this year so it’s still fresh. We want people to go and see it to get them in the mood for going out to a festival. Even for me, having watched it and been involved in making it, and editing for some time, it makes me want to go out to a music festival. If that’s what it does for people, that’s a great thing. We just wanted to get it out as soon as possible – the previous film I made is actually probably going to be out later than that, just down to the way the timing worked out. It’d be a shame if it came out later in the year, if the whole festival season had already been and gone.

List: There’s always a first night film screening at T in the Park

DM: I would guess that that’s us this year! That would be a logical move.

List: Obviously, it’s quite stressful trying to make a feature film in four days – can you see yourself doing it again?

DM: I really found the method quite invigorating because you have so much freedom, and you know you can’t throw too much time on any one thing, so it’s all new stuff, you’re not doing the same thing over and over. You have to be very collaborative with people, everyone’s got to be on the same page – it was a real buzz. Although we all felt jet-lagged for two weeks afterwards. But to think of doing something in a kind of live event environment for another narrative, it’s something I’d definitely love to do again. It may not be the very next film I do, but I’d definitely like to do it again.

List: Were there any great concert films you had in mind?

DM: I’ve seen most of them, and what you get from most of these concert films is how amazing the whole immersive experience is – I don’t want to be repetitive, but very soon, after two or three songs or whatever, you’re right in there. It’s kind of amazing how cinema can do that. I have a memory of this experience when I was young, watching Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads concert movie, which is one of the best concert movies ever, and I saw it in a full house in New Zealand, and everyone was cheering between songs, and you really felt like you were part of the audience at the gig. And at the end, there was a round of applause, and everyone was right into the spirit of the thing, and the projectionist put the first reel on again as an encore, which was a really incredible cinema experience, and very special. I don’t know whether we’d put our first reel on again, but to be in an environment with an audience cheering between tracks, and getting that sort of environment – I’d love to have a chance to do that.

List: What live performances have made it into the film?

DM: We have quite a few bands … We got Paolo Nutini, Newton Faulkner … Biffy Clyro are the first ones in there, they’re great; Proclaimers, and two or three others I can’t remember … Carl Cox, Calvin Harris – quite a selection. We also brought in Jo Mango, who we focus on in the centre of the film, who gives a really beautiful performance, and it’s really the epicentre of the movie. I brought Jo Mango along because I saw her play in Glasgow and I immediately fell in love with her music, and the rest was obviously a combo of who was available, who was willing, and so on.

You Instead, Cineworld Renfrew Street, Fri 25 Feb, 7pm and 9.15pm. The film’s wider release is intended for May.

For the full list of Glasgow Film Festival events, click here.

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