David Fincher once compared directing to painting, only that you’re 200 yards away from the canvas. 80 people are holding the paintbrush and you’re on a walkie-talkie going, "A little blue there… No, no, no, darker blue… No, DARKER BLUE!"
This is my favourite description of the role of movie director in that it establishes the big man as commander and chief, while emphasising the value in surrounding yourself with the best and most committed people you can find from a number of different disciplines to help you achieve a consistent vision. With the release of Mission in 7 days, I wanted to reflect on the production by taking the time to credit the effect others had.
As I mentioned in my previous post, like The Search before it, Mission was another ‘Virgin Mastercard With A Ludicrous Limit’ funded effort. I’d only paid off The Search 3 months prior. I didn’t have big bucks to spend, and didn’t fancy another extended period of paying off the film. Thankfully the budget was augmented by contributions from Executive Producers Godfrey McFall and Paul Harry Thomas. Paul’s company [xFilm] also handled a bulk of the post production which also had a positive effect and loosened up more cash for the production phase.
My alma mater pitched in, helping us save a whole lotta coin in the process. Led by Adam MacIlwaine, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Digital Film and Television course has been endlessly supportive of me since graduating in 2005. As well as providing the production with a Red Epic and other essential equipment, I was gifted with a talented group of students past and present. The RCS assistance also had a huge impact on our decision to shoot the film in Glasgow. It was lovely to make Mission at home.
Emun Elliott was the first cast member to commit, a full year before cameras rolled. He was a pal of mine at the RSAMD. We were in different faculties [acting/film] but, as the set up was geared towards collaboration, our paths would regularly cross, followed by heavy drinking sessions at Traders on Hope Street. Emun had done a fair bit of telly and film by that point, but my decision to approach him for Mission came from his astonishing turns in 2 stage productions I was fortunate enough to witness -- Blackwatch and Howard Barker’s The Bite of the Night. Both plays showed Emun to be an actor of tremendous range and that was essential to successfully tackle a role as tricky as Michael, the astronaut.
When Gregor and I were writing Mission, we knew we were giving ourselves a potential nightmare by establishing a 7 year old as the film’s lead. The character of James, Michael’s son, would have to carry the film. We kept saying we needed Henry Thomas, who was the right age 30 years ago. Seeing as we didn’t have a DeLorean tricked out by Doc Brown, we got Peter Strathern who was selected from a pool of 20 children. Peter had no experience as an actor but was very natural and listened to me, particularly as the other children we saw were very actorly and didn’t listen to me. Peter had the intelligence, vulnerability and resilience to knock this one out of the park. And knock it out he did.
From that point we had a pretty easy time filling the remaining roles. Siobhan Redmond lent the project a veteran air and was perfectly cast as James’s caring teacher. Another Scottish Acting All Star, Jimmy Chisholm is in there too, appearing at the beginning of the film as the ISA Administrator. We were also blessed with a terrific cast of background artistes, including the P6 Class of Craigdhu Primary who were scenery munchers of the highest order!
Ashley Black was my fantastic producer, and expertly balanced her commitments to Sunshine On Leith with Mission, a decidedly more fraught and less glamorous affair! She was recommended to me by Adam Mac who cited her as a good fit and she was a cracker from the get go. As well as keeping the production moving within an inch of its life, she was a key factor in attracting the majority of the crew, from makeup, to costume, to logistics. Oh, and the caterers she chose were solid, consistent performers!
Andrew Wilson was our Production Designer. He probably had the hardest job of any one on the team. So much was demanded of him and he had to achieve it for literally nae money. Describing what he and his team contributed would serve to ruin the film but, suffice it to say, people who have seen Mission in advance of the next week’s premiere have all singled out the production design as a stand out element.
Last but not least, the Prince of Darkness. Like Emun, David Liddell committed early in the process. He was another pal from RSAMD days who, after graduating from the National Film and Television school, has truly distinguished himself as a cinematographer to watch. David got the project immediately and, despite our lack of resource, was up for the challenge of helping me make what was essentially a homage to many of my favourite movies of the seventies and eighties, including touchstone pictures like Close Encounters, The Spirit of the Beehive and All the President’s Men. There are 7 reasons I love Wee Davy; balls of steel, loves movies and, more importantly, watches movies. He has focus, speed and ideas, and is a big advocate of the scope aspect ratio. He is also very instinctual which works well for me as I’ve developed a reputation as being a Captain of Chaos on set. We’re both comfortable in keeping things relatively loose which I think helps us be more creative. I dearly love his work on Mission and I can’t wait to work with him [and his terrific team] again.
And that was the crew that took us to Mars, giving the post production squad some amazing footage to work with [which will be covered in next week’s blog post]. We punched above our weight and the results are up there on screen, the fruits of a challenging, 4 day shoot that included night shoots, classrooms of boisterous children, buff men with no clothes on and… sand... lots and lots of sand.
Unlike Fincher, I didn’t have to scream and shout to get my different shades. The crew of Mission nailed them each and every time. They got it and executed without my having to micromanage. That isn’t to say the production was a walk in the park -- it wasn’t -- but like all of my flicks, I look back and remember the fun I had with all the amazingly talented individuals I was blessed to surround myself with for a relatively short, but strangely intimate period of time.
I can’t wait to do it again.
Mark BuchananLondon, 13.10.13