I am delighted to bring you an interview with multi-talented Writer/Director/Producer Carl Mackenzie. His critically acclaimed short film The Interrogation of Olivia Donovan won the Special Jury Mention at Manchester International Film Festival and now he’s back at the helm of a new feature film tackling the brutal world of PTSD in Unseen Scars.
Carl, how are you and how’s the lockdown been for you so far?
Hi Serena, thanks for having me. For me personally, I’d say lockdown has been treating me very well. As you know Serena, one of the hardest parts of being a creative is actually having the time to be a creative.
When we enter development or pre-production for any project, we spend a lot of our time chasing our tails to get all of the admin complete, so we can then sit down with a clear mind and do what we do best.
So, from day one, I took a positive approach to lockdown and saw it as a gift of extra time. Lockdown has meant we have really been able to progress with Unseen Scars and even some of my future projects.
Unseen Scars tackles some very difficult and often taboo subject matter. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Unseen Scars is a film I’ve been working on for the last 18 months and I’m so excited about it. The film follows returning war veteran, James, as he has difficulty adapting back to civilian life. Having made it home alive and uninjured, James appears to have it all. The reality, however, is that James is struggling and feeling lost. He tries to hide his PTSD, but is eventually forced to seek help from psychologist, Kirby. Kirby desperately wants to help James but is battling his own demons following a tragic event in his life which was triggered by PTSD.
Unseen Scars puts a spotlight on the relationships James has and explores how PTSD not only affects the person suffering, but the ripple affect it has on everyone around them.
The script for Unseen Scars was written following extensive interviews with returning veterans, so we hope the film will be a very real and accurate portrayal of the struggles soldiers face when they return from service. The film is supported by Combat Stress which we’re really happy about.
Also, and it’s not something I can go into too much detail about just yet, but we’ll be using a rare technique, blending different filmmaking styles, which is going to make the film extremely unique and hopefully create a completely new viewing experience for our audience. I’ve also spent much of the week talking with Simon (our Director of Photography). We’ve been discussing some original ideas which we’ll be doing in camera as well. With all this combined, we really think the film is going to be something special.
It’s really exciting times and I can’t wait to see how audiences will respond to Unseen Scars.
Why was it so important for you to tell this story? Do you have any personal connection to the work?
Yes, this story has a very personal connection for me…sadly, a very close friend of mine took his own life after returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was struggling with PTSD and managed to hide it from us all. Our close group of friends obviously really miss him and some of them are still struggling with PTSD today, but thankfully they’re a little more open about it and are getting help.
When I was approached by Choice Point Productions to write and direct this film, it felt right. I knew it was an extremely important story for me to tell.
Over the course of several months, I spent a lot of time speaking with veterans and interviewing people about their experiences and struggles with PTSD before I sat down to write the script. Speaking with friends about these experiences and some of their darker times was, at times, incredibly hard; it’s never easy to hear how people you care about have suffered. They were all so incredibly honest and open and I really think this is going to hold the film above others. It gives it a certain rawness.
Due to my personal connection and feelings about the story and subject, it is important to me that we aren’t just making a PTSD film to be “on trend”, but that we are making an honest and truthful film. And thanks to the veterans I’ve spoken with, this will be possible. I am truly indebted to them for their honesty during these interviews. Unfortunately, too many people, especially veterans, still suffer in silence. We’re hopeful that the film’s message will help our audience understand these issues a little more and will encourage veterans, or anyone suffering with PTSD, to seek help when they need it.
We’re also hugely thankful for Combat Stress’s support - if we can help them and the brilliant work they do through the film, we’ll feel we have given something back
What are your plans for the shoot? Have you had to adapt any part of the script to adhere to the new Covid-19 restrictions?
The shoot…. the hardest question in this strange new world! We’re still aiming to shoot in November, but with guidelines changing so frequently, we’re fully prepared to be flexible and to adjust if further issues arise. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to predict what the future holds and plans have to remain fluid.
We’ll be shooting in and around the home counties and in London, with COVID, we felt it best to localise the shoot.
Other than the odd production decision, we’ve been very lucky with the script and haven’t had to adapt it.
When will it be finished and how can we see it?
We’re looking to finish the film at the beginning of April 2021. Like the film, we have a very unique release and distribution plan. I can’t say too much about this just yet, but it’s very exciting. Watch this space!
How important were making short films to you as a filmmaker when starting out?
In my opinion, making short films is the best education any aspiring filmmaker can have. The lessons you learn from making short films are invaluable and it gives you the opportunity to make mistakes and find your own unique voice.
You can of course learn these lessons and make these mistakes on a feature film, but I personally think it’s a little less forgiving on a feature. We all need that hands-on experience when we first start out.
You will never get a second chance to make your first feature film.
Having a debut feature is living the dream and, in my opinion, I think you want that to be all it can be, and this will only be made better by having already learned the important lessons of your craft through shorts. There’s also so much to consider on a feature film - with all these new lessons to learn, I think most people will be thankful they’re not completely green and they have an understanding of certain aspects.
In addition to this, and the part I’m most thankful to shorts for, is that when you begin making shorts, you begin creating an amazing network. I believe the network of filmmakers and creatives are all vital to your success, you end up supporting each other and learning from each other. And the best thing, this network grows with each film.
I have lost count of how many times you and I (Serena) have come off a shoot and sat down over a coffee (or beer) and discussed what we did right and wrong, telling the other a great tip we have or warning the other to not make the mistake we just did.
Finally, I think making shorts has also given me more confidence in filmmaking, which could only come from learning the craft by working on shorts and building an amazing network.
Do you have any advice for any up-coming filmmakers joining the industry now?
I would just say work hard, keep learning as much as you can and enjoy the ride. The industry is hard and stressful, but it’s also the greatest industry in the world with one of the best possible payoffs at the end of each project.
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