Suzanne Mackie, producer of Misbehaviour, Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls and Executive Producer of The Crown is leading the film industry with her ferocious films and touching characters. Mackie's dedication and love for film was clear to see as she spoke so tenderly about her ventures and the exciting future of young filmmakers at the BFI Future Film Festival.
'It's a brilliant, brilliant industry, I think I've, I feel almost emotional saying this, but I think I've got probably the best job in the world, I love my job, I feel privileged every day to do what I do. No journey is an easy one to where you want to get to, it takes time, patience commitment, dedication, total belief in yourself, and that total belief in yourself is also endlessly challenged with self doubt and concern that you're not good enough, that you don't belong, that even when you are there you're an imposter and you're going to get found out and that you're not really, really good enough. Those things are good things actually to feel because they're constantly making you challenge who you are and why you do what u do and why you want to do it.'
Strand's Film Editor, Andriani Scordellis, was delighted to sit down with Suzanne at the BFI Future Film Festival after her beautiful keynote speech to chat about all things producing.
I was incredibly touched by your Keynote, aspiring to be a producer myself I've found that there can be this misconception that producers are these mean old men in offices that have no relationship to the story whatsoever, I think people forget that there is creativity and heart to producing
Suzanne: Oh god, no! It’s the best job in film. There are producers that are just nuts and bolts producers, and in many ways the description you have just given me with the suits in the office, being corporate, and they’re not producing at all, they might be executives, and I mean I’m an executive producer in many ways, but a good producer should be absolutely in touch with the story. With the writer, the director, in fact, the producer will be the one that hires the director. They often hire the writer, too, because the idea may have generated from them or from the company they work for. And actually, it's probably the most key creative position at the beginning of any project and right through to the end of the project, because you're the one that has kept the vision in their head and honed it in the cast and the director, and the location, the cinematographer, the editor and everything, all of that is the decision made by the producer. So you have to have an absolutely creative understanding of the story that you're telling. And every piece of the jigsaw puzzle around that story fits because you know that actor isn’t right, or that director isn’t right, or that cinematographer is that but not that and sometimes you have to think outside the box and go, why would that make it a bit more interesting.
Absolutely, it is the best role! I think it's a really interesting time to look at the British Film & TV industry, obviously The Crown is such a testament to British Television and British talent. What do you think or hope to happen within the British Film/TV industry going forward?
Well, I mean, I think the opportunities are vast now because of so many different platforms around the world. And I think you know, in the past, when I was your age, we really only had the BBC, ITV and laterally Channel Four as potential homes and if your story didn't fit, or it wasn't what they were looking for that would be it.
Nowadays you think well, it could go on Apple or Amazon or Netflix or YouTube or you know, there are so many, HBO all of them, those amazing networks. Or the BBC and Netflix or BBC and Amazon, whatever it is. And so the opportunities are really great. And I think in many ways, having said that, because it's so great because there are so many opportunities, I think it means that the competition is greater. And therefore your story has to really cut through. And it has to be undeniable, it has to be more than vivid, you know, you have to really understand why you're telling that story now, why will this story be the one that they respond to and say, I'm going to give you the backing, I'm going to invest in you. And that might be a combination of the idea, the package, you know, the talent package that's attached to it, whether that's the director, key bit of casting, the writer or a combination of all three.
With The Crown, we went in with Peter Morgan, the writer Stephen Daldry, the director and Left Bank Pictures as the producers and a subject matter that Netflix said, many people said, we want to be part of that. We want to tell that story. But I think had that story been presented to them by people that weren't necessarily well known, then it may not have cut through. And it's not because those people were well known that it did cut through but it was because they were powerful storytellers. Stephen Daldry is a consummate director, Peter Morgan's pedigree as a writer is second to none, and Left Bank Pictures know how to produce. So, you know, in the end it is a combination of the right creative package, and the idea that suddenly becomes undeniable, and unstoppable.
That's not easy, though, because the bigger the the industry gets, the faster it grows, and it's growing so exponentially that actually, those ideas can very, very quickly seems not good enough. And an idea or even when it's released and completed, it might not be quite good enough and it just can't quite find itself because it's so busy out there, so crowded, will it stand out? Will it get the attention? Will companies that finance get behind it, and market it properly? Give it a chance?
So in many ways it's more like the feature film world where, you know, your opening weekend if you don't make it you're off. And it's brutal. You've just got to keep in mind that great story and it doesn't need to be a big story. It can be a really small story. I was with the makers of top boy the other day and you know, that was such a great bit of drama, but it was so passionately found. And the fact that it reached a massive audience out you know, on Netflix around the world is brilliant because that might have been perceived as it was in the beginning when it was a Channel Four show, you know, it's quite small and suddenly it's big, but it's no bigger and budget necessarily. I mean, it may be slightly I don't know. But the storytelling and the ambition were similar. But suddenly it's opportunities.The distribution of it all.
I think a lot of people are quite scared of the idea of becoming a producer, it’s quite an overwhelming title. What advice would you give to those like future filmmakers that want to get into that?
Well, I think there are two routes really, you either go down the production route, you're on on the floor. You know, you're part of the crew and you work your way up that way. Or, I would say probably better, certainly the route I took, which is that you're in a a part of the development team. You are part of an editorial development team and that you start out like a lot of people we've got, like runners that then become development assistants, so they’re reading stuff and then they’re commenting on it. And then they grow a bit and they'll start writing proper reports. And then they'll actually become script editors.
And then from that you've got a very neat route over to producer, because it's all about the story and the idea which you're then nurturing and looking after. And that starts to translate into a commission. And taking it and selling it to a broadcaster or selling it to a Netflix or whoever. And then from that, you build around it, you start thinking, right, yeah this is how it works, and by then you'll have a sense of who the writers are out there, who the directors are out there and the casting and you know, and then you're suddenly producing you are putting the whole thing together, and you're going to be nurturing and looking after it from its very beginnings right through to the moment it's on screen and even beyond that. It’s a really beautiful role.