By Leo Collis.
In his follow up to critically acclaimed budget-zombie movie Colin, Marc Price is set to release new project Magpie to the festival circuit. Known as the £45 film, Colin made waves when screened at Cannes in 2009 and created a huge buzz about the bright filmmakers future.
I caught up with Marc to discuss new film Magpie, as well as life on set, Halle Berry and having more than just loose change in funding.
Leo Collis: Firstly, can you give me a brief description of what Magpie is about?
Marc Price: I’m still working on the briefest synopsis for the film, but basically, Magpie is about an absent young father Tony (Craig Russell) who returns to attend his 9-year-old son’s funeral. However, he’s not a welcome guest, especially with the child’s mother Emily (Daisy Aitkens) who’s struggling with her own grief. In addition to this, Emily is frustrated by her lack of control over proceedings, as she is forced to watch on as the rest of the family organises the ceremony.
At the funeral, Tony gets drunk, steals the coffin and bundles it into the back of a car. Both parents then find themselves on the road with their deceased son and two friends (Phil Deguara, Alastair Kirton). What follows is a trip without a clear destination, just a desperate urge to not go back.
LC: Your previous film Colin was made on almost literally a shoestring budget. Did you have any similar constraints with Magpie? If not, was there a greater sense of freedom when shooting this time around?
MP: We shot Magpie in pretty much the same way as Colin. To go from nothing to thousands felt like a monumental increase, so I didn’t really feel any budgetary pressure.
The film was shot on a stills camera and cut on a laptop. We used the budget to pick up some stabilising equipment for the camera, sound equipment and a clunky red Astra that we could beat up as the shoot went on. Oh… and a coffin.
In terms of freedom, it was a bit more of a risk. The last section of the film takes place in Cornwall and I decided we should all head down and discover the place as we were shooting. No location scouting, just an adventure where we could find places that could service the story.
Our mini-convoy arrived at Tintagel at night, so it was this pitch black 360 degree view from the house we rented. One of my fondest memories was next morning, opening the curtains and seeing this epic vista then hearing others making squeals of excitement from their rooms as they did the same thing.
On day one in Cornwall I just pointed at the horizon and said “That place looks great! We’ll shoot there today!”
LC: You didn’t use a script for Magpie. Did working with some of the same actors as Colin give you more confidence when taking this approach?
MP: I have a very loose attitude with my scripts. Even on Colin, where the script was almost entirely of stage directions, I’d toss it aside and talk to the actors about how we could improve what we were there to shoot.
On Magpie there wasn’t a script to toss aside, but the structure was very precise. I shoot a lot of footage and I usually talk to the actors during takes. The guys who worked with me on Colin picked up a great habit of not looking at me or acknowledging me so I can often use the take and just erase my voice without needing to cut away.
Phil Deguara was still getting used to that and I’ve got a bunch of takes where he’s not looking at me but nodding politely and blowing the shot. I operate the camera as well, so when he did slip and look at me it was usually right down the lens. Those were the takes that usually ended with a lot of laughing.
Phil’s great at listening to me during a take… either that or he ignores me altogether. I can never tell!
LC: What made you turn down work on Dark Tide with Halle Berry?
MP: I’m not entirely sure it was an offer to direct. I was sent the script along with a few others. Considering the way I treat scripts, it’s usually easier for me to do films I write – for the moment anyway. I don’t think any writer would be happy for me to throw away their pages and get the actors to try something else. I hear that Jon Favreau did a similar thing on the first Iron Man. They gave Tony Stark a lot of wit and completely re-shaped a comic book character to most people’s approval.
LC: What led to Dominic Brunt [actor in English soap-opera Emmerdale] funding the project?
MP: Dom really liked Colin and screened it as part of his annual zombie festival in Leeds. He invited me up to do a Q&A and we spent the afternoon drinking and chatting about film. I told him what I’d wanted to do for a script I’d written and we kept in touch.
After a few months I was moaning about not being able to find any finance for my next project. Then he and his wife, Jo Mitchell, offered to help.
As they were unlikely to see much of a return on the investment from a bigger project, I suggested Magpie as a smaller idea that was more likely to see a return we could control. Dom said, “Yeah, of course! We just want to help!” which was an amazing.
When I finally gave Dom a copy of the film I became pretty nervous. He’s a friend and would have supported me all the way, but it was important to me that he and his wife liked it. I mean, they’re paying a lot of money just to get a DVD without any cover art!
I thought it might take a few days for him to find the time to watch it, but I had an enthusiastic text just two hours after finishing a drink together. He said he loved it! He must have started watching it minutes after I hopped on the train. We managed to drag Jo to a screening at BFI so she got to see a shinier version with an excited little audience.
LC: You’ve already received high praise from some big names, but what has meant the most to you?
MP: The best moment for me was at Swansea’s screening of Colin. I was present to do a Q&A following the film. I was pacing nervously when I spotted my dad walking towards the screen. I didn’t know he was around and said he should come and have some nerve-calming drinks with us. But he was going in to watch the film and even wanted to pay for his ticket!
That was the one screening that I needed to go well! My dad had seen the film and I knew he liked it, but what if the audience had a more hostile reaction? I didn’t want him to see me booed off stage and lynched! It was terrifying.
He told me the screening went brilliantly. Lots of laughter and clapping. I’m so touched that my dad got to see that. It meant so much to me.
In an odd way Magpie is about how frightened I am that I wouldn’t be a good father. My old man set a pretty high standard for me to try to live up to!
LC: Do you have any particular magpie-based superstitions?
MP: [Laughs] I’m not remotely superstitious. Ironically, I did spend a year trying to get footage of any lone magpies hovering about and didn’t have any luck.
The occasional fucker would sit outside my window just long enough for me to unpack the camera and would stick around right up until the instant where I’d push the red-button. However, the little blighter would always fly off. I didn’t really need an image of a magpie for the film, it was one of those “just in case” shots.
LC: Do you think it’s important to keep a sense of light-heartedness on set?
MP: Oh definitely, I generally like to keep it light. I find that most people work better in an environment where they can comfortably take risks. I think my job is to provide that environment.
There’s never any pretentiousness and no-one’s particularly delicate. They’re a tough gang of characters and I get a kick out of the way we all bond. I didn’t think it was possible to feel better than we did making Colin, but Magpie somehow managed to become this incredible experience where we bonded and became another little family of lifelong friends.
LC: Where/when will Magpie appear first?
MP: We’re just starting to submit to festivals and work on a distribution plan. I’m open to finding something different to distribute Magpie. I think it’s a small film and very likely to have a smaller audience. I want the film out there and hopefully it can find itself an audience.
LC: With the Oscars approaching, what would be your personal picks?
MP: I haven’t seen many of the contender movies yet. It’s been a busy few months. I’m more disappointed by films that aren’t nominated. No Killing Them Softly or End of Watch? It’s The Assassination of Jesse James all over again!
Snapper board words – http://vimeo.com/18057547
 Instead of using clapper-boards on set, Marc asked the actors to say a memorable word before each take to sync the image and audio.