A lil Magpie rendezvous with Marc Price

Marc Price, Magpie
Marc Price, shooting Magpie

The actors I tend to work with, the best way to describe it is, it’s like a courting process. The films I make, they are all very personal to me.”

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with the magnificent director and writer Marc Price. You may know him from his extraordinary first movie ‘Colin‘ which Martin Scorsese was quoted as saying was “savage, with an energy that takes the zombie idea to another level”. Right now, Marc is about to embark on the release of his second feature film, Magpie, which will be screened this Friday at BFI.  As it is always very important for actors to know exactly how directors cast their stars, work with actors, and make casting choices for their next movies, B.A.B.E. got up close and personal with Marc to talk about all these very things.

So Marc, tell me a little bit about Magpie?
…we decided to make Magpie whilst we were waiting for funding for other projects to come through. I sort of got a little impatient of sitting about waiting for someone to give me permission to make a movie. And we thought “ahh we’ve got this equipment so lets workshop this idea I had”. The idea was about an absent father and the death of his son which acted as the catalyst for him returning to his hometown to attend the funeral.

How did you find the actors (some you previously worked with on Colin)?
Craig Russell is the main character, and he’s someone I met when I was about 15, so I’ve known him half my life. He was initially cast as the comedy character. There’s another wonderful character who was cast in the other role that Craig ended up playing called Antony Eden. Anthony wanted to play in the role but was offered a fantastic role in a West End show. He was so gracious and called me up to ask what to do, and of course I said he should take that West End show! We had no guarantee of money on ours.

But back to casting Craig. The only problem is that having known Craig for 15 years, I’ve never seen him in an angry, agressive, bad mood, and that is what the character Tony is all about. And I thought, how do we do this? So we messed about and did the scene where he steals the coffin and we had a big punch bag and a gym etc to play around with as well. And we worked out this whole thing…. And Craig was outstanding! He was f***ing outstanding. He completely blew me away.

So there it was. I had my full main cast including Craig Russell, Alistair Kirton, Daisy Aitkens and Phil Deguara, all of whom I had worked with prior.

So was a lot of it [the film] unscripted?
Yes. I didn’t write a script for this one. Part of my mild grumpiness before we made this film was that I was doing a lot of work for a script I was trying to get film finance for, and my agent sent me another script that already had funding and a big star, and asked if I would like to work on helping write that one. I couldn’t believe it.  It is a 3 million pound budget and they had a big star attached. And I said “What? This has 3 million and I can’t get 250, 000 to do my script!”

And I’m not an insecure writer either. For a while I was there thinking maybe I’m not a very good writer and I should change some of this stuff.

Marc then prompted his agent about re-writing this new script he was being asked to work on, to which his agent replied that they didn’t think that was an option. They [the film company] said they were happy with it as it was.

So I thought about what I wanted to do and decided that I was going to go out and shoot this story. I had the structure very tightly worked out. And so we went out and shot Magpie. I always look at a script first thing in the morning, and then I chuck it away and say “Right this is what we are going to do” and we sort of attack the scenes like that.

You must get actors getting in touch with you often?
I do. The actors I tend to work with – the best way to describe it – is it’s like a courting process. The films I make are all very personal to me. Colin, while it may not seem like a personal film, is a personal film to me. It’s not so much a zombie film as it is about a character who doesn’t know how to articulate his emotions. And the zombie in Colin can tell that perfectly. It is about trying to tell a story that has a lot of heart, and is hopefully quite sad in places.  It dealt with all the things I find important like fragmented family and death. All of those themes come back again in Magpie. The friends are like a family unit, and of course they’re dealing with death.

With the actors, I usually have a meeting. It’s rarely an audition where I’ll have actors read the lines. I don’t really enjoy the audition process. I’ve done auditions before and it’s really just a room where everyone is lying to each other. You have to say with absolute certainty that this is going to be the film you are going to make, when I know that it’s going to change. The actors pretend that they love the script because they want the job. And I would rather get to know the actors personally, because these roles are important to me. I want to trust the person implicitly to whom I have put these roles in the hands of.

And what else I want is…if in a couple of months I say I want this line and that line added to a scene, I want the actors to say “Hell yeah” and come racing back to step into those character’s shoes. And I have that with Daisy [Aitkens] and the other actors.

Would there be something that an actor would be sensible to do, with a director like yourself, so they do get to be part of that courting process?
Yes. I’m looking for genuine people.  And I think you kind of practice that. I’ve been let down by actors who say they’re really excited about working with me and then disappear or don’t turn up.

There was a scene in Colin, and I wanted everyone who was building up for an audition to show up for the crowd scene, so they could get to see how we work. And a load of people came down and then they never showed up again. And when I asked them if they wanted to come back and be featured (have a much more significant role), they said they couldn’t. They always had polite excuses, but they were excuses just the same. I thought, “Wow you came all that way to essentially be an extra and not do more”. And then those who did come back have been in a load of my projects ever since.

I know Shane Meadows (Director/Writer for This Is England) does the same thing. I thought I was such a genius coming up with this idea to see how I could work with people and then I recently found out Shane Meadows does it to see who he can work with and who he can’t. I am always doing test shoots and heavily directing people in things to see how they take directions.

And finally, what’s next?
I’ve got a television show that is in development with E4. I think we can say that much! This is mine. I created the series and they seem to be letting me do what I want with the writing. I am very fortunate to have stumbled into that (which started as a concept that I’ve been writing and developing).

Film wise, there are four features that I’m trying to figure out. I’ve written treatments for them. And the trick is to get them to my agents and then see if they can get anyone to bite.

And one of those features I have, is very similar to Magpie. Again, I’m looking to cast some actors that I’ve worked with a lot, in it. I guess the way I see it is you have a work ethic that always improves with certain people but there’s always a door open for more people to join that little crew.  I remember when I made Colin it was Alistair, and then Daisy came along and then she became the lead in Magpie. And then Phil came along and said we could shoot in his pub, and then he became the main guy (not because of his pub but because he turned out to be a brilliant actor). My core team just continues to build.

B.A.B.E.s, want to see Magpie when it comes out! Keep an eye out. It is due for cinematic release in 2013.
Price’s second independently financed feature Magpie will be screened as part of the showcase at BFI this Friday the 30th Nov – a moving account of an absent young father who returns to his hometown in order to attend his nine year old son’s funeral. The visit sets off a trail of events that lead our protagonist, the young boy’s mum and two friends on a road trip with no clear destination…just a desperate desire not to return.

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