the students lived in tenements and housing estates. and there were very few kids who were visibly middle-class. It’s part of that Glasgow life. It's not an escape for the middle brother, it’s a whole way of life that he wants to embrace. So it’s to do with identity, the identity of a young person.’
After his stint at art school, Mackinnon spent time working as an art teacher, a cartoonist, and as a detached youth worker for a London education authority, working with troubled kids in media workshops. He then studied at the National Film School. and his graduation ﬁlm, Passing Glory (produced by his brother Billy) won the First Scottish Film Award at the 1986 Edinburgh International Film Festival. His feature debut, Conquest Of The South Pole took Manfred Karge‘s play to Leith docks, and it was followed by other television single dramas that showed a strong social concern - Jimmy McGovern’s drug tale Needle and John Healy’s alcoholism battle The Grass Arena. Strong performances from Albert Finney, Aidan Quinn and Robin Wright gave lrish period piece The Playboys considerable depth and charm, and it was this internationally distributed feature that brought him to the attention of Hollywood and Steve Martin.
The renowned comic actor, as part of his attempts to extend his range, had himself written a screenplay that updated George Eliot’s novel Silas Marner, telling the tale of a reclusive cabinet-maker whose life is transformed when an orphaned young girl stumbles to his door one winter night. Joyous family life darkens, however, when the girl’s biological father comes on the scene. A Simple Twist of Fate is sentimental, to be sure, but not overly so: it has a rich and allusive visual style and a strong narrative drive.
Unlike so many ﬁlmmakers who have crossed the Atlantic. Mackinnon has no horror stories of overbearing studios or ego- driven stars. ‘lt was basically a good learning experience for me. Steve sort of gave me the ﬁlm to direct and we had a very sound relationship. He had certain working methods that were different from mine, but I tried them. For example. my philosophy, coming out of low F5 budget ﬁlms, is cut everything offthe script that you don’t need, and put your energy into that. His feeling was “Shoot it and see ifyou like it, then you’ve got more to play with in the cutting room.” This was the ﬁrst time I could even contemplate doing that, so to some extent that’s what we did — we went into the cutting room with a lot of baggage and we knew we were going to cut it out. The main problem I had was being an exile, the homesickness, all of that. I couldn’t really stay in Los Angeles and make another ﬁlm like that because, basically, I have a family here.’
And so he returned to his home town, to complete a script that had been faxed to and fro across the world (Billy, for several years, worked in Australia, and is credited as script editor on Jane Campion’s The Piano). Small Faces found funding with BBC Films, with further backing from The Glasgow Film Fund and BBC Scotland; and Mackinnon was ready to leave behind the rather lax Hollywood shooting schedule for a much tighter production period.
‘We worked on a look for the ﬁlm which addressed the budget problem, but in a very positive way,’ he says of the difﬁculties in
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establishing a distinctive period feel. ‘We realised that, looking at photographs, in the 603 the streets were quite empty. So now, when you see a housing estate, when you’re in i; 'k i the street, there is ' almost nothing in it. We’ll have a big ﬁgure in the foreground, with little ﬁgures behind, or a car in the distance. We tried to play with distance and perspective.
‘Whatever people make of it, to me, on a personal level, the ﬁlm is a real achievement, to make it on this budget and on this schedule, and still try to keep it as ambitious as possible. It’s a milestone of a ﬁlm for me. I know that, very soon, it’ll be ﬁnished. You feel odd, it’s a slightly depressing feeling. You feel like you’ve lost your purpose. It’s a little bit like your kid growing up and going to sit his A-levels.’
Small Faces screens on 25 Aug, Filmhouse 1, 8.15pm and 26 Aug, Filmhouse I, 10.15pm, £6 (£4 ). A Simple Twist Of Fate screens on 23 Aug, Dominion, 7pm and 10pm, £6 (£4). Steve Martin and Gillies Mackinnon will discuss the latter at a Scene By Scene event on 24 Aug, Dominion, 7pm, £8 (£4). Gillies Mackinnon presents a detailed Scene By Scene Training event on The Grass Arena on 25 Aug, Filmhouse 1, 2pm, £8 (£4); and The Grass Arena screens on 23 Aug, Cameo 3, 8.30pm, £4 (£3).
The List 18-24 Aug 1995 21