Interview with Ross Mckenzie by Éva Kincsei

The toughest moments came when the crew lost its area manager. But a sales agent is already showing interest in Rite and it will be submitted to as many festivals as it is possible to fulfil is calling card function before putting it online. Ross Mckenzie, the young, emerging producer of BAFTA-nominated Rite, which scored first prize at the Long Form section of Rushes Soho Short Festival in London at the end of July, talked not only abut Rite, but passion projects and that he rarely reads a book which has already been made into a movie.

What made you produce Rite?

First of all, I wanted to work with Paul Welsh (the co-producer of Rite and founding producer of DigiCult, the independent film production company behind the film, who are based in Glasgow – the editor). We’ve known each other for a number of years, when I was working for the producer Margaret Matheson, who was acting as Executive Producer on one of Paul’s feature film projects. Since then we wanted to work together but never had the chance. Then one day while I was working for the UK Film Council we met in reception and he told me about this project he developed and had recently received funding for. He was looking for a London-based producer to come on board and guide it through the physical production stage since Paul was based in Glasgow and the film was set in London. And I couldn’t say no. I have also seen Michael’s (Michael Pearce – director of Rite – the editor) graduation films he made at the National Film & Television School (NFTS) and I was impressed. I did not want to pass up an opportunity working with such a talented director.

What is the main strength of the film?

It is difficult to say as I have seen it so many times, but I think it is the combination of all the elements, both artistic and technical. Without the performances, it definitely would not be the same film. The actors we cast were perfect for the roles. So yes, we were really lucky in terms of casting. And we really had a great crew: for example the cinematography is excellent. We had such a short time to shoot the complex pub scene that we had to abandon some of the planned cinematography and shoot a lot on the steadicam device. But in the end it really worked and benefited the film.

What were the major difficulties you faced during shooting?

Trying to pin down a Location Manager. It was such an ambitious film in terms of location, we were probably shooting in 5 different areas of London and it was just so complicated to move the equipment and crew. It takes a lot of time and to work out everything properly and you really need a talented location manager but if you don’t have the funds to pay people much then they leave when they are offered an adequately paid job. So the production team was forced to take on the additional task of managing locations, which was necessary but far too much work considering we were already stretched in terms of production staff.

How big was your budget? It seems that Rite is definitely not a low-budget short film.

Our budget was twelve thousand pounds but I don’t know whether it is a small or a big budget for a short movie. We had to be cautious with the money we were spending as we had numerous locations all across London. And in general, filming in London is quite expensive.

How will it be distributed? And is there any chance to get the money back through distributing?

There is always a chance. Right now our primary focus is to get it into as many festivals as we can and get as many prizes as possible as festival awards do help your chances of finding distribution. The BAFTA nomination this year helped a lot. But actually there were still quiet periods between the BAFTA and other festivals as it takes time to gain momentum. Only now people are really starting to take notice of the film, so we are really still at the beginning of the process. You should certainly try to get in to as many festivals as it is possible before putting it online. I have also got an email from a sales agent who does have interest in it and would like to take on putting it towards festivals and try to sell it to various territories.

It is of utmost importance because through these festivals the film gains a lot of exposure across the industry. The more film festivals you screen it at, the more filmmakers see it and perhaps want to work with you. So it is great for your CV and a short film is always a calling card. I think that is primarily why most people do it. It’s also great practise for moving into features.

So again, producing short movies is rather about entering into the empire of feature film production than making money.

Yes, that is the key thing. I definitely want to produce feature films and I have an interest in writing too.

Do you want to direct them too?

Well I never say never, but my skills have so far been invested in becoming a producer. So writing and producing are the two things I am really focused on at the moment and ultimately I will go along the route of a producer. But of course, almost everyone in the industry has a dream to direct in the back of their minds. But right now I am not looking to do that.

What are your feature projects?

One of the feature projects I have been developing for three years with the writer and future director of the movie. Its working title is Last Chance. Originally, he wanted to make three short films that were based on the same theme of the internet but I really did not want to produce three short films (he laughs). Not least because they are quite unlikely to ever make their money back. So I persuaded him to develop one of the ideas into feature film. It went through a number of redrafts, but we are not rushing. This is his first feature film and we will not want to send it out to financiers until we have reached the stage we both feel absolute confident about, and feel that it has the potential. If you send it to a financier and if it is wrong or just doesn’t fit in with the market, then you go back and you rewrite it, when it lands back on their desk again they are going to be less inclined to read it or less enthusiastic about it because they have already read it. So it must be as close to perfect as it can.

The other feature project I am developing is a proposal for a horror film based on the novel of a British author. It is a really strong story I have been in love with for years and I’ve read it at least 10 times. But I am not giving out the book’s title. (He laughs)

What are your main guiding principles when you decide to produce a film?

With Rite it was rather a series of nice coincidences which made me come on board as one of the producers. Right now, what I am looking for is new material for a good story. I am always reading a book and I refuse to read a book that has already been made into a movie unless it is a must-read, or a classic. A book is such a good source of material for feature films. But I also read scripts that are already being developed since this way you can learn who the good writers are. That is why it is so great to work in an environment where you have access to all these materials on a daily basis. You have to know who the talents are, especially if you are a producer, and keep an eye open for your next project.

Are you an idealist who wants to make the movies close to his heart or rather a shrewd businessman whose priority is to generate profit?

Both. I have to feel passion about a project but at the same time if I am working on it for years I want to be able to sell it too. You can churn out passion projects that will never make a penny if you are independently wealthy, but unfortunately I am not. My plan is to make commercial projects that further down the line will make enough money to allow the odd passion project every once in a while. It is hard. You have to keep going. I am glad about the road that I have taken given my means. I had to work really hard: so far I have worked in sales, development, production and acquisitions. Having a broad view of the industry allows you to see where the value lies in a film. And after seeing how this whole industry functions it is just another business like any other business where you have to make money. But I will always have passion projects I want to make.

Ross Mckenzie is currently working for Film London – one of the nine regional screen agencies in the United Kingdom – as a production finance market coordinator. He previously worked in acquisitions at Paramount Pictures and at the Weinstein Company but also gained experience as a PA at the UK Film council – which has been taken over by the BFI this spring – and worked for several production companies as well. He graduated at the The Surrey Institute of Art and Design and did his M.A at the Media Business School in Ronda, Spain. Rite is the fourth short movie he has been involved with as a producer. To see his filmography click on the link: